Dr Connolly admits to taking ‘the occasional glass of ale’

Week II

After Irish independence 1922 the workhouse system, considered an ‘odious, degrading and foreign poor law system’, was abolished, to be substituted by a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the nation’s aged and infirm. Most workhouses were turned into County Homes or hospitals.

After Irish independence 1922 the workhouse system, considered an ‘odious, degrading and foreign poor law system’, was abolished, to be substituted by a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the nation’s aged and infirm. Most workhouses were turned into County Homes or hospitals.

The complaint made against Dr Connolly, the medical officer of the Moycullen dispensary district in October 1876, for neglect of duty, drunkenness and using improper language on the evening that Patrick Barrett’s wife was gravely ill in child-labour, was taken very seriously by the Local Government Board. At a disastrous first meeting between the Board’s inspector, Dr T Brodie, with the members of the Dispensary Committee, and Connolly, Connolly completely lost his rag. He insulted the committee, claiming they were ganging up against him, and had pushed himself against the committee’s chairman, John Kyne, in a threatening manner. So it must have been with some interest that the Board awaited a letter from Connolly offering some explanation for his extraordinary behaviour. Of course the letter, when it arrived, was charm itself. Connolly immediately stated that Mrs Anne Barrett ‘sustained no injury’ from the time between the ticket (supplied by the Relieving Officer, which entitles the bearer to a free service ), delivered to the doctor’s housekeeper, and ‘the few hours delay’, that the doctor took to see the patient. Furthermore the doctor claimed he was frightened of Patrick Barrett’s, threats. His housekeeper was alarmed when she heard Barrett say that ‘he would have the doctor’s life’. The letter went on to say that Tom Conneely, Barrett’s brother-in-law, who accompanied Barrett that night, was asked the next day about the patient, repeated that Barrett had said, if ‘the doctor goes to Ballinahalia he will not return alive’. Of course this was a blatant lie. Conneely worked for John Geraghty, the most powerful man in Moycullen, who owned a pub, and the post-office. In addition he was the poor-law rate collector, and a friend of Dr Connolly. The doctor’s letter goes on to explain that a few years ago a gentleman’s windows were smashed at night, and that the police had questioned Barrett about the incident. ‘A threat from such a person’, the doctor wrote, ‘might justly excite terror’.

’Successfully operated’

The doctor continued to say that when he called the next morning, about 7am, Mrs Anne Barrett ’s labour was progressing slowly, the child, unfortunately, dead. The doctor ‘cautiously’ tried the forceps, but failed to compress the head. He gave her an opiate and left the house to return in two hours. Again he re-applied the forceps, but without success. He told Barrett that the only course was craniotomy, which the husband consented. ‘I successfully operated, the woman calling on me a few days afterwards to thank me’. The letter concluded: ‘In reference to the allegation that I was drunk, Barrett distinctly told the Dispensary committee that I was perfectly sober’ (another lie ), ‘If I were drunk he would not be likely to ask me to see his wife in labour.’ ‘When I refused to attend without a ticket or fee, Barrett adopted an insulting tone, stating I could not attend the patient at all’ (totally untrue ); ‘I then, and it is with the greatest pain I have to confess it, and for which I express my sincere regret, so far forget myself, as to use the opprobrious expression complained of.’

Influential friends

Despite the doctor’s protestations of innocence, preparation’s for the sworn inquiry continued. There was a delay in the mail being delivered to Patrick Barrett stating the time and schedule of the inquiry. Barrett blamed John Geraghty, the post master, and friend of the doctor, for these delays. He wrote again to the Local Government Board lamenting that his only witness, his brother-in-law Tom Conneely, has been prejudiced against him, through fear of dismissal by Geraghty whom he worked for. ‘All this I attribute to Mr Geraghty’s evil influence’, wrote Barrett, ‘for it is in this house (Geraghty’s pub ), and in the company of this man, that the medical officer spends the greater portion of his time…’ Poor Barrett must have been thinking that he was getting out of his depth when he challenged the only doctor of the Moycullen Dispensary District, to account for his ‘drunken behaviour’ the night of his wife’s illness. The doctor had influential friends, who were telling lies with impunity. But he never suspected that the surprise witness, called on behalf of the doctor, would be the wife herself, the woman he had fretted over during her difficult child labour.

The sworn inquiry

The sworn inquiry was held before inspector of the Local Government Board, Dr T Brodie, in Galway October 23 1876. The witness statements were given smartly and efficiently. Barrett’s brother-in-law, Tom Conneely, stated that he could not say that the doctor was drunk on the night in question, nor could he say that the doctor ‘was perfectly sober’. He added: ‘I’m in employment of Mr Geraghty; he keeps a public house; I never saw the doctor drunk in Geraghty’s house’. The doctor’s housekeeper, Catherine Joyce, being duly sworn, testified that she heard Barrett cursing and swearing. She said she was afraid to open the hall door, and took the ticket from a window. “I saw the doctor before he went to bed the night Barrett and Conneely came to the house. He was sober. I saw him before leaving for Barrett’s house, at 6 o’clock the next morning, he was perfectly sober.’ Doctor James Connolly also testified, under oath, admitted he had used ‘offensive expressions’ to Barrett, ‘but not until I had received great provocation’. He claimed that Barrett warned him that if he did not go it would be the last ticket I would ever attend. By this I believed he intended to attack me, and I further believed he was feeling in his pocket for a knife.’ Connolly said that he was perfectly sober on that occasion, and concluded: ‘I was never drunk in Geraghty’s house. Geraghty is the postmaster, and keeps a licensed public house. I occasionally turn in there to get a glass of ale.’

Case dismissed

The surprise witness was Barrett’s wife Annie. ‘Dr Connolly attended me in my confinement in the month of September last. He paid me two visits on the same day. He treated me carefully and kindly. He made several attempts to deliver me before he had recourse to the use of instruments. He was sober. On the previous evening I expressed an opinion that the child was not alive. A few days after my confinement, I called on the doctor to thank him for his care and attention. Dr Connolly attended me in a previous confinement. He came without a visiting ticket or money. He saved my life on the occasion’. And to compound her statement even further, she had previously sent chairman Brodie the following note: ‘I hope you will give my husband Pat Barrett no heed, nor no hearing to what he says concerning Dr Connolly; the kind gentleman saved me my life, which I feel very thankful to him, and he was four hours before he was wanted, and if you don’t pardon him I will shorten my days’. Dr Brodie, with the exception of a gentle reprimand for his use of bad language, ‘so derogatory to the character of a medical practitioner and gentleman’, dismissed the case against Connolly.

Next week: Dr Brodie is reminded of a previous complaint when Dr Connolly was so drunk that he fell on top of a patient.

Sources include Moycullen Sworn Investigation 1878, House of Commons, June 17 1878, ‘A Hopeless and Thankless Job’ essay by John Dorney, Irish History, December 13 2019.


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