Lives of the fellows

James Ignatius Coyle

b.31 July 1941 d.12 June 1995
BSc Belf(1963) BDS(1965) MB BCh BAO(1972) MRCP(1976) FRCP(1990)

Beyond his incomparable professional skills, when people remember Seamus they will smile. One of the most defining aspects of his character was a perpetual desire and ability to see the humorous side of life. He was born at Beragh, County Tyrone, where his father, Patrick Joseph Coyle, was a railway official and his mother, Rose Ann, a school matron. After his early schooling at the Christian Brothers Grammar School in Omagh he began a distinguished career at Queens University Belfast. He graduated in 1963 with a degree in physiology and in 1965 with a degree in dentistry. After several years in dental practice he returned to graduate in medicine.

After qualifying in medicine his first job was as a pre-registration house officer at the Mater Infirmorum Hospital in Belfast, where ten years later he was appointed a consultant physician. He was greatly influenced by, and in time came to personify, the attitude and ideals of medicine as practiced at the Mater Hospital, an institution which he held in great affection. He was greatly influenced in his early postgraduate years by Brian Mullaly, who was consultant physician at the Mater Hospital and who exemplified the intuitive, reflective physician. Seamus in turn brought great analytical skills and judgement to his work.

After his early experience at the Mater Hospital he took appointments at the Royal Victoria and Forster Green Hospitals in Belfast. During this period he developed his special interests in respiratory medicine and medical education. In 1978 he was appointed a consultant physician in general medicine and chest medicine at the Forster Green Hospital and Malone Road Chest Clinic. Following his appointment there was a significant increase in admissions, clinical referrals and both undergraduate and postgraduate medical teaching. The same trend happened when he was appointed a consultant physician to the Mater Hospital in 1982. Over the next thirteen years he made an enormous contribution to medical education in Northern Ireland at all levels. For ten years he completely organized the professional examination in medicine and surgery for the BDS degree and was centrally involved in the re-oganization of the dental curriculum. He taught medical students on a regular basis and was a regular internal examiner for the final MB examinations at Queens University Belfast School of Medicine and was an external examiner in medicine for the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. He sat on numerous hospital, specialist society, DHSS and other committees and to these he brought a sharp enquiring mind and a distinctly professional approach. Clear headed and at times outspoken he was a man of the highest integrity and his views were much valued.

Seamus Coyle was a founder member and first chairman of the Friends of the Mater Association which he set up in 1983 as a registered charity with the aim of improving patient services within the hospital. He was also medical organizer of the annual Downe and Connor Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes for over ten years. This involved accompanying and looking after thirty to forty ill and highly dependent pilgrims in the hospital base at Lourdes and also lending support and overseeing some two hundred other mobile patients.

Seamus Coyle would have made a wonderful and productive research scientist had the direction of his career led him along this path. At an early stage in his career he realized the importance of medical education and he made a major personal commitment to medical teaching. He came to carry a phenomenal clinical service and medical teaching workload, together with administrative and committee activities which would have crushed many others without his amazing personal drive. He also came to be highly sought after for the quality of his medico-legal opinions, especially in the area of occupational lung disease.

Seamus had to endure a long struggle with illness from 1983 onwards. Following initial surgical treatment he had to live with the reality of a potentially shortened horizon, difficult for any patient, but especially for a man with so much vigour, zest for life and ability to contribute. It was difficult to appreciate how the outwardly cheerful man struggled at times to come to terms with the intimate knowledge of his own pathology. If anything he continued to work harder than ever before following his initial period of illness, driven in major part by the desire to provide a secure future for his family in the time left to him.

He was a man of great drive, great intellect and humour. Instantly recognizable in a crowd, he was a man who appeared greater than his physical stature. His distinctive teaching style may have been perceived by some as harsh, but he believed it necessary preparation for his students to cope with the reality of clinical medicine. Furthermore, the serious content of his clinical teaching was often balanced by humorous diversions reflecting his sharp and witty insight into human nature. There was also an inner person who was not easy to know. Throughout the painful weeks of the final phase of his illness he retained his remarkable ability to provoke and enjoy laughter. Seamus married Mary in 1972 and they had three daughters.

Ciaran C Doherty

(Volume X, page 80)

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