Lives of the fellows

Patrick Joseph Sweeney

b.4 December 1917 d.15 August 1992
MB BCh BAO NUI(1939) MRCPI(1942) MRCP(1944) MD(1947) FRCPI(1953) FRCP(1974)

Born in Templemore, County Tipperary, Patrick Sweeney was an only child. The family moved to Glasgow in the early 1920’s where Paddy began his schooling at St Aloysius College. Following the premature death of his father in Glasgow, his mother returned to Ireland and Paddy continued his education at the Cistercian College, Roscrea, County Tipperary. He must have brought great pleasure to his mother for he was an excellent student and a fine musician. In 1933 he entered medical school in University College, Dublin, and had a distinguished career. He won medical scholarships to the value of £30 in his third and final years and took a silver medal of the Medical Society for a student paper on ‘the pneumoconioses’. He graduated with honours and in 1940 was awarded a bursary in medicine by competitive examination. This was the first award of a bursary in medicine by the National University of Ireland and was to the value of £150.

His first job was as house physician to E T Freeman, physician and dermatologist to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin, and this must have laid the foundation for his lifelong interest in dermatology. After house posts in Huddersfield and Dublin, he became house physician to John McMichael, later Sir John (q.v.), at the British, later Royal, Postgraduate School, Hammersmith, London. In 1942 he obtained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and married Nuala MacHale, who was a medical student at University College, Dublin. That same year he enlisted in the RAMC and, following service as RMO to the 1st Battalion Royal Marines, he was graded as physician, general medicine, to the Military Hospital, Chester. In 1944 he passed the membership examination of the College and was transferred to Normandy, where he worked as physician in charge of thoracic injuries. He was later posted to Egypt and then to Palestine, and continued to work primarily in chest medicine. He was demobilized in 1946 with the rank of major, medical specialist.

After the war he worked as first assistant in medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Bournemouth, where he was involved in early gastroscopic examinations. After obtaining his MD he served as senior registrar at Salisbury General Infirmary until his appointment as consultant physician to the Fermanagh group of hospitals in September 1950. This appointment was part of the general expansion following the inauguration of the NHS; prior to 1950 a single-handed county surgeon looked after the entire hospital. Over the ensuing years, there arose a well organized district general hospital on a new site, in no small way due to Paddy’s foresight and energy.

He maintained his interest in chest medicine and, particularly, in dermatology. He was dermatologist to County Fermanagh for 32 years and a founder member of the Irish Dermatological Society in 1965. He was also very active in the affairs of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, being a member of council and examiner for many years; he was vice-president in 1972 and 1973, and censor in 1974. He declined the opportunity to be president on the grounds that his commitments as a county physician, with minimal junior staff, were inimicable to the duties and responsibilities of that post. This was a pity, because at that time he would have been the first ‘northerner’, and first county physician, to be president.

Paddy was a perfectionist by nature and never happier than when in his garden. Abundantly aided by the wet weather, he developed one of the finest collections of rhododendrons and azaleas in Ireland. Over the years his garden featured on television programmes and was open to the public as part of the National Trust Garden Scheme. Shortly after his retirement in 1982 he moved to South Dublin, where he commenced the process all over again and, with the aid of Nuala, created another garden of similar perfection. This was again appreciated by a wide television audience. He also found time to devote himself to antiques, on which he was an authority.

A man of firm conviction, he was warm-hearted and loyal in support of friends and ideas. He was fervent in his belief in the ultimate futility of violence in the pursuit of political or any other ends. He was devoted to his wife Nuala. They had five children, a daughter and four sons. They bore the grievous loss of their daughter, Susan, in 1988 with great fortitude and dignity. He and Nuala had just celebrated their golden wedding anniversary two weeks before his death.

J R Williams

(Volume IX, page 505)

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