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2 June 2014 Edition

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Doctors and Warriors

Book reviews by Michael Mannion

Dorothy Stopford Price: Rebel Doctor

By Anne MacLellan, Irish Academic Press

DOROTHY STOPFORD was born in Dublin in 1890 to an archetypal ascendancy family. Her paternal line contained many prominent Church of Ireland clerics; her grandfather was the Archdeacon of Meath; and his grandfather had been the Bishop of Meath.

Dorothy’s maternal grandfather was a physician, and Master of the Rotunda Lying-In (Maternity) Hospital, who founded the first Gynaecological Unit in Ireland.

Governesses were employed for Dorothy and her siblings but they had to be brought over from England to ensure that the children did not develop an Irish accent! Dorothy herself states that they “consorted only with Protestant children”. They believed, by definition, that Protestants were upper class and Catholics lower class.

It was as a result of her privileged background that Dorothy met with her lifelong friend and mentor, Sir Matthew Nathan, who had been appointed Under-Secretary to Ireland in 1914. The two became very close (but strictly platonic) friends. Dorothy would often visit him in Dublin and it was on one such visit in 1916 that she found herself residing in the Vice-Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park for the duration of Easter Week.

She appears to have become radicalised following the executions of the leaders.

Whilst studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin she was witness to the steady stream of  

“ruthless repression . . . searches, raids and curfews”. As a consequence, she joined Cumann na mBan in 1918.

On qualifying as a doctor in 1921, and unable to secure a position in Dublin, she took up a post in Kilbrittain in Cork where “even women” were welcome.

Far from being a rural idyll, the area was at the heart of the struggle in Munster with Kilmichael, Crossbarry and Rosscarbery all occurring nearby. Dorothy became the official medical officer for the local IRA battalion throughout the Tan War.

Although she adopted a strongly anti-Treaty stance (as did most West Cork Volunteers and Cumann na mBan) Dorothy met and married a Free State judge. Out of deference to his views, she appears to have sublimated her own political views and activities, and devoted herself to medical matters and that is where her main legacy lies.

Dorothy Price, as she had now become, was instrumental in the eradication of TB in Ireland. It was her pioneering work and perseverance that led to the introduction of the BCG vaccine which effectively wiped out the disease as a major cause of death in the country.

This biography feels as if it started out as a medical or epidemiological history that morphed into a fuller story of Dorothy’s life. This is a beautifully-written book with exhaustive research providing a wealth of detail that all serves to provide a fuller picture of the individual that was Dorothy Stopford Price.

Memoirs of an Old Warrior – Jamie Moynihan’s Fight for Irish Freedom, 1916-1923

Compiled and edited by Dónal Ó hÉalaithe, Mercier Press

THESE thoroughly engrossing recollections of a veteran of the Tan War and Civil War have much in common with Dan Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom and Tom Barry’s Guerrilla Days in Ireland insofar as they all recount events that were rooted in relatively small geographic areas but with consequences of national – and possibly global – significance.

Jamie Moynihan, as well as being an outstanding Volunteer, appears to have been an almost obsessive recorder of detail. This book is an edited compilation of  the copious documents and extensive recorded interviews that he made prior to his death in in 1970. And a truly fascinating collection it is too.

Everyone knows of Soloheadbeg with Dan Breen and Seán Treacy, generally regarded as the opening shots of the Tan War, but how many people realise that the first armed attack on crown forces was actually carried out by Mid-Cork Volunteers under Jamie Moynihan six months previously?

He is scathing of the Truce as being a major tactical error and points out that of the 650 Volunteers and 50 Cumann na mBan active in the Mid-Cork area, fewer than 3%  supported the Treaty, the remaining 97% continuing to fight for a Republic.

When one reads this book it is impossible not to be awed at the indomitable spirit of a collection of largely farm labourers and local tradesmen with no formal military training who took on the contemporary world’s most formidable military machine and fought it to a standstill, arguably precipitating the collapse of an empire.

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