Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Brian Maguire, now in his 81st year. A retired medical doctor, former dispensary doctor for Moone and later Athy west, Dr. Brian is a man for whom I have great admiration. A dedicated doctor he nevertheless found time to involve himself in his local community and the community has been enriched by his contribution over the years.
A graduate of the College of Surgeons in Dublin, Brian went to England in 1948 to gain further training, qualifications and practical experience to enable him to eventually set up as a General Practitioner in his own country. Time spent in the Royal Infirmary in Halifax four years after the ending of World War II and while food restrictions were still in place, proved an enjoyable experience, even if not a gastronomic treat. Six months further training in maternity in Heathfield Hospital, Birmingham followed before he joined the newly opened paediatric unit in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin under the legendary, Dr. Robert Collis. Collis was part of the medical team which followed the troops into Belsen Concentration Camp in 1945 and he it was who brought a number of orphaned children back to Ireland at the end of the war.
Dr. Brian spent thirteen months in the Rotunda Unit and while there he took driving lessons so that he could drive the Hillman Commer van used in travelling throughout Dublin city collecting breast milk to be stored for use by infants in the hospital unit. It was an innovative scheme at the time and similar to the one which was commenced with much fanfare and publicity in Northern Ireland within the last few years.
His return to Birmingham was prompted by a need to gain a Diploma in child care and a Certificate in public health, necessary qualifications for someone with aspirations to become a dispensary doctor. It was while there that he met his future wife Megan with whom he will soon be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
While an assistant in a general practice in Birmingham he became involved with the Irish association in that city. At the same time he kept an eye on the advertisements in the Irish newspaper, all the time hoping to return to Ireland if a suitable dispensary position arose. He applied for the position of Dispensary Doctor in the Moone area, and following an interview with the Local Appointments Commission was offered the job. County Councils were then responsible for the administration of the health services, and the then County Manager, Matthew Macken, indicated that the fine dispensary house at Ballitore occupied by the previous holder of the position, Dr. Gardiner, could not be repaired due to lack of funds. As a result Dr. Brian was allowed to live outside his dispensary area in Athy.
He stayed in the Leinster Arms Hotel for thirteen months before taking a flat over Bradbury’s Bakery in Stanhope Street. It was then that Megan and the children joined him and it was from there in 1963 that the Maguire family moved to Aughaboura to the house previously owned by Paddy Kavanagh. Dr. Bill Cowhey who was Dispensary Doctor in Fontstown had a private practice based in Jo and Frank Gibbons’ house in Emily Row and when Dr. Cowhey left the area, Brian acquired his private medical practice.
A member of the Council of the Irish Medical Association for several years as well as a member of the organising committee of the Irish Medical Journal, Dr. Brian served on the Consultative Committee on General Practice established by the Minister for Health Erskine Childers in the late 1960’s. The recommendations in that report contributed to the discussions which led to the abolition of the dispensary system ten years later. Before its total abolition the amalgamation of the Moone and Fontstown dispensary districts with the town of Athy led to the creation of Athy east and Athy west dispensary districts, the latter of which became Dr. Brian’s responsibility. Nurse Teresa Brennan, the former jubilee nurse, worked with him in Athy west and when he referred to her it was in terms of her extensive local knowledge and the strength, devotion and goodness she brought to her role as a dispensary nurse.
A doctor on his rounds finds people at their most vulnerable and nowhere more so than the elderly person living along, sometimes in impoverished if not primitive conditions. Conditions in Ireland in the 1950’s were far more primitive than that found in England even a decade or two earlier. The days of the Celtic Tiger were still far off and what Dr. Brian found on his rounds prompted him to approach the then Parish Priest, Fr. Steen to highlight the need of the elderly in our local community. Brian’s desire to help those in need led to a public meeting in St. John’s Hall in 1965 which was addressed by the County Medical Officer, Dr. Brendan O’Donnell. A local Care of the Elderly Committee was formed in the town, the first Chairman of which was Dr. Brian Maguire who would continue in that position for the next twenty years or so. In time the Committee purchased 82 Leinster Street from the Duke of Leinster with funds donated by local generous benefactors and from there, various voluntary services were to be provided for the elderly of the Athy district.
The Asian flu epidemic of 1971/72 provided Dr. Brian and the other local doctor, Dr. Joe O’Neill, with one of the most trying and difficult periods of the last few decades. The first victim of the flu was treated on 23rd December 1971 and for the next four days neither doctor had any rest or respite as stricken patient after patient was attended and treated in a frantic attempt to halt the worst excesses of the epidemic. An earlier strain of Asian flu struck 53 years previously causing more deaths worldwide than was lost during the 1914/18 War. Even as he recounts over thirty years later that “I lost one patient during that epidemic”, one is conscious of the sense of regret which underscores the words. But surely a doctor is accustomed to the regularity of death and does not feel as we who do not share in that experience week in week out. But death, no matter how familiar, no matter how frequent, brings sadness in its wake to the caring compassionate doctor. It was that same compassion which prompted the founding of the Care of the Elderly Committee, the local organisation which continues to this day to provide services and comforts for elderly persons living alone.
Throughout his life Dr. Brian has been a caring person who involved himself. Firstly as a medical student in Dublin he was President of the I.M.A. College Students Association and recalls with pride his attendance at a conference in London just after the war addressed by the former miner and one time editor of the Tribune, the legendary Aneurin Bevan. It was Bevan who as Minister for Health presided over the creation of the National Health Services in Britain.
Then there was his membership of the I.M.A. Council and the organising committee of the Irish Medical Journal, not to mention his chairmanship of the Athy Development Association in the 1970’s. This latter group helped establish the first industrial estate in Athy just beyond St. Vincent’s Hospital.
His involvement in establishing the Care of the Elderly Committee and his work on that committee over two decades is apart from his work as a local doctor, perhaps his greatest contribution to the local community. Indeed the Maguire household has not one but two whose lives for almost fifty years were inextricably linked with the community amongst which they came to live in 1957. Both Dr. Brian and his Welsh born wife Megan have contributed hugely to the well being of their adopted town of Athy.