This week I am writing of two men, a generation apart, both of whom made a huge contribution to the local community here in Athy. While both lived for many years in the town, neither were natives of Athy. Bill Ryan, a native of County Tipperary, was a teacher for many years in the secondary school of the local Christian Brothers. Dr. John Macdougald, a native of Dublin, came to Athy in 1974 and having practiced here as a General Practitioner for the last 43 years, retired from his medical practice last week.
Bill Ryan died at the relatively young age of 67 forty years ago and the anniversary of his death occurs on 5th July. He taught me in the local Christian Brothers School for 5 or 6 years until I finished my Leaving Certificate in the summer of 1960. Of all the teachers I had, apart from the legendary Sr. Brendan of my junior school, Bill Ryan, or ‘Mr. Ryan’ as he was always addressed, was the best. He instilled a love of history and literature in a class of young boys whose interest during their teenage years were understandably centred on sports and girls. An avid Fianna Fail supporter, whose allegiance to De Valera was never in question, Bill Ryan brought politics and Irish social history to life for young enquiring minds. He did so without once betraying his responsibility as a teacher by unfair or partisan portrayal of Irish political life or character.
Strangely, although he was a Tipperary man, I can never recall Bill Ryan referring to his native county’s many successes on the hurling field. Sport apparently played little part in his life but outside of school hours he was a dedicated member of the Social Club’s Dramatic Society. He featured in many of the plays performed in the St. John’s Lane Social Club and in the local Town Hall during the 1940s and the 1950s. But it was as a teacher that I remember with fondness the man from Tipperary. I can still visualise him standing at the top of the class talking to us about events reported in the national newspaper of the day, with one hand clinking the loose change in his trousers pocket.
He earned the respect and gratitude of his pupils, for he treated us as young adults who had a right to know and to understand what was happening in the world. His standing among the pupils of the Christian Brothers School can be gauged by the fact that of all the teachers he did not have a nickname. He was simply ‘Mr. Ryan’. He was a first class teacher who was highly effective in forming young minds in the pursuit of knowledge. He died just a few years after he retired and now that I am at an age which was denied to him I am saddened to think that such a good man did not live to enjoy very many years of retirement with his wife Noreen.
To Dr. John Macdougald I wish many years of happy retirement after so many years of devoted service to his patients in Athy and district. I use the term ‘devoted service’ as I have never come across a doctor, or indeed a member of any other profession, who has given of himself or herself with such courtesy and dedication as has John Macdougald. Many are the stories I have heard over the years of patients visited by Dr. John following up to enquire how an earlier diagnosed health problem was progressing. The house calls were made by a man who shared a genuine concern for his patients and who always went that extra mile to reassure the concerned patient. As a general medical practitioner John Macdougald is an exceptionally kind doctor who brought compassion, care and consideration to his practice of medicine, qualities which are sometimes wanting in a profession which is occasionally unfairly criticised.