Saturday 24 February 2018

Obama's relative signs up for medical exhibition

Kevin Keane

A signature of a distant relative of Barack Obama goes on display this week as part of an exhibition on the history of Irish medicine -- just in time for the US president's visit here.

Among the skeletons, pills and instruments in an exhibition marking 300 years of medicine at Dublin's Trinity College is the signature of the representative of the city's surgeons, Michael Kearney.

Mr Kearney, who was Mr Obama's great-great-great-great-great-great grand-uncle, was not a doctor at all but a wig-maker.

During his lifetime, Mr Kearney, whose family originally came from Moneygall, Co Offaly, rose to be the master of the Guild of Barber Surgeons -- 18th Century hairdressers who doubled as surgeons for the grizzly operations of the time.

It was once said about him that "no man alive was equally fired with ambition".

The current head of the medical school at Trinity College, Dermot Kelleher, explained that the jobs of barbers and surgeons were very closely linked when the school was founded in 1711.

"If you go to the Royal College of Surgeons even to this day for their formal ceremonies they use barber poles as part of the ceremony," he explained.

Survival rates from illnesses at the time compared poorly with those of the present day, according to Mr Kelleher.

"It was very, very different, there was no effective treatment for infectious disease, if you got something like typhus or typhoid or cholera you were likely to die."

Artefacts from the school's 300-year history will go on display on Thursday in Trinity College's Old Library, the building that houses the world famous 'Book of Kells'.


Other curiosities from the collection include the skeleton of the great Irish giant Cornelius McGrath, a 7ft 3ins Tipperary man who suffered from gigantism and who died at the age of 24 in 1760.

Students from the medical school were said to have taken his body for dissection following his death and his bones have been at Trinity College ever since.

The death mask of Jonathan Swift will also be on display at the college.

A passage from the Swift's book 'Polite Conversation' lends the exhibition its title: 'The Best Doctors in the World are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman'.

Admission to the exhibition is €9 for adults and children under 12 are free.

Irish Independent

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