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Sunday 17 February 2019

Obituary: Joseph Gallagher

Pioneering surgeon, sailor and rugby devotee will be missed, says Rory Egan

RESPECTED: Joseph Gallagher
RESPECTED: Joseph Gallagher

It was once said that all of our great medical consultants in Ireland had a God complex. In many respects, that was true but it was only because we asked them to run whole departments, diagnose and treat whole communities and save lives with their complex surgery. All done with little management training and very few resources. Those who could succeed against odds like this maybe earned the right to be seen as gods.

One such man who deserved the accolade more than most never succumbed to the belief that he was a medical deity due to his innate humility but became one of the most beloved and respected surgeons of our time. Joseph Gallagher, the orthopaedic surgeon who started the A&E department of St Vincent's Hospital in Elm Park, passed away on March 19 aged 93.

Born in Westport on March 17, 1925, Joseph was one of four children. A twin brother, Paddy, died in the early 1970s. He also had a brother Roger and a sister Margaret, who was a doctor too. His father was a civil servant and his mother, unusually for the time, a businesswoman who set up a knitwear factory, the Connaught Coziwear Company, in Westport.

Joseph was educated by Christian Brothers in Westport and Roscrea College, Co Tipperary, where he first fell in love with rugby. He studied medicine at UCD and represented the college at rugby and even captained St Vincent's in the Hospital Cup. In the early 1970s, he was appointed medical adviser to the IRFU and in 1989 was appointed to the International Rugby Board.

In the same month as he qualified as a doctor from UCD in 1948, he emigrated and worked at Leicester Royal Infirmary as a casualty officer. He commenced his surgical career in the trauma unit in Coventry Hospital. He then went to the Miller Hospital in Greenwich, London, and worked for two years in Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in London.

While he enjoyed his time in the UK, Joseph was always happiest at home in Ireland. He returned to Dublin and was conferred with a Fellowship of the College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1956 and a Master of Surgery degree from the National University of Ireland, UCD in 1957.

He became consultant to St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, and Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital and set up the A&E department in St Vincent's.

Joseph was a pioneer of orthopaedics. He was one of the first Irish physicians to ever attempt spinal surgery and he was reputed to have carried out the first successful hip replacement in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital.

He met Betty Davies, a nurse from Coventry, during his time in Leicester and they married soon after. Joseph and Betty had four children, Martin, Anne, John and Joe. He had eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Joseph had many pastimes but sailing was one of his greatest obsessions. His children remember going for a drive in Dun Laoghaire one day when Joseph stopped the car, having seen a boat from the corner of his eye. Without further ado, he walked over to the owner, made him an offer and became the owner in the space of an hour.

Joseph was not only an accomplished sailor but, after he retired, a talented painter, an inveterate fisherman, an opera enthusiast and a keen golfer. He played golf in his club in Milltown up until a few weeks before he died.

Joseph was one of the nicest gentlemen you could care to meet. He could regale a room with stories or give you the wisest, most considered advice whenever necessary. He had no ego. He never needed to strut the halls of his hospitals like a deity. Joseph earned the respect of all who worked with him and anyone who knew him will feel great sadness at his passing.

Sunday Independent

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