Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Kathleen Lynn: Irishwomen, patriot, doctor by Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh Irish Academic Press, 0 7165 2843 6 £20.00 pbk
KATHLEEN FLORENCE Lynn from Co. Mayo, one of the first women to achieve a degree in medicine in Dublin in 1899, is remembered as a friend and colleague of James Connolly, not just a doctor but a feminist and revolutionary.
Connolly appointed her a captain and chief medical office of the Irish Citizen's Army. Her role with her distant cousin, Connie Markievicz, in the St Stephen's Green unit of the ICA in 1916, and her subsequent imprisonment in Kilmainham, are generally known among students of history today.
She was one of the four women members of the national executive of Sinn Féin after the 1917 Ard Fhéis, which turned the part from dual monarchism to republicanism. But her amazing contribution to Irish medicine tends to be ignored. What is even more amazing about it is that she was making pioneering medical history at a time when Ireland was going through its War of Independence and when she was still actively involved in that struggle.
In 1919 she founded St. Ultan's Infant Hospital with her friend and colleague Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, who had also served in the medical division of the Irish Citizen's Army. Infant mortality was 150 per 1000 births, malnutrition, rickets and death were the effects of a crushed and starving population. St Ultan's was the first hospital to care especially for children. She was an important figure in new medical practices in Ireland.
In 1923 she took the republican side in the Civil War and was elected as a Sinn Féin TD to the Dáil for Dublin North, refusing to take her seat which involving taking the oath to the British Crown.
She continued on the NEC of the party but in 1926 she was dismayed by the party's refusal to embrace social reform and health care. She left politics and devoted herself to children's medicine in St Ultan's, running her clinic until the spring of 1955 when she was eighty-one. She died in September, 1955.
The author, also a doctor and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, presents and excellent account of the life of one of the great women of the Irish struggle for independence, social reform and a progressive medical policy. It gives new insights on the influence of James Connolly as well as on the role of Irish women at this time.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis