Ned and the travellers
My first recollection of Dr. McQuaid was of a hardy, athletic
looking young man in an open-necked shirt, grey flannels
and white tennis shoes - a complete contrast from his predecessor
in a pin-striped suit and bowler hat to whom we would almost
have to bow when we met him on the street or if he entered
our home. With Dr. McQuaid, or Dr. Ned as he
was more affectionately known by the older folks around
his home town of Virginia, things were completely different.
He never made a fuss no matter how difficult a situation
was and always made the patient and their family feel at
ease when he was around.
He was a brilliant physician having served as an Army Doctor
in the Far East and he was always accurate in his diagnosis.
There are many healthy men and women walking around today
who owe their lives to his quick thinking and often his
decision would compel instant surgery which he would perform
sometimes in the most primitive circumstances.
When I spoke to him some years ago, I was really impressed
by the wonderful memories he had of his ex-patients - not
the big farmers, business or professional men with whom
he played golf and bridge at a local and national level
- but of the ordinary witty characters, especially the itinerants
with whom he shared many a tale of hardship or happiness.
It was a usual sight to see the doctor chatting with them
at their roadside camp or drinking tea with them from a
smoking black porringer.
One of his proudest stories about the travellers was of
the lovely summer morning when he was called from his sleep
at 5am to attend a mother in labour in a tent at the side
of the road. When he arrived, he could see there were complications,
but could do nothing to remove her to hospital. The local
midwife was on her way to the tent on her bike, so in the
meantime the Doctor delivered a baby girl, wrapped her up
in a few old rags and realised there was a second baby on
As he discussed the situation with me and explained the
complications, he remarked that if this had occurred in
a maternity hospital bells would be ringing, doctors and
nurses running to get the operating theatre ready, and yet
here was he on the roadside with just his two hands, a bucket
of water and a bottle of Dettol and two lives depending
on him. He explained as best he could to the mother and
told her he would have to give her a whiff of chloroform
to perform the necessary operation, but there was no way
she would have it. She pleaded with him Jasus doctor,
dont put me to sleep, give me a fag and Ill
draw on it instead. Finally, he gave her a woodbine,
lit it for her and in minutes had the second baby delivered
into the world. Before the midwife arrived, he had the two
babies wrapped up in whatever clothes he could lay his hands
on and the mother made comfortable in a makeshift bed.
By this time the father of the twins had made the tea and
they all sat down along the roadside drinking good strong
mugs of tea. When he got back into town he called on a few
friends and explained the predicament the family were in.
There were so many baby clothes collected around the town
that day that several babies could be dressed.
Well! The travellers set off a few days later to another
site in another county, but the happy sequel to the story
was that for years after, when ever that family camped within
a mile radius of Virginia, the proud little mother always
took the twins back to see Dr. McQuaid to whom they owed
Then there was the hard winter of 1947 which many of us
remember so well. A few families of travellers had camped
a few miles down from Virginia, the snow and frost was so
hard they they could hardly move out on the road, the few
hungry ponies belonging to them were starving and the local
farmers hay was being stolen, which made the farmers
very annoyed as fodder was scarce enough that year for their
A Court Order was issued to have the travellers moved on,
but already five of the children in the camp had pneumonia
and were very ill. Being the Dispensary Doctor for that
area, Dr. McQuaid was sent for and when he saw the plight
of the unfortunate families, his heart bled for them, he
had one patient removed to hospital and took on the task
of treating the other four himself, making daily visits
with medication and food.
With the help of his family and the local butcher, they
made pots of stew which he delivered daily although the
road by this time was almost impassable.
When the local Sergeant arrived with the Court Order for
the travellers to move on, he had a talk with the doctor
and they both decided against it, the local people also
helped out as best they could, and the four little pneumonia
victims recovered, strangely enough the one who was admitted
to hospital had died.
As well as being a great Medical Practitioner, the doctor
had a great love of Irish music. Before Comhaltas Ceoltoiri
was founded he had the idea of the Session by
getting the lads to play together in his own home, and when
he had the late Caska Daly on the violin, the
late Michael Caldwell on the flute and my own uncle Mattie
Lynch on the accordion, they would play till the cows
came home. When the Fleadh Ceoil started he would
drive them all over the country to take part in the various
competitions and was so proud when they won several prizes.
The late Margaret OReillys ballad singing was
also greatly admired by him, also Jimmy McIntyres
Dr. Ned died in 1995, but he will never be forgotten around
Virginia and East Cavan.
Thiarna Dean Trocaire are a Anam.
Taken from Breffni Blue