Dr. Ned and the travellers

By Maureen O¹Dwyer

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 the way.

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, don’t put me to sleep, give me a fag and I’ll 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 their lives.

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 own livestock.

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 O’Reilly’s ballad singing was also greatly admired by him, also Jimmy McIntyre’s violin playing.

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
April 2001