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Dr Eamonn John Sullivan 06.06.26-09.12.14

As well as being the local family doctor, after 1878 the DMO became the medical officer of health for their district, which gave them wide powers and responsibilities to deal with public health problems in their areas.

Eamonn John became DMO for the Corr Na Móna, Clonbur, Cloch Breac, Leenane and Seanafarraghan areas of North-West Galway in 1964. On the edge of Connemara in Joyce country, the district is sparsely populated and covers a wide area: House-calls with a round-trip of 50 miles were not uncommon.


His appointment to the district was a homecoming of sorts. Born in 1926 to Thomas and Mary Sullivan of Grouse Lodge, Corr Na Móna, Eamonn John overcame an inauspicious start to life: At birth he was thought to be stillborn and was ‘placed’ in a bucket — fortunately, on hitting the bucket he started to cry.

Having attended local primary schools in Corr na Móna and Cloonbruin, he completed his secondary education at Garbally College in Ballinasloe. His time there echoed some key World War II dates — he started school on the day Britain and France declared war on Germany, and he sat his Leaving Certificate on D-Day, 6 June, 1944.

After a year working, he entered the medical school of University College Galway (now NUIG). Over a glass of Bushmills, he would fondly recall a series of typical medical student scrapes — his trademark roar of laughter marking the punchline. However, like many others his medical studies were interrupted by the onset of tuberculosis, costing him three years while he was being treated. This included several pleurodeses and prolonged courses of antibiotics.

During his studies in Galway he met and fell in love with the love of his life, Babe Kelly, from Newcastle in Galway and they got married in 1952. In a sign of the times, this was a clandestine affair because, as Babe was working at the time, she would have to have given up her job on getting married and as Eamonn John was a penniless student recovering from TB, she couldn’t afford to do this. Therefore the marriage was kept secret until Eamonn John qualified in 1955.

He worked as a house doctor in Merlin Park Hospital after qualifying. Unsurprisingly, given his personal medical history, he developed an interest in thoracic surgery; in later years he spoke fondly of working with Des Kneafsey, a pioneering cardiothoracic surgeon at the Regional Cardiothoracic Surgical Unit in Merlin. Eamonn John remarked how undervalued the Unit was at the time, even though the first cardiac catheterisation in Ireland was carried out there, as well as open heart surgery on both adults and children.

After the usual locum stints as a general practitioner, he was appointed DMO for Corr na Móna in late 1964. Single-handed all his professional life, with a permanent on-call commitment, save for an annual holiday, he spoke in later life of the burden of continually making clinical decisions without being able to discuss cases with medical colleagues. As for the on-call, he accepted this as part of the job vocation. For much of his professional life there were few phones in the district, but led by Babe, a loyal cohort of locals organised a semaphore system to alert him to the existence of an additional house call as he returned from a call on the far side of Bundorragha or some other area on the edge of the practice. Eamonn John retired on his 70th birthday in June 1996.

This gave him additional time to pursue his passion for motor sport and cars. A founder member of the Galway Motor Club in 1960, he developed a huge interest in classic cars. A keen mechanic, the ability to tinker with his car collection while on 24-hour call must have offered a partial switch-off from his professional responsibilities.

An excellent fisherman, he made the most of the beautiful stretch of Lough Corrib on his doorstep. Long-standing Chairman of the Corr na Móna and District Anglers Association, he made a significant contribution to angling development and conservation both locally and nationally. Eamonn John represented Ireland four times in International fly-fishing competitions. A keen woodcock man and a good shot, his red-letter day was 10 woodcocks with 11 cartridges.

His wife Babe predeceased him by five years and her departure grieved him sorely from that day on. He is survived by his three daughters, Jonah, Ruth and Elisabeth and his son, Thomas.

Ni bheidh a leithead ann arís.


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