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OBITUARY: Dr Eamonn Ralph, RIP

Dr Eamonn Ralph, a GP who worked in Kildysart in Co Clare, died last month. I knew him all of my adult life. He was, in fact, my first anatomy demonstrator, and on that long ago day when we first met in the old Anatomy Department in the then UCG (now NUI Galway) I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He had a rare kind of debonair good looks, and a way of saying the funniest things in a completely serious tone, so you were unsure whether to laugh or not. Then he would flash a sly smile, and you realised that you were in the presence of an unusually intelligent and companionable person. He was, as the song goes, ‘a man you don’t meet every day’. It wasn’t long until I found myself spending evenings in The Skeff Bar in Galway in the company of Eamonn and Reddy O’Beirne. It was many years before it occurred to me how kind it was of these surgical SHOs to take a clueless young first med like me under their wing.

Eamonn then transferred his many talents to general practice. Like him, I moved first to Donegal and then on to the mid-west, and on my way I heard the stories about the fast-growing legend of Eamonn Ralph.

‘Legend’ is a term that is overused, but if a legend touches countless lives, if a legend puts others before themselves, if a legend is truly one of a kind and cannot be replaced by another human being, then Eamonn Ralph was a true legend.

We would meet up from time to time at conferences and meetings, in the way that doctors do. He never lost his jaunty, elegant air, and often you felt that he had a rapier and a plumed hat near to hand. He was often asked to address the rural GP conferences, where he mixed a laconic wit with a strange wisdom, as well as being incredibly funny.

Those who were lucky enough to be present when he held the floor, without notice or notes, as the room rocked to wave after wave of laughter, will never forget him. Strangely enough, in the most poignant instance at which I encountered Eamonn, he wasn’t even there. It was at an exhibition of photographs of Irish general practice in 2012 by photographer Fionn McCann.

Rural practice is a network that holds communities together, underfunded and ignored, and Eamonn was one of that network’s heroes

These enormous and quite brilliant photos showed Eamonn and other GPs at their work. There was Eamonn in the surgery, in patients’ homes, writing prescriptions and checking blood pressure. He looked at times tired, concerned and almost saintly as he bent his head to listen to the patients. The photos of home visits were particularly moving. You could see elderly country people, living far from services, who had supported the State all their lives and were now having difficulty coping. These pictures captured the essence of rural practice as the doctor gently brought skill, compassion and a listening ear to the poor and to the old.

Rural practice is a network that holds communities together, underfunded and ignored, and Eamonn was one of that network’s heroes. And rural practice is quickly falling to pieces for the sake of the comparative pittance it would cost to hold it all together. But that is an argument for another day.

I had heard that he wasn’t well. We never discussed it when we met. The last time I saw him was, like the first time, in a university. By chance, we both attended a lecture given by Tony Buzan in the University of Limerick. My 12-year-old son and I were put in a group with Eamonn and it was a pleasure to see how he gently and amiably helped Michael through the tasks, in much the same way that he had helped me years before. Maybe the meeting wasn’t by chance at all. Anyway, it was great to see his keen intelligence at work again. Then, on the eve of the ICGP AGM this year, he died. When we heard the sad news the conference started buzzing with tales of the life and stories of Eamonn, and we all felt that one of the finest of us all had left forever.

Eamonn Ralph spent his life helping others. I was one of the many thousands of people who benefited from his company. He was my first medical mentor, and the best. He was a legend.

Dr Eamonn Ralph, Kildysart and formerly of Ballina, Co Mayo, died peacefully on 6 May, 2015, at home, surrounded by his loving family.

  1. Frankie McGowan on July 23, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    So sorry to read about the death of Eamonn. Been in the Uk for 50 years but still remember Eamonn and his family from growing up next door to them and treating me as one of their family. Condolences to the family from Allan and Frankie.

  2. sabatina Andreucetti on July 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Final sentence should read “most of all his family”. Apologies.

  3. Sabatina Andreucetti Wellbeing and Training Hub Kildysart. on July 9, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    I was one of his fortunate patients. He always had time, patience, wisdom and insight into my health etc. Whilst many were frustrated by his attention to detail I responded and recovered due to his kindness and understanding of my illness. He is missed by many, least of all his family.

  4. nigel downes on July 9, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I am a driver with shannondoc out of hours GP on call…I had the pleasure of working with Eamon for 13 years..This man was without doubt the best friend I ever made..he was a living saint and the greatest rogue all in one..I will never ever forget him..R.I.P my old friend

  5. susan O Donoghue on July 9, 2015 at 9:13 am

    It is very rare when one meets somebody special like Dr Eamonn, who inspire others snd take them under their wing.

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