A Life in Medicine Eoin O’Brien

A Life in Medicine

From Asclepius to Beckett

By: Eoin O’Brien

Publication Date: 18 May 2023


A Life in Medicine: From Asclepius to Beckett by Eoin O’Brien. Foreword by John Banville.

In his memoir, Eoin O’Brien, an Irish cardiologist and clinical scientist of international repute, recounts his life in medicine and his friendships with doctors, scientists, writers and painters.

Beginning with his upbringing in a medical family in impoverished post-war Dublin he recounts his Catholic education at St Conleth’s School and Castleknock College. In his training in medicine in Dublin’s Royal College of Surgeons and its teaching hospitals, the Richmond and the Rotunda, he evokes personal vignettes of his teachers and colleagues during the nineteen fifties.

Moving to England, where he specialized in cardiology, he charts the exciting development of this discipline from the unique perspective of a front-line doctor. He writes of the personal sensitivities of doctors and nurses who participated in an era of achievement that saw the establishment of coronary care units and the introduction of new drugs and devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators that would reduce the then immense mortality of heart attack.

Returning to Dublin, O’Brien describes the practice of medicine in the hospitals of the city, and particularly in The Charitable Infirmary on Jervis Street, as he and his colleagues established a research unit that gained worldwide recognition for the treatment of high blood pressure. As a medical historian, he recorded the history of Dublin’s voluntary hospitals, which were being closed to usher in a new era of hospital care.

O’Brien’s love of literature and the arts brought him into close contact with some remarkable writers and artists, among them Samuel Beckett, Edith Fournier, Nevill Johnson, Con Leventhal, Brian O’Doherty and Niall Sheridan. His writing yields glimpses into the lives of these individuals, and his reminiscences of his friendship with Samuel Beckett movingly casts new light on the warmth and personality of the Nobel Prize-winner.

‘In this splendid memoir Eoin O’Brien recuperates a vanished world, if only in words … a rich and varied tapestry. This is fascinating, affecting and oddly bracing. It celebrates, and commemorates, both the things of the mind and of the world. In places it is angry – this physician did not always see eye to eye with the Irish medical establishment – and in places wistful, but in all its parts it is grandly affirmative.’ JOHN BANVILLE, Foreword

‘When you meet Eoin O’Brien you are immediately aware that you are in the presence of a brilliant scientific mind – but more than that, because his natural curiosity and his warm open-mindedness keeps leading him from his profoundly important field of medicine into the vast, creative worlds of literature and the visual arts. His fascinating memoir reflects this unusually broad interest. And, for me personally, his passages dealing with his friendship with the great Samuel Beckett are the jewel in the crown of this splendid book.’ DESMOND MORRIS, author of The Naked Ape

‘It’s a most unusual life story … a fascinating chronicle of life in mid-to-late 20th century Ireland, both in medicine and culture.’ Anne Cunningham, Meath Chronicle

‘This delightful book is not really an autobiography. It is an insight into a mind sufficiently disciplined to become a cardiologist of renown well beyond the shores of Ireland. A rewarding read with a permanent legacy.’ Lord David Owen

‘Filled with pithy anecdotes — some amusing, some tragic, but all compelling — A Life in Medicine is a fascinating biography that illuminates Dublin’s bygone medical and literary circles.’ Thomas Lordan, Irish Times

‘The book is an immensely enjoyable chronicle of a long and well-lived life [by] one of the few remaining specimens of that now near-extinct phenomenon: The Man of Letters. [O’Brien] has somehow combined the roles of medical historian, publisher, medical journalist, essayist, Beckett scholar, and editor with a distinguished career as a cardiologist and prodigiously productive hypertension researcher.’ Seamus O’Mahony, The Medical Independent

‘You may be interested to look at a new book by Eoin O’Brien entitled “A Life in Medicine: From Aesculapius to Beckett”. This is not really an autobiography, but says a lot about medicine, culture, and life in Ireland in mid-to-late 20th century. Eoin is an international figure in hypertension research and blood pressure measurement and is author of several books, not only in medicine but also in literature which indeed his new book nicely combined.’ International Society of Hypertension

Professor Eoin O’Brien speaks to RCSI about his memoir A Life in Medicine: From Asclepius to Beckett – read the interview here

Eoin O’Brien has held professorial positions at both the Royal College of Surgeons and at University College Dublin and is a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and of Edinburgh. He is author of several books on medicine and literature. These include Conscience and Conflict: A Biography of Sir Dominic Corrigan, 1802–1880 (1983), A Portrait of Irish Medicine: An Illustrated History of Medicine in Ireland (1984), The Beckett Country: Samuel Beckett’s Ireland (1986), The Weight of Compassion & other essays (2012). He co-edited, with Gerald Dawe, Ethna MacCarthy: Poems (2019).

Weight .4 kg
Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Publication Date

18 May 2023

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