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Mayo’s debt to Dr Anthony MacBride

County View

County View
John Healy

Of the long list of public servants to have dedicated themselves to the service of the Mayo public over the decades, few could be said to have commanded the levels of esteem and respect as did Dr Anthony MacBride, a native of Westport.
Dr MacBride served as Mayo County Physician for over 30 years. Most of that time spent was resident surgeon of the old County Infirmary on the Mall, Castlebar, on the site now occupied by Áras an Chontae.
He was brother of the 1916 leader, Major John MacBride, and was said to have been instrumental in introducing his rebel brother to the IRB when he practised as a young doctor in London. Indeed it was the occasion of Dr MacBride’s wedding in Dublin at Easter 1916 that Major MacBride decided to join Thomas McDonagh’s volunteers in their ill-fated occupation of Jacobs’ factory.
Anthony MacBride had returned to Mayo to take up the post of dispensary doctor in Newport before becoming assistant to Dr O’Malley Knott, physician at Mayo County Infirmary. On the latter’s retirement in 1907, MacBride became physician and resident surgeon, taking charge of a 150-year-old building lacking even the most basic facilities, where operations took place on the wards, and where he himself was often obliged to carry patients on his back up the three flights of stairs to the upper floors.
For the next 30 years he would devote his life to the care of the people of Mayo, while at the same time involving himself in every project for the benefit of his adopted town. Central funding of hospital facilities was almost unheard of, and one of Dr MacBride’s first tasks was the provision of an operating theatre. He formed an Infirmary Guild with the objective of funding the theatre, raising nearly £4,000 towards building the facility, and going so far as to encash his own personal insurance policy of £500 to make up the shortfall.
During the War of Independence, he would often travel under cover of darkness, over bog and mountain, to attend to wounded IRA men in safe houses. At the same time, the Infirmary was regularly searched by the Crown forces in their hunt for injured rebels who, they suspected, might be under treatment from Dr MacBride.
It was a measure of his popularity that he was elected first chairman of Castlebar Urban Council, serving from 1921 to 1925. Initially elected on a Sinn Féin ticket, he was subsequently to join Cumann na Gael as a committed supporter of the Anglo Irish Treaty, a course similarly followed by his brother, Joseph MacBride of Mallow Cottage, Westport, TD for south Mayo until his electoral defeat in 1927.
Always his own man, Dr MacBride took a singular stance in the case of the infamous boycott of the Mayo County Librarian, Letitia Dunbar-Harrison, defending her right to appointment in the teeth of intense hostility from clergy and elected councillors. Equally, he was one of a small minority in opposing the call for the release of Republican prisoners in the early days of the new state, facing down the wishes of the elected council of which he was chairman.
But without doubt, his proudest moment came with the opening of the new Mayo County Hospital in 1938, where Minister for Justice PJ Ruttledge officiated and Dr MacBride presided over the celebratory banquet, with catering by William Scott of Westport.
Two years later, he retired, his work done. In 1942, he died at his home in Rathfarnham. His funeral to his native Aughavale was among the biggest seen in Mayo in living memory.