Born in Longford on 19th April 1892, the daughter of James P and Bride Farrell (nee Fitzgerald), Mary Josephine Farrell was educated at the Convent of Mercy and then as a boarder at the Ursuline Convent Secondary School, Sligo. Her father was a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party and founder, owner and editor of the Longford Leader newspaper. He was elected to parliament in 1895 first in the constituency of West Cavan and then in North Longford serving as a member of parliament until 1918.
Having secured her matriculated to UCD in 1911, Mary commence study of Medicine graduating with a first class honours degree in Medicine (MB BCh BAO) on the 19th July 1916. She continued her postgraduate studies through the 1920’s, completing a Doctor of Medicine (MD 1921), a Masters of Obstetrics (MAO 1922) and a Diploma in Public Health (DPH 1924).
As part of her clinical training, Dr Farrell undertook clinical training in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Coombe Hospital where she was assistant to Master, Prof Robert Ambrose MacLaverty. Dr Farrell continued her clinical training at Richmond Whitworth and Hardwicke Hospitals in Dublin before taking up an appointment as Resident Medical Officer at the Workhouse of the Poor and Medical Officer to the Children’s Homes City of Norwich, England in 1917.
She volunteered during the Great War at the Central Military Hospital, Prees Heath Camp, Salop (Shropshire) in England from the beginning of 1918 and was appointed House Officer / Resident Physician and Anaesthetist at the Liverpool Stanley Hospital later that same year. She was also Assistant Medical Officer at an asylum on the Isle of Man for a time shortly before the death of both of her parents in 1921.
Dr Farrell acted as medical referee for Longford War Pensions Committee during the period 1921 to 1926 and was appointed Dispensary Medical Officer at Ballyduff, Co Waterford in 1927. During her career she would also act as an examiner medical officer for the British Ministry of Pensions in Dublin and medical officer for Corás Iompar Eireann in Longford.
Dr Farrell briefly became something of a celebrity when in 1925 she successfully diagnosed a bullet in the heart of Michael Reilly, a Connaught Ranger who had been shot six years previously. The German bullet sustained during the First World War had pierced both lungs before lodging in the heart. The diagnosis was confirmed by an X-ray at the Richmond Hospital and the bullet removed by Harley Street surgeon, Major J.E.H. Roberts at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton some ten years after the injury was first sustained.
Dr Farrell volunteered at the West African Medical Service in West Africa for two years from around 1928 where she pioneered and studied many advanced inoculation techniques of the time. On the 21st April 1930, Mary was appointed Dispensary Doctor in Longford Town and Medical Officer of Health for the Longford Dispensary District. In the 1950’s Mary founded the Minard Nursing Home in Co Longford which offered maternity care and care for senior citizens in the locality. She continued her medical practice in Longford Town until her retirement in 1963 and was highly regarded for her care of TB patients and for the Travelling community. Following her retirement as Medical Officer, she continued in private practice at Minard and acted in a locum capacity for many years.
Mary died on the 14th September 1973 and is buried at the Ballymacormack Cemetery, Longford.
In September 2017, Dr Gerard McDonagh, who also practised as a GP in Longford for many years, unveiled a plaque at the College Medical Centre, Longford Town, to commemorate Dr Farrell’s life and service to the community.
The UCD School of Medicine is establishing the Mary J Farrell Medal for Community Care to honour this exceptional UCD Medicine alumna who helped lay the foundations for modern general practice care in Ireland.
Article composed from various contributions by Kitty Hayes, Patricia O’Kelly and Lucius Farrell to whom we extend our thanks.