From the Archives: Remembering Professor Tommy McGeady, MVB, MRCVS

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Professor Tommy McGeady on 31 August.  Tommy, a Veterinary Anatomist and former Dean, was a colleague, friend and mentor to staff and students in the School over many years.  Having joined the staff in 1960, he reflected on over 40 years working in the School in the 2001 edition of Pegasus. 

Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam uasal

Tommy McGeady Looks Back at Forty Years Lecturing in the College

‘It was just after Japan had surrendered the war (1945) when I entered the college for the first time,' explained Tommy McGeady, 'I was nine years old, up for the Dublin Horse Show with my uncle, Professor P. A. McGeady.'  Tommy McGeady joined the college staff in 1960, and over the past forty years has been a large and colourful part of the academic, social and sporting fabric of the Veterinary College.  It was during his period as Dean that Tommy was instrumental in spearheading the campaign to build a new Veterinary School. It is through his dedication and hard work that the college finally laid the foundation stone for the new college in Belfield in December 2000.

The Veterinary College in the 1950s

Tommy is no stranger to major upheavals having been a student in the college during the days of the great faculty split. Initially the Department of Agriculture ran the college and students registered for the MRCVS Diploma with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. In the 1950s, the Universities awarded the first veterinary degree (MVB) and among the first MVB graduates were Corrie Mehigan, Professor J.K. Kealy, Professor J.P. O'Connor and Paddy Bourke.

The Great Faculty Split

In 1960, the Government decided that veterinary education should be handed over completely to the universities but a dispute then arose over which university would be responsible for running the Veterinary College. As no agreement could be reached, the Government decided that two independent faculties, each with their own staff, would be sited in the Veterinary College. 'This led to the creation of many new jobs,' explained Tommy, 'l joined as an Assistant Lecturer in 1960 along with Bobby Grey, Fred Smith, Frank Austin and Ken Lucas.'  Tommy now feels that the split retarded the college's development, ‘at the time it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem' he laments. 'The divergence of funding and talent held back the onward progress and research of the faculty. It also kept the College very insular with regard to research and liaison with faculties abroad. The tragedy for veterinary education is that this situation continued for seventeen years.'

Student Life in the l 950s

Life centred on the old common room and horse yard, which was run by the two grooms Finn and Keogh. The large animal operating theatre was the hay barn and horses were knocked down with chloral hydrate and maintained on chloroform. lf the horse flinched, P.A. McGeady, the Professor of Surgery, would shout 'give him another half ounce.' The joke was always that the student on anaesthetics got such an overdose he'd be asleep all afternoon along with the horse.  Sport was part of the veterinary culture but this went into decline with the increasing academic workload. In the old days, Wednesday afternoon was devoted to sport and this was taken so seriously by inter-year leagues that Tommy even gave scrum practice tutorials in the anatomy room. The Veterinary College was famous for its sportsmen, both in rugby and Gaelic, and one year alone produced three rugby internationals - Mick Doyle, Jimmy Kelly and P.J. Dwyer.  The last MRCVS diploma by examination went in 1963 to the legendary Tom 'Skibb' O'Driscoll. He was a professional student, well known to all the Gardaí (mostly from Cork), not for any lawlessness, but for his attendance at every function and dog fight in Dublin. He spent up to fifteen years in pursuit of a veterinary degree and enjoyed every moment of it.

Memorable College Lecturers

One of Tommy's main memories of his clinical years was the tremendous workload put in by Professor W.R. Kelly in the Department of Medicine. In the 1950s, Ron Kelly ran the whole Medicine and Pharmacology course single-handed. 'He was a very correct man who called all the staff by their title and was dedicated to the college. Beneath the stiff upper lip though, was a great sense of humour.  Professor Collery in Anatomy is well remembered by his students for his sharp and cutting wit and all took care not to expose oneself to his tongue. During an early morning anatomy lecture the professor, spotting a student dozing at the back of the class, roared up 'Describe the pancreas.' Bleary eyed, the student turned desperately to his neighbour for help and was promptly told the question was on the testes. After launching into a fumbled description of the testes the student was peremptorily dismissed by the Professor's comment: ‘I asked for bread and he gives me stones.’ Tommy expressed great regard for his colleague in the Anatomy Department, the late Manus Bennett. 'Manus was a real saint and the soul of the department' recalls Tommy, 'although tragically diagnosed with lymphatic cancer he carried on for many years and was an inspiration to us all with his courage, sense of humour, kindness and dedication to the students.' 

The Man from Uncle

In such a small Faculty, having a relation in the college, especially when he was the Dean and a father figure in the profession, exposed you to endless teasing. Bobby Grey (Lecturer in Biochemistry) nicknamed Tommy ‘The man from Uncle' after his uncle P.A. McGeady, Professor of Surgery. ‘My uncle dedicated his life to the veterinary profession and veterinary education but he was not known for his patience,' Tommy remembers.  ‘One day all the students were sitting on the hay bales watching a young John O'Connor, all gloved and gowned, struggling to find a rig's testicle. Suddenly P.A. sails down the yard in his big white coat, pushes John to one side and rolling up his sleeve, sticks his hand into the incision. Within seconds, like Jack Horner, he had pulled out the testicle, hands it to John, turns and sails up the yard again all smiles.'

Changes Over the Years

One of the main changes Tommy has seen over the years has been the increase in the number of girls entering the college. 'There was one female in my graduating class in 1960, but since then the numbers have gradually increased and now females make up 60% of the intake.'  In the past, the academic staff were mainly Dublin graduates but the present staff is much more diverse with lots of overseas graduates. Also, the number of non-veterinary staff has increased and strengthened the expertise in the preclinical areas, especially in the field of research.  Tommy feels the faculty must continue its increased research profile while at the same time maintaining its proud and longstanding tradition as a quality teaching establishment.