Identity Statement for Robert Farnan

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P342
  • Title: Papers of Dr Robert Farnan (1873 - 1962)
  • Dates: 1916-1966
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 1 box
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Biographical History

Farnan, Robert Patrick (1873 - 1962), gynaecologist, farmer, and Senator, was born 18 June 1873, at Bolton Castle, Moone, County Kildare. Eldest son of Patrick Farnan, farmer and Justice of the Peace, and his wife Ellen (née O’Neill). Patrick Farnan had been a friend of, and a regular visitor at the home of Charles Stewart Parnell.

Robert was educated at CBS Athy, during this time he lived with Dr Patrick L. O’Neill, Coroner for South Kildare, who was a maternal uncle. He went on to the Royal University of Ireland and graduated from the Catholic University Medical School in 1897. As part of his medical training, Robert studied gynaecology at Vienna with Dr Rudolf Chrobak, a colleague of Dr Sigmund Freud.

Appointed as gynaecologist of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in 1902, he was the youngest person appointed to the position. From 1925 - 1943 he was also Professor of Midwifery and Gynaecology in UCD and was the chairperson of the Medical Research Council of Ireland upon its establishment in 1937 until he retired in 1955.

A nationalist and close friend of Eamon de Valera, Farnan provided de Valera with financial support and accompanied him on his mission to meet Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister. Farnan's home at 5 Merrion Square was de Valera's first hideout in 1919 after his escape from Lincoln Gaol, and was also the venue for several meetings, such as de Valera’s meeting with general Jan Smuts, Prime Minister for South Africa, for talks before the 1921 Truce.

It is possible that Farnan learnt the “cathartic method” of psychoanalysis during his time in Vienna and used this skill to treat IRA and Cumann na mBan members. According to the witness statement of Eamon Broy “anyone who was anyway low in health or injured was sent to him [Dr Robert Farnan], with a note from Mick [Michael Collins].”

In 1926 he became a founder member of the Fianna Fáil party and in 1938 de Valera nominated him to the newly formed Seanad Éireann as one of his eleven Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad. He was appointed Senator by each subsequent Fianna Fáil Taoiseach until 1961 when he retired from politics. De Valera also made him a director of the Irish Press newspaper from its foundation in 1932. President Douglas Hyde appointed Farnan as a member of the first Council of State in 1938. In 1953 he was appointed to the Council of State by President Seán T. O’Kelly and served on the Council until his death. He mentored Éamon de Valera, Jnr, who also became a gynaecologist.

Farming was Dr Farnan’s recreation and hobby, and he bred Aberdeen Angus bulls at his farm in Kildare. He won various prizes and was President of the National Aberdeen Angus Association from 1946 to 1960.

He married Laura Macken in 1906, she died in 1940; they had no children. He married again in 1941 to Brigid Healy; they had one child, Patrick, who became a Catholic priest.

Robert Farnan died on 7 January 1962 at his home in Howth and was interred in the family plot in Moone Cemetery. Included in the funeral procession were the President and Mrs De Valera; the Taoiseach, Mr. Sean Lemass; members of the Government and of the Oireachtas, the judiciary and representatives of the medical associations. The coffin, draped in the Tri-colour, was carried from the church by members of the medical staff of the Mater Hospital. The nursing staff formed a guard of honour. He bequeathed Bolton Castle to the Archdiocese of Dublin to establish a monastic community, which was done by Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea after 1965.


Mary Heffernan

County Has Lost an Illustrious Son, by J. Durney on January 26, 2012

Bureau of Military History, WS Ref #: 1280 , Witness: Eamon Broy, IRA Intelligence Agent in British Police, Dublin Castle. BMH.WS1280.pdf, page 87

Saturday 17 May 1902, “The Mater Hospital” Carlow Nationalist, Carlow, Republic of Ireland.


Archival History

These papers were deposited by his son Patrick Farnan, in February 2022.

Scope and Content

Letters and messages to Dr Robert Farnan and Mrs Laura Farnan, mainly from Michael Collins, and Eamon de Valera. Other correspondence includes messages and letters from Robert Barton, Sinead de Valera, and General Jan Smuts. Also included are invitations for official events from Dáil Éireann and University College Dublin, and a file of nineteen Daily Bulletin publications. There is a small amount of material relating to the 1916 rising including the accidental shooting of Tom Clarke in January 1916. There is some dissociated material consisting of correspondence, and household accounts.

Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCDA reader’s ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.

Language: English and Irish

Finding Aid: Descriptive catalogue

Twitter Facebook Mastodon. Instagram. Top