From the Archives: Aleen Cust
Born in Cordangan, Co Tipperary in 1868, Aleen Cust was the first woman to qualify as a veterinary surgeon in Ireland and England. She studied to become a vet in Edinburgh and although she finished the course in 1900, she was not allowed to call herself a veterinary surgeon as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) claimed to have no power to admit women. However, William Byrne, a respected vet in Athleague, Co Roscommon, heard of her case and offered her a role working as his assistant. Byrne died in 1910, but by then Aleen had established her own practice nearby. In 1915, she took a leave of absence and drove all the way to the Western Front in France, where she spent the rest of the war years caring for tens of thousands of horses. After over 20 years of fighting, Aleen Cust was finally awarded her diploma in December 1922. She subsequently retired to the New Forest in England where she devoted herself to breeding spaniels and became heavily involved in the RSPCA. She was on a short trip to Jamaica in 1937 when she suffered a major heart attack and died while attending to a stricken dog. She was buried in a plot close to the St Andrew’s Church in Kingston. To this day, no grave bearing her name can be found. The Aleen Cust Memorial Society are currently undertaking work to find her grave and to ensure that a fitting memorial is erected there: https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/search-for-the-grave-of-trailblazing-but-largely-forgotten-first-woman-to-qualify-as-vet-in-ireland-or-britain-40891361.html
For twenty-two years, Aleen Cust single-handedly fought the veterinary and political establishments and yet history has forgotten her. The Aleen Cust Memorial Society has been established in an effort to change that. The Society is a small group of retired or semi-retired veterinary surgeons who have come together with a single mission - to remember a very courageous and determined Irish woman.
Next year is the centenary year of Aleen’s admittance to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Society are working on a number of events and initiatives to commemorate her name:
- A feature on Aleen Cust on RTE Nationwide shown on 5 November and now available on the RTE Player
- A stamp in memory of this extraordinary lady
- A whiskey in her name at McAllister Distilleries which will open in Ahascragh in 2022
- A series of projects by Transition Year students in the local schools of Galway, Roscommon and Tipperary
- An invitation to individuals or community groups who may have additional information to help with giving Aleen a voice
- A story map of routes or trails where she would have ridden to her work
- Veterinary events around the country
- An international conference and exhibition in 2022
The Aleen Cust Memorial Society can be contacted through email@example.com
Updates on events will be posted on the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine website and social media channels as they are confirmed.