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Biographical entry Sheehan, Michael Vincent (1911 - 1999)

MRCS and FRCS 1942; MB BCh BAO NUI 1935; MCh 1942; FRCS Edinburgh 1941; FRCSI 1969; FACS 1980.

11 April 1911
Cranford, County Wexford, Ireland
September 1999
General surgeon


Michael Vincent Sheehan, usually known as 'Vincent', was a consultant surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland. He was born in Cranford, County Wexford, on 11 April 1911. He was the only son of Michael Sheehan and his wife Eva, formerly Hurley, both school teachers, as were his maternal grandparents. In 1919, his parents were appointed to take charge of the schools attached to the Curragh Camp and the family moved there. He entered Castleknock College in 1923, having gained a scholarship. He took up medicine and went to University College, Dublin, in 1929 and the Mater Hospital for his clinical studies, becoming house physician on qualification. Following a disagreement with his chiefs, he resigned and left the hospital. As a result the Mater lost a great teaching surgeon.

Having spent his school holidays on the Continent, he was proficient in German, French and Spanish, so he decided to go to Cologne University to study anatomy and do some editing work for Bayer. He witnessed life in Nazi Germany and was lucky to leave the day before war broke out in 1939.

Inspired by an uncle in Chicago, he decided to be a surgeon. He went to London, and worked at the Hammersmith and Middlesex Hospitals. In 1940 the Battle of Britain prevented his Fellowship course at Guy's, and he joined the Emergency Medical Service. He was immediately sent to Biggin Hill Hospital and later to St Olave's, Southwark, where he experienced the Blitz and operated on many casualties, gaining a wide surgical knowledge. He took the Edinburgh Fellowship in 1941 and our Fellowship the next year.

In 1944, on his way to the Lahey Clinic, Boston, to hold a fellowship, he was offered and accepted the post of consultant surgeon to the recently founded missionary hospital of Our Lady of Lourdes at Drogheda, county Louth. There he established a teaching hospital of renown. He served the hospital with ability and leadership until he retired in 1983.

He was a man of high intellect, but, perhaps more important in surgery, one of boundless energy. He had a phenomenal memory and was ever keen to apply new approaches to the specialty, including the introduction of computers, structured medical records and clinical photography. His teaching was Socratic, both at the bedside and in his famous tutorials, locally called 'grinds', given to final year medical students.

He composed notes to accompany his lectures and these formed the basis for his textbook published in retirement. His publications were noted for their quality, not quantity. His writing was logical, with knowledgeable anatomical detail and supported by admirable self-made line drawings and delightful thumbnail accounts of the origins of operations. He tutored many missionary doctors, helping them become competent surgeons in the Third World. He designed and helped build a hospital in Nigeria. He was awarded a Knighthood of St Gregory.

He was a man of humour and good company, particularly on visits with the Irish Surgical Travellers to centres at home and abroad. In 1945, he married Marie DeVere, who became a consultant anaesthetist at the same hospital. He died in September 1999, leaving five children, three of whom became doctors. Michael and David are psychiatrists in Florida, and Mary is a dermatologist in Pittsburgh.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Irish Times 11 March 2002; I J Med Sc 2002 171 1, with portrait; information from Harold J Browne].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England