It was with great sadness and a deep sense of loss that the Skibbereen community learned of the death of Dr Michael Boland this week. Dr Boland died peacefully on 25 March after a protracted illness. He was 71 years old.
To fully outline the enormous contribution that Dr Michael Boland made to the practice of medicine in Ireland in a short tribute such as this is impossible. Held in extraordinarily high regard by his colleagues, Dr Boland was awarded the Irish Medical Times Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Introducing Dr Boland at the Awards Ceremony, MC Anne Cassin of RTÉ said: ‘If doctors were asked to name just one person who has perhaps contributed the most to shaping modern Irish general practice, the name on most people’s lips would be Dr Michael Boland’.
An article in the Irish Medical Times in 2013 said Dr Michael Boland was ‘The father of Continuing Medical Education (CME) in Ireland, founding member and first chairman of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), President of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA), and Director of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) Postgraduate Resource Centre, he was the driving force behind getting general practice recognised as a specialty in medicine in Ireland’.
In 2009, University College Cork awarded Dr Boland an honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine. Delivering the citation, Prof David Kerins, then Head of the School of Medicine, UCC, said both his academic and clinical colleagues held the Skibbereen GP in ‘extraordinarily high’ regard. ‘He has played a critical role in the evolution of contemporary general practice in Ireland. He has also acted as a wonderful ambassador for Irish medicine. His influences on the advancement of general practice and patient care are recognised and appreciated on a worldwide basis’, said Prof Kerins.
Michael received his secondary education in Clongowes Wood College. He entered UCD as a medical student and having graduated in 1972 and returned to his native Skibbereen to take up general practice in partnership with the late Dr Micheal O’Sullivan and the late Dr John O’Keeffe.
In 1972 Michael married Susan O’Rourke. The couple met at UCD where Susan studied Social Science.
In 1975 Dr Boland joined the highly successful Continuing Medical Education (CME) pilot scheme which had been set up in West Cork under the auspices of the Cork Vocational Training Scheme.
Working from Skibbereen, Dr Boland trialled the West Cork Pilot Group in CME in 1981 as Tutor. The pilot proved an enormous success and led directly to similar groups being established throughout Ireland. By 1984, a national CME network was established, and it helped break down the many barriers that existed between GPs, afforded them the opportunity to meet, exchange views and learn from each other.
As National Director of the CME Network from 1986 to 1997 Dr Boland directed a network of 29 GP Tutors serving 1,650 GPs (75 per cent of the GPs in Ireland) in more than 130 peer review groups. The success of the CME scheme led directly to the foundation of the Irish College of General Practitioners. Dr Boland drafted the constitution of the new College and became its first chairman from 1984 to 1987. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in the UK.
In 1982 Dr Boland was honoured with a very prestigious appointment to a European medical group which examines and provides guidelines for the improvement of medicine in general practice, becoming the first Irish doctor to represent Ireland in the European Leeuwenhorst Group. In April 1990 the European group held their Spring meeting in Skibbereen, an event that was organised and hosted by Dr Michael and Susan Boland.
Dr Boland joined the Council of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA), representing Ireland in 1986. He was elected to the World Executive in 1992 and served as President from 2001 to 2004. On his appointment as President of WONCA, Dr Boland started a global campaign to combat AIDS/HIV and the proliferation of tobacco use in the developing world.
He was accorded a civic reception by Skibbereen Urban Council in June 2001 on his appointment, and in August Dr Boland was the special guest at a function at Skibbereen Heritage Centre which was attended by family, friends and members of the management committee of the Centre.
One of Dr Boland’s more high-profile achievements in terms of public awareness was the crucial role he played as chairman of the Office of Tobacco Control in Ireland. Following his appointment in 2000 he worked very closely with then Minister for Health Micheál Martin and Department of Health officials, a campaign that culminated on 16 October 2003 when a ban on smoking in all workplaces in Ireland was signed into law.
As well as his exceptional contribution to medical practice in Ireland, Dr Boland also gave very generously of his time and talents to the community in Skibbereen and he and Susan have been prominently involved with many local organisations. Susan continues her considerable work in the community.
Dr Boland followed in a family tradition of service to the community in Skibbereen as his father Michael R. Boland (Ronnie) was intimately involved in the promotion of this area for many years. Ronnie Boland and his wife Mary (née Fox) moved to Skibbereen from Dublin in 1938 when he was appointed a senior partner by Jasper Wolfe in the legal practice of Wolfe & Co., then one of the largest legal practices in the south of Ireland.
Ronnie Boland, among many other activities, was founding chairman of the West Cork Development Association and was chairman of the Skibbereen Development Association.
In 1958 Ronnie Boland published a pamphlet titled ‘The West Cork Scandal’ in which he berated the government for their neglect of West Cork. In the introduction he said: ‘This article is an exposure of the gross injustice which has been meted out to the West Cork District by our native Government. Readers can judge for themselves whether this injustice is due to neglect only or whether there has also been criminal by-passing and deliberate discrimination by those charged by their office to act in the public interest and for the common good’.
This was a remarkable expose of the state of underdevelopment of West Cork and the chronic problems of emigration and rural decay in the 1950s. Today, some sixty years later, it still makes for very interesting reading.
Dr Michael Boland was equally committed to the promotion and wellbeing of Skibbereen and West Cork. Many will remember Dr Boland’s involvement with Skibbereen Junior Chamber from the mid-1970s for well over a decade. He was president of Skibbereen Junior Chamber in 1980.
In those years debating teams from Skibbereen JC won national and international success. Skibbereen won the National JC debating title in 1975 and got to the final of the British Isles and Ireland debating competition but were narrowly beaten by Aberdeen in the final, which was held in Scotland. The Skibbereen team was Jim Byrne, Joe O’Donovan, John Field and Teddy O’Regan.
Skibbereen retained their national title in 1976 when they defeated Leopardstown in the final and went on to represent Ireland in the tripartite international debate competition and defeated Scottish champions Elgin on Saturday 11 December in the semi-final.
In the final on 19 February 1977, on a very memorable night in the Town Hall in Skibbereen, the local JC team defeated Omagh with a majority vote of the judges after a superb debate on the motion ‘that this house believes that the supremacy of man is over-rated’. The Skibbereen team was Dr Michael Boland, Cathal O’Donovan, Teddy O’Regan and Joe O’Donovan.
Susan is also a highly accomplished debater and in 1977 Skibbereen JC entered two teams for the national competition. Susan, Michael, Joe O’Donovan and Cathal O’Donovan competed on one team, while Pat Boland, Henry Peglar, Fachtna Hamilton and John Field made up the second team.
In a most cruel twist of fate, Dr Michael Boland, while still a relatively young man and with so much more to contribute to his family, his profession and his community, was struck by a debilitating illness which quickly incapacitated him.
To Susan, who has displayed such devotion and forbearance over the past number of years, and to their children Eve, Mary Jane and Mike, we offer our sincerest sympathy. Two of Dr Michael and Susan’s children, Eve and Mike, have followed their father into the medical profession.
Dr Michael Boland is also survived by his sisters Pat, Sheelah and Mary, an extended family, and friends and medical colleagues in Skibbereen, all over Ireland and in many parts of the world.
In his book Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen, published in 2008, author Jasper Ungoed Thomas described Ronnie Boland as being ‘a member of one of the most talented and distinguished families to emerge in the Free State’. Talented and distinguished are words that go some way to describe Dr Michael Boland who certainly continued a family tradition of outstanding service to society and to the people of Ireland.
– P. O’R