Next time you’re watching TV and you see someone bend over a prone figure, place their finger on his or her carotid artery and pronounce them dead, you can turn to whoever you’re with and tell them suavely ‘No Corrigan’s pulse’. If the almost inevitable response is ‘How do you know their name is Corrigan?’ you can then crank the suavity up to the level of smugness by responding ‘I’m not referring to the corpse but to the technique employed to establish morbidity’.
All right, I accept that’s probably too smug. It’s also a gross oversimplification on my part.
The Corrigan in question is Sir Dominic John Corrigan who was born in Thomas Street in Dublin in 1802 on the site of what is now an Augustinian Church. Unusually for that time he received his university education in St. Patrick’s College Maynooth which already had a section for non-clerical students. He qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh in 1825 where he would just have missed dissecting bodies supplied by the notorious grave-robbers and murderers Burke and Hare to the University’s anatomy professor Dr. Robert Knox.
After qualifying in Scotland Corrigan returned to practise medicine in Dublin rising to the dizzy heights of rooms in Merrion Square by 1837. However in addition to his lucrative private practice he also worked extensively amongst the poor of the city, specializing in heart and lung complaints. He incurred considerable personal risk, as did many members of his profession, during the famine, working with the victims of potentially fatal communicable diseases. His extensive and badly-paid public health work made him unpopular with many of his more mercenary colleagues and he was initially blackballed when he applied for membership of what would become the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. He circumvented the veto by cheekily taking an entrance examination along with a group of newly qualified doctors in 1855. Revenge was sweet. He was president of the RCPI four years later, the first Roman Catholic to hold the office. His original naysayers would not be pleased by the fact that there is a statue and a portrait of Corrigan in the RCPI building on Kildare Street in Dublin today, while no one even remembers the physicians who blackballed him.
Corrigan appears to have been a patient-centered doctor. He once scolded a junior colleague for consulting his watch in front of a patient. In addition to his work as a cardiologist he also developed a cauterising device known as Corrigan’s Button. This exquisitely painful looking instrument was heated and placed on the skin several times to treat, among other ailments, sciatica. It was also used as a form of shock treatment for psychiatric patients. So if you were depressed and suffering from back pain you probably ran a mile when you saw Corrigan approach. Corrigan’s Button has, happily, gone the way of the rack and the thumbscrew. Though it’s invention probably contributed to his becoming a baronet in 1866
In 1870 Dr. Corrigan stepped well outside his comfort zone by standing in a parliamentary by-election as a Liberal. It was the year of William Gladstone’s first Irish Land Act and Corrigan was duly elected. He was an ardent advocate of early release for Fenian prisoners, jailed after the 1867 rebellion. But he then did something unconscionable for any Irish politician. He fell foul of the vintners! Corrigan was a temperance advocate, actively seeking the Sunday closure of public houses and thus lost the confidence of his electorate and, more importantly, their extremely active and vociferous publicans. He didn’t stand for re-election in 1874, though this probably had little impact on the return to power of Disraeli and the Tories that year.
Sir Dominic John Corrigan, humanitarian, cardiologist and inventor of one of the nastiest looking medical devices ever invented, was born two hundred and fourteen years ago, on this day.