He and I were ably abetted by the late Rev Dr Donal O’Driscoll, Dean of Cloyne, who was at that time a curate in the parish of Charleville in north Cork.
During that time – 1970 to 1982 – I put four ministers for health through my hands – Erskine Childers, Brian Lenihan, Brendan Corish and Charlie Haughey.
We were fighting against the Fitzgerald report which was nothing other than a charter for the greed of medical consultants who wanted to degrade 22 of the 24 county hospitals to the low level of community healthcare centres.
The two county hospitals which were to retain their status were Sligo and Tralee.
Funnily enough, the then county surgeons in those two hospitals were the only county surgeons on the committee which produced the Fitzgerald report.
Coincidence? Methinks no.
The Mallow Hospital Retention Committee was the first, and it remains the only, non-political organisation to conduct a referendum of the people. We invented a weighted referendum so that a “chastitute” living alone in the hills did not have the same clout as that of a husband and wife with, say, five children.
The referendum was supervised and certified by Deloitte & Touche, chartered accountants, and the result was that 96% of the catchment population of 70,000 opted for Mallow over Cork or Tralee for the location of general hospital facilities.
Rev Dr Donal O’Driscoll and I wrote a booklet entitled ‘Mallow Hospital – the Case for Survival’. That booklet was distributed over a number of Sundays outside every church gate in the catchment area.
I should state that when the official census of population was taken some few years after the retention committee’s referendum, the population of the catchment area was virtually the same as the number of votes cast in our referendum.
Eventually the force of the will of the people persuaded Charlie Haughey to relent and to appoint the necessary consultant to Mallow hospital.
The committee had written to Mr Haughey giving him one month to make such an appointment or else face a heightened political campaign which he, wise man, knew would wreck his hopes of ever progressing from minister for health to the office of Taoiseach which he craved.
Three days after the Buttevant train crash the then matron of Mallow hospital, Mary Coughlan, phoned me to say 11 people among the survivors would, as she put it, “have drowned in their own blood” if they had had to be taken as far as Cork by ambulance.
I believe those who are currently fighting for the retention of Mallow hospital should revisit the socio-medical arguments which we used through the 1970s successfully to prevent the general hospital from being turned into a half-way house for half-cured patients.
It’s bad enough to have Dublin gurriers trying to claim Hill 16 as being their private domain.
But it is intolerable that the wealthy denizens of the medical profession and their political cohorts, from salubrious regions such as Dublin 4, should be allowed to add further to the destruction of the fabric of rural Ireland which John Gormley and the Green party have been beavering away at in recent times.
I write this so that nobody will ever be able to say, in the memorable phrase of the late, great journalist John Healy: “No one shouted stop”.
I’m not asking the present wretched Government to retain general hospital facilities in Mallow so as properly to serve the needs of a predominantly rural catchment area.
I’m shouting at them to do so.
John V Lennon