". . . To-day he holds an enviable reputation as a
teacher and practitioner in his specialty..."
- Gaelic American, 1915.
Dr. Joseph G. Byrne
Compiled by William Ellis
Previously published in the 1987/88 edition
of Carloviana pages 14 & 15.
G.* Byrne was born in Bagenalstown in March, 1870, his
father's name was Patrick and his mother's maiden name was
Margaret O'Neill. He was the youngest of a family of seven,
four boys and three girls. One of his brothers, George,
became a priest and died P.P. of Graiguecullen in 1909.
From his youth Joseph displayed a fondness for study and
took a keen interest in sports. At St. Patrick's College,
Carlow he was awarded the medal for Arts and Philosophy, and
in 1890 received his B.A. degree from the Royal University.
While a student he not only achieved high scholastic
distinction, he also won fame on the athletic field. In
track and field sports he was rated one of the best men of
his day in Ireland, not only in special events but as an
In 1891 Joseph Byrne emigrated to New York to pursue his
studies. He became a naturalzed citizen of the U.S. in 1897.
Even in the U.S. he continued .his interest in sport.
Handball had a special attraction for him, he regarded it as
Ireland's only real national pastime. As a unifying element
Joseph Byrne said handball was worthy of the support of all
Irishmen at home and abroad, and indeed of all who can
appreciate the merits of a clean, manly, athletic pastime.
He played American football with Columbia's varsity team in
the U.S. College League in 1894 and 1895.
Receiving his M.A. degree from the College of St. Francis
Xavier in 1893, and graduating from Columbia University with
a M.D. in 1895, Dr. Byrne went on to receive a LL.B. degree
at the New York Law School in 1900. He was admitted to the
Bar the same year.
Specializing in diseases of the nervous system, Dr. Byrne
commenced practice in New York in 1898. His striving after
knowledge was not satisfied by mere acquisition of degrees.
On the contrary it increased, and after graduating in
medicine he immediately began extensive research work. With
slight facilities and little or no outside assistance or
encouragement he persisted in his investigations, despite
the handicap of a large general practice, until he won
"Among the numerous works which have won him a wide
reputation, may be mentioned especially his investigation
into the cause and treatment of seasickness, in which he
described the functions of the internal ear more
satisfactorily than did even Barany, the famous Viennese,
whose work on this subject was awarded the Nobel prize.
The "G" in Dr. Byrne's name stands for Grandson, i.e. grandson
of Byrne, he used it for his books.
In 1910, after competition, Columbia University awarded him
the Alumni Association Prize of
£125. In the same year the result of Dr. Byrne's
investigations were published in a work entitled "The
Physiology of the Semicircular Canals",
which won immediate recognition from the leading medical
authorities in the U.S. and abroad. This work alone was
sufficient to establish a lasting international reputation
for the Doctor in scientific medical circles. He was the
author of many books and contributed a prodigious number of
articles to medical journals.
Dr. Byrne accepted the Professorship of Diseases of the
Nervous System at Fordham University in 1912 and was
appointed dean of the University's medical school in 1918.
Other positions he held were, president of the medical board
of the Central and Neurological Hospital, Welfare Island,
New York, and was a long time consultant to the City,
Fordham, and Neurological Hospitals and a member of the
advisory board of the New York Health Department.
In the Spanish-American War Dr. Byrne served as a captain in
the Sixty-ninth Volunteers.
- Joseph Byrne as a young boy is seated in the front row,
next to him are his brothers, John J. (seated third from
right) who also emigrated to the U.S., next to him (with
cap) is James William who had a grocery business in
Market Square, Bagenalstown. The man at the end of the
front row is Patrick Byrne, their father and Fr. George
Byrne, Dr. Joseph's third brother is third from left of
Photo courtesy John Byrne.
The Doctor also spent some time studying abroad, particularly in
Paris and London. While attending the International Medical
Congress in London in 1913 he received a degree from the English
Royal College of Surgeons. At the International Physiological
Congress held at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1923 he was awarded the
William Harvey Gold Medallion.
The following tribute is taken from the Gaelic American,
"Today he holds an enviable reputation as a teacher and
practitioner in his speciality, inside the profession he is
known as a profound scholar, a persistent investigator, an
original thinker and a moulder of medical opinion". "The
doctor is a fine type of Irish gentleman. The temperament of
the race is finely interwoven in his character. In word and
deed he reflects the high ideals and lofty sentiments of the
He is a profound admirer of his famous kinsman, Miles Byrne,
who with Father John Murphy, led the Wexford Rebels in 1798,
and who later on played a conspicuous part in the Emmet
rising of 1803, finally going into exile carrying with him
Emmet's last official communication to the Irish leaders in
France. Miles Byrne died in exile. When in Paris, Dr. Byrne
never fails to visit his grave in Montmarte Cemetery, and
pays tribute to one of Ireland's noblest sons."
Dr. Byrne's only son by his first wife died in Paris in 1922
where he was attending medical school.
Joseph G. Byrne died at his home in New York on May 13, 1945.
His second wife pre≠deceased him. in 1943.
In his Will Dr. Byrne stipulated that some of his estate be set
aside to provide a memorial to his parents who are buried at
Myshall. His intention was to provide vocational training for
children in Myshall parish. After nearly forty years of
litigation a fund was established.
Acknowledgement to John Byrne (nephew of Dr. Joseph), New York
for information and photographs.
Further sources: The Nationalist & Leinster Times, April
10, 1915; Gaelic American, March 15, 1915; The Ram,
Fordham University, February 14, 1918' The New York
Times,, May 14,1945; Who Was Who in America, Vol. 2;
The New York Public Library.
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