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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Dr. Joseph G. Byrne

 Teacher and Practitioner


". . . To-day he holds an enviable reputation as a teacher and practitioner in his speciality..."

- Gaelic American, 1915.

Dr. Joseph G. Byrne

Compiled by William Ellis

Previously published in the 1987/88 edition of Carloviana pages 14 & 15.

Joseph 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 all-round performer.

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 recognition.

"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 Ram.

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 back row.

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, March, 1915:

"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 Celt."

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.

* The "G" in Dr. Byrne's name stands for Grandson, i.e. grandson of Byrne, he used it for his books.


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