Paul O'Brien

Paul O'Brien.jpg


Paul O'Brien


Infectious Disease; Tuberculosis; Polio.


Paul was born in 1935. His father worked for Great Southern Railway which meant the family moved a lot during Paul’s youth. Paul would call Military Hill in Cork City his ‘home. Paul attended Christians Collage on Wellington Road. Here he was class and rugby team captain. In his final year of secondary school, a mobile x-ray unit came to his school Paul was nominated to be x-rayed first. which showed a shadow on his lungs (TB). After spending a short time confined to his bed at home Paul was sent to Heatherside sanitorium in Doneraile Co. Cork. It is here that Paul made the decision to change from studying law to doing pre-med. During his time as a medical student Cork experienced a polio epidemic. This gave Paul and his colleagues an opportunity to volunteer on the frontline. Paul tells of how after 70 plus years that memories of that time still are at the forefront of his mind. In 1969 Paul moved to Toronto Canada to work as a doctor where he has lived ever since. Paul’s brother is Brendan O’Brien singer with the showband The Dixies. Pauls nephew is Daire O’Brien presenter of rugby coverage on RTÉ .


22nd August 2022


CFP_SR00838_OBrien _2022


Ireland; 1940s-1960s


Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive


Cork Folklore Project






1.wav File

Recorded over teams and using a ZOOM H5 recorder.




40min 10sec

Time Summary

0.00.00 - 0.01.35

Paul gives his background. Lived in Military Hill Cork City, His father worked for Great Western Railway. Paul attend Christians and Went to University College Cork where he studied medicine

0.01.36 - 0.04.29

In 1952 Pauls final year of secondary school a mobile x-ray unit came. Paul was nominated to be x-rayed first. which showed a shadow on his lungs. Which they told him was TB After spending a short time confined to his bed at home on a course of streptomycin injections and salicylic acid tablets Paul was sent to Heatherside sanitorium in Doneraile Co. Cork.

This meant he missed participating in the Muster Schools cup in rugby.



0.04.30 - 0.06.32

Paul speaks of Dr Noel Browne’s campaign against TB.

Paul also mentions that he never spat up the infection and questions whether he had TB at all.

He then goes on to mention his ward mate in the hospital. He a teenage mixed in with adult men

0.06.32 - 0.07.12

Speaks briefly about his mother visiting and bringing him eggs to cure him, and the odd visit from teammates when they were on their way back from games in Limerick.

Paul mentions here that he was in Heatherside for four months

0.07.14 - 0.11.00

Paul tells a story about the night before a patient got discharged, they had a party in the ‘Panzer ward’. Songs sung, cigarettes and drink. They were interrupted by the DR Con O’Leary. Paul jumped into a bed with another patient and was subsequently caught by DR. The nest day he was summoned to the DR and told that ‘a nice boy from a good family shouldn’t be acting as such’. He was then moved to Lota on the outskirts of Cork City.


Paul mentions that years later in Canada he met the son of the DR and relayed the story to him.

0.11.01 - 0.15.16

Paul mentions his undertaking of pre med at UCC and that in his second year he and other student were given the opportunity to help out with the polio epidemic that had taken hold in Cork 1956 for four weeks.

Eight students were assigned to ST Finbarr’s hospital to relive the nurses at night-time.  Paul describes the fever ward and the hissing of machines and the dark dim light.

He then relays a story of how he had to manually ventilate a four-year-old girl called Margot. Who was too small for the iron lungs.

Paul further this by explain how Margot lived till she was seventeen and that she had a great relationship with the nurses.

Paul has written about this in various publications. Holy Bough, UCC alumni magazine.

Margot’s family say the article and contacted Paul.

Pairs of students would be assigned a patient and alternate manually bagging and sucking out secretions.

0.15.17 - 0.19.15

Paul speaks of how working in the epidemic made them fell.

He mentions that his girlfriend at the time (now his wife) was asked to leave her digs. And how another volunteer came home one night to find all his belongings on the doorstep.


Paul goes on to talk about how good the nurses were especially Nancy Reardon and Kathleen Stoker  

He refers to polio outbreak in Chicago a year earlier and how the vaccine was rolled out there. And how the same didn’t happen in Cork. Though he did hear that some were offered the vaccine but not those helping in the hospital, only those who went iin ambulance to retrieve patients.

None of his colleagues contracted the disease, one did get meningitis but not extreme case.

Mention of Patrick Cockburn’s book ‘Broken Boy’

0.19.15 - 0.21.42

Pauls talks of the public health response. How Cork took British Laisses faire attitude. How the country was in a panic but the measure did not stack up. He mentions the closer of some aspects of society like sports and swimming pools.

0.21.42 - 0.24.47

Paul speaks of a woman called Lou Fitzgerald and how she helped his mother when he was sick. Lou (real name Julia) had been in Cummann na mBan during War of Independence.

Talk veers towards independence period

0.24.47 - 0.27.15

Paul speaks of the fear he had when diagnosed with TB. Fear of chest surgery.

We speak about Heatherside and Sean O’Riordan

0.27.15 - 0.28.07

Paul brings up how in the sanitorium the topic of a ‘cure’ was always a subject of conversation. Tells story of trying to recreate swizz conditions as a means of getting better. Tis entailed his pushing his bed to the veranda and letting the snow fall on him as he slept.

0.28.07- 0.3112

We talk about the crafts that patients did in Heatherside. Wallet making etc. Paul mentions that there was a one man that controlled that. He also mentions that crafts were one way of getting ladies attention.


Paul mentions how once he was put on Iduronic acid hydroxide he rapidly improved. He even remembers a Life magazine with drug on front cover being brought into ward.


How this drug was the reason the sanitoria closed.

0.31.12 - 0.33.30

Some talk about COVID and TB and Polio similarities. Lockdowns ETC.

0.33.30 - 0.40.10

End Chat where we talked about our families. Paul mentions his brother Brendan being in the showband the Dixies.



Cork Folklore Project , “Paul O'Brien,” accessed July 17, 2024,