#Grief on a #Booterstown plaque: “A particularly bright, holy and gifted child” – the life and losses of Richard Robert #Madden

Richard Robert Madden was one of those polymathic doctors of the 19th Century whose medical career, as I observe in passing here, was almost incidental to a life packed with incident and scholarship (thought clearly some disputed aspects of the scholarship) Nevertheless, he evidently rose through the institutional ranks of medical memberships and fellowships – and became a “convert” to homeopathy to boot (at a time when, after all, “mainstream” medicine was not exactly evidence based itself)

For all these achievements, there is a keen poignancy to this plaque. I’ve read (must track down source) that the common contemporary belief that in previous centuries, because of high child mortality, parents did not have the same emotional reaction to the loss of a child than we do now is in fact a myth (I think it was in a rebuttal to one of the historians cited by
Neil Postman in his The Disappearance of Childhood)

Séamus Sweeney


In The Church of the Assumption, Booterstown, Dublin we find the above poignant plaque. Here is the text as the above turns out to be a little blurry:

MADDEN. Of your charity pray for the soul of
/Richard Robert Madden, M.D.
/formerly Colonial Secretary
/of Western Australia &c. “A man who loved his Country.”/
Author of “History of United Irishmen” and many other works.
/Remarkable for Talents Piety, and Rectitude, the 21st and last surviving son of/Edward Madden, born in Dublin August 20th 1798 died at Booterstown Feb 5th 1886
/and interred in Donnybrook Churchyard/
also for the soul of his relict Mrs Harriet T Madden, the 21st and last surviving child of
/John Elmslie Esq. Born in London August 4th 1801
/converted by a singular grace to the Catholic Faith in Cuba (circa) 1837
/died at Booterstown Feb 7th 1888/
A woman of rare culture, endowments and piety, a…

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About “A Medical Education”

This is a blog in which I am planning to collect and curate various writings of mine from 1996 onwards, which in some way relate to medicine or medical practice. “Some way relate” could be very broad. This arises from my inchoate desire to anthologise my writing, and the suggestion (from Simon Cutts and Erica van Horn) that blogging some of my past pieces may be a way to try and find a common thread.

I am a doctor. I have never let this define, or wanted to let this define me. In ways, my writing has always felt like something separate from medicine. I even practice under a different name. A relatively small percentage of what I have written is directly about medicine.

However, medicine is a thread through much of what I have written, even invisible, and all I have written as an adult has been as a medical student or a practising doctor. Some influence, to say the least, is inevitable both ways.

Furthermore, I am interested academically and personally in medical education, and particularly trying to capture the “hidden curriculum”, the processes of becoming that are not captured in any matrix of learning outcomes or assessment schedules. Systems have a life and existence entirely uncaptured by the organogram or the flow sheet.

My initial working hypothesis is to try and gather pieces that will in some way trace my own development within medicine, even tangentially. I intend to publish pieces from the past – some from a few months ago, some from nearly twenty years ago, some from peer reviewed journals, some from student magazines and various freesheets, some written to express a deeply felt perspective, some written for the money (not that many, really) – and see what happens.
Seamus Sweeney

(Jan 15th 2016 – I have some further thoughts about this blog, although I don’t intend to adjust this text)