CHOMI Seminar Series – ‘Mad dogs and Cavanmen: The politics of treating hydrophobia in late-nineteenth-century Ireland’, 30th March at 4pm

Please join us on March 30th at 4:00 pm for the next event in our Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI) Spring seminar series:

‘Mad dogs and Cavanmen: The politics of treating hydrophobia in late-nineteenth-century Ireland’

Susannah Riordan (University College Dublin) 

In 1885 Louis Pasteur began inoculating people who had been bitten by rabid mammals as a means of protecting them from developing the disease. The first Irish patients were treated in the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1887 and these ranged from Hayes St Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile, to those sent at the expense of the ratepayer under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1862. The practice of sending these patients to Paris was sometimes controversial, not alone because of the hardships and expense of the journey but because Pasteur was sometimes unsuccessful (Lord Doneraile died after his treatment) and was seen by some as a charlatan. On the other hand, there was a tenant farmer named Phil McGovern in Co. Cavan who was known to have the cure for hydrophobia. He was not only closer and cheaper, but his treatment never failed and – unlike Pasteur – could treat sufferers after symptoms had appeared. During the hydrophobia epidemic of the 1880s, both folk and patent remedies were widely advertised throughout the United Kingdom. However, this one was unique. Local and national politicians, clergy of all denominations, and even medical professionals claimed that the McGovern cure was scientifically verifiable and should be investigated by government. Meanwhile, the expansion of rail into Cavan and a cultivated relationship with the press provided Phil McGovern with a thriving business and, ultimately, a political career of his own. His story, played out on the boundaries of traditional and modern Ireland, offers an unusual insight into the politics of Poor Law medical treatment.

Register here to attend digitally:

For in-person attendees, seminars will take place between 4 and 5pm Dublin Time at the UCD School of
History, Newman Building, Room K114.

You can find the full research seminar programme here:


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