Illuminations: Dr. Kevin Izod O’Doherty
By: J. Michael Finn
Many Irish, convicted of felonies against the Crown and exiled from Ireland, turned out to lead very interesting lives after their exile. This was the case with the members of the Young Ireland Movement (1848) who suffered transportation or fled abroad. Many of them went on to notable careers in politics, the law, medicine, and journalism in Australia, the United States, and elsewhere. One of these Young Irelanders was Kevin Izod O’Doherty.
O’Doherty was born in Dublin on September 7, 1823. He was the son of William and Ann (McEvoy) O’Doherty. His father was a Catholic attorney. Kevin was educated in parochial schools, and in 1842 he began the study of medicine at the Ledwich School of Surgery and Medicine, a medical school in Dublin. As a student he worked in the fever wards at St Vincent’s Hospital. Before taking his final medical exams at the Royal College of Surgeons, O’Doherty joined the Young Ireland Party.
The Young Ireland Party had split from Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association in July 1846. The Young Irelanders refused to pledge themselves never, under any circumstances, to resort to physical force and armed rebellion to free Ireland from England. It was not that they supported armed rebellion, at the time; they just didn’t want physical force to be ruled out completely as an option.
By 1848 the group had decided physical force was their only option. Following the failure of a small skirmish in County Tipperary, the British began rounding up the leaders and putting them on trial for treason-felony. The guilty sentences obtained from packed juries often were transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (now the island of Tasmania, off the southern coast of Australia).
In June 1848, Kevin O’Doherty, together with Richard Williams, established the nationalist newspaper Irish Tribune. Only five editions of the Irish Tribunewere issued. On July 10, 1848, when the fifth edition was issued, the newspaper was suppressed by the authorities and O’Doherty was arrested.
During his period in prison he was visited by Mary Eva Kelly, a writer of patriotic verses published in The Nationnewspaper. Her poems were published under the name “Eva of the Nation.” The two fell in love and became engaged to be married.
At his trial, two separate juries were unable to convict O’Doherty. At the third trial, a packed jury found him guilty of treason-felony. He was sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for 10 years. Despite this long sentence of exile, Eva promised to wait for him.
He arrived at the Port Arthur penal settlementin November 1849. O’Doherty wrote of his experiences at the prison, “I am treated as a common convict, obliged to sleep with every species of scoundrel, and forced to work in a gang from six in the morning till six in the evening – being all the while next to starved. I bear it all with what patience here is in my nature, thanks to my good Thomas à Kempis.” While in prison, O’Doherty was given the nickname “St. Kevin” by Young Ireland leader, William Smith O’Brien, because of his pious devotion to emulate the patience of St. Thomas à Kempis.
After serving several years in prison, O’Doherty received parole, provided that he did not leave the island. He lived at Oatlands and his medical skills were utilized at St. Mary’s Hospital in Hobart. In 1854 he received a pardon under the condition that he not live in Britain or Ireland.
O’Doherty relocated to mainland Australia for a while to work in the goldfields in Victoria, possibly to earn some money before his marriage.
In March 1855, O’Doherty travelled illegally to Britain. From there he was secretly able to reach Ireland, where he picked up his inheritance and planned his marriage to Eva Kelly.Eva’s parents helped the young couple travel back to London and then to Liverpool, where they were married on August 23, 1855 (some sources also claim they were married in Ireland). The pair then moved to Paris. In Paris, O’Doherty resumed his medical studies.
In 1856 O’Doherty received an unconditional pardon from the British, and in 1857 he returned to Dublin, where, in 1859 he completed his studies and was admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons(FRCS). This was a professional qualification that allowed him to practice as a senior surgeon in Ireland or the United Kingdom.
He practiced in Dublin for some time and with much success. When a friend, Father James Quinn, was appointed as the first Bishop of Brisbane, Australia, O’Doherty decided that he too would set out for an adventure in Australia.
In 1862 O’Doherty, his three sons and Eva, pregnant with their fourth child, arrived in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, on the east coast of Australia. There he became well known as one of its leading physicians. Among other honors he became president of the Queensland Medical Society and a member of the Central Board of Health.
In 1867 O’Doherty was elected a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly. In 1872 he was responsible for passage of the first public health act, and also spoke out as one of the early opponents of the trafficking and exploitation of Pacific Islanders. In 1877 he transferred to the Queensland Legislative Council, and in 1885 resigned his position to return to Ireland to support Charles Stewart Parnell. He was welcomed home with open arms by the Irish people and received the Freedom of Dublin.
In Ireland, O’Doherty was elected to the House of Commons as the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Meath in the November 1885 general election; but he did not seek re-election in 1886, and returned to Brisbane in that year. He attempted to take up his medical practice again but was not very successful as he was slowly losing his eyesight. He was fortunate enough to be supported by three young doctors, who took on his cases and gave him the fees. This provided him with a small amount of income.
By 1900 O’Doherty was completely blind and unable to earn a living. The times were financially very hard for the O’Dohertys and were made even harder to bear by the tragic deaths of their four sons between 1890 and 1900. Only their daughter, Gertrude, survived out of eight children.
Eva published a book of her poems in 1909 – the year before her death. It was published by Gill and Son, LTD. The poems were edited by Seumas MacManus.
On July 15, 1905, Kevin Izod O’Doherty passed away at the age of 81. He is buried in the Catholic section of Toowong Cemetery, Queensland. Mary Eva Kelly O’Doherty died at Brisbane on May 21, 1910 and she was buried with her husband.
In 1912, a Celtic cross monument was erected by the Brisbane Irish community marking the O’Doherty’s graves. A plaque on the monument reads: “This monument is erected by admirers of the late Doctor O`Doherty and his wife, as a mark of appreciation of their unsullied patriotism and exalted devotion to the cause of Irish freedom.”
*J. Michael Finn is the Ohio State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Division Historian for the Patrick Pearse Division in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Chairman of the Catholic Record Society for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He writes on Irish and Irish-American history; Ohio history, and Ohio Catholic history. You may contact him at FCoolavin@aol.com.