The Irwin family
The Irwin family came from Ballymaclenaghan, on the main road from Dungiven to Derry. Samuel Irwin was one of six children and married the daughter of John Eakin of Letterlogher, who died in 1833, aged 80 years. Samuel and his wife remained at Letterlogher, a farm of about 85 acres owned by the Fishmongers’ Company. Together, they had eight children. Samuel died in 1862.
One of their sons was John Irwin, born in 1832. John went to school at Templemoyle Agricultural Seminary, which was described at the time by Thackeray in his Irish Sketch Book. John leased Coolnacolpagh, on the other side of the hill from Letterlogher, and later obtained the tenancy of Bovally, near Limavady, Co. Derry. In 1875, at the age of 43, he married Margaret Thompson of Fincairn, Feeny. The Thompsons were originally from near Derry and were also farmers, but George, one of Margaret’s brothers, became an Inspector General in India, and David, another brother, was the Feeny Dispensary doctor until 1928.
John and Margaret Irwin had three surviving children, Samuel Thompson, John Thomas and David. They went to the old Londonderry Academy, later the Foyle College, and were all athletic. John Thomas married Catherine Campbell Ellis of Crook of Devon, Kinrosshire, and later inherited Fincairn. He was an electrical engineer in England and invented the hot-wire oscillograph, and became a consulting hydro-electric engineer in Northern Ireland. David was very bright and obtained a scholarship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, but died aged 24 years.
Sir Samuel Thompson Irwin (1877-1961)
Samuel Thompson was born at Coolnacolpagh in 1877. In 1897, he entered Queen’s College Belfast and in 1902 qualified as a doctor. He played rugby for Queen’s, Ulster and Ireland and was capped nine times for Ireland from 1900 to 1903. After graduating he worked as Extern House Surgeon at the Royal Hospital, and then in Urology at St. Peter’s Hospital, Covent Garden, London, before returning to set up practice at Great Victoria Street, Belfast. He developed septicaemia following a prick in the post-mortem room, and also had a duodenal ulcer, which perforated. Despite these setbacks, he obtained the MCh at the Royal University in 1906 and the Fellowship of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons in 1909.
In 1911, he married Mary Jemima Sinclair at the Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, and in 1912 they moved to University Square. He was elected to the Staff of the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women that year, and to the Royal Victoria in 1918, where he worked for 27 years. He was president of the Queen’s University Association, president of the Ulster Medical Society, chairman of the NI branch of the British Medical Association, a member of the Senate of Queen’s, and during the Second World War, he was consultant surgeon to the British Forces in Northern Ireland and chairman of the Medical War Committee. In 1948, he became one of the four members of the Northern Ireland Parliament who represented the University, and was re-elected in 1949, 1953 and 1958. He was awarded the CBE in 1948 and knighted in 1957. In 1961, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Queen’s, but died before he could receive it.
Samuel and Mary Jemima, who died in 1944, had five children. During the 1920s and 30s, they employed a large staff at University Square to cope with his work and their young family: a medical secretary, cook, parlour maid, another maid, a nanny, chauffeur and someone for laundry work.
Their three sons all became doctors. John Walker Sinclair Irwin was appointed consultant surgeon to the Ulster and Royal Hospitals, and also played rugby for Queen’s, Ulster and Ireland. In 1935, he joined the RAMC and was taken prisoner when he stayed behind at the fall of France to look after wounded British soldiers. Samuel Thompson Irwin was a GP in England, and also joined the RAMC during the war. Charles Gibson Irwin qualified in 1941, served in the RAMC 1942-1946, and became an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Northern Ireland. Their two daughters were Mary Margaret, who married Thomas Brown Dunn of Brough, Cox and Dunn, Belfast, and Norah Emily Suffern, who married James Kerr Love Pearson, a veterinary officer with the Ministry of Agriculture at Stormont. They all had children, a number of whom became doctors.