‘THE ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands at times of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’
For many, that’s just another quotable quote by Dr Martin Luther King, but for the late Dr Michael Boland of Skibbereen it was a creed, something by which he lived.
Dr Boland’s wife of 47 years, Susan, told The Southern Star: ‘Local people knew Michael personally because he was a full-time GP for over 25 years.
He would have been known too because his father, Ronnie Boland, worked as a solicitor with Wolfe & Co since 1938.
‘Michael thought he would have a life in the law too, but about a month before he went to college he changed his mind and decided to do medicine because he felt he could make more of a difference.’
He did indeed make a difference. The first really important thing he did in 1980 was to start the CME, continuing medical education.
Michael knew that GPs worked very much in isolation and he believed they should be getting together and teaching each other, so he persuaded the powers that be in Dublin to pilot a West Cork survey.
Dr Boland got seven groups of GPs to start looking at the work they did and start teaching each other. The pilot scheme proved so successful that it was extended and became a national scheme, so much so that, today, it forms the basic footprint of the model for every modern general practice.
During that time, Dr Boland floated the idea of the Irish College of General Practitioners and, when that too became a reality, he wrote its constitution and became its founding chairman in 1984.
All of that would have been a lifetime’s work, but Dr Boland wasn’t finished there. He became very involved in education and was invited on to the European Group of General Practitioners as its Irish representative.
It was through that organisation that he founded the European Academy of Teachers in General Practice and was subsequently appointed to the World Organisation of General Practitioners, which is known as Wonca, the World Organisation of National Colleges and Academies of general practice.
Dr Boland became its world president in 2001. The main aims of his presidency were tobacco control and the treatment of HIV-Aids.
He was appointed chairman of the Office of Tobacco Control and, together with the then health minister, Micheál Martin, saw the introduction of the smoking ban in Ireland on March 29th, 2004 – a truly ground-breaking
Susan, a former social worker, said: ‘Michael loved his job and I know from all the condolences I have received that people liked having him as their GP.’
He was, as most people in Skibbereen will attest, a quiet man, very courteous, and very hard-working. In fact, his work was his life.
Dr Boland was 71-years old when he passed away last Wednesday, March 25th. He had been ill for a very long time. It was in his mid-50’s that he was diagnosed with dementia.
Dementia robs people of their faculties. He was such an exact man it became evident that his memory was failing, but by that age and stage in his life, Dr Boland had already achieved several lifetimes worth of work.
At the end of 2008, he had no option but to retire. It was Susan who looked after him until 2015 before he went into the nursing home in Skibbereen for the last five years.
As a couple, they met in UCD. They married in 1972 and relocated back to Dr Boland’s native Skibbereen in 1975 when ‘serendipity’ landed him a job locally.
They have three children: Dr Eve, a GP in Cork; Dr Mary Jane, an art historian in London; and Dr Mike, a surgeon in Dublin, so the legacy continues.
The funeral service for Dr Boland was altered by the Covid-19 crisis. Susan said the service by Fr Michael Kelleher at the Cathedral in Skibbereen was totally private – just seven people: Susan, the three children, his two sisters Pat and Sheelah, and Sheelah’s husband Michael.
Susan described it saying: ‘It was unique and beautiful.’