Colman Patrick Mansfield Saunders

(25/11/1900 - 14/03/1994)

Professor Colman Saunders was Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin’s first medical director and was instrumental in revolutionising paediatrics in Ireland.

Colman Patrick Mansfield Saunders (1900–1994) was a pioneering paediatrician known for his contributions to the field of child healthcare in Ireland. He was born on November 25, 1900, in Glenageary, County Dublin, the son of David Mansfield Saunders, a major in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) serving in South Africa at the time of Colman’s birth, and Margaret Baptist Saunders (née Gleeson).

Saunders’ educational journey was diverse. He received home education from German governesses and later attended Belvedere College. Initially, he pursued a degree in arts at University College, Dublin, but he later changed his focus to engineering and finally to science, where he earned a B.Sc. in 1921. It was during his scientific education that he developed a fascination with X-rays and their applications, particularly in examining the bones of the hands and feet. This interest led him to pursue a medical degree, and he graduated with an MB, B.Ch., BAO in 1925.

After completing his internship, Saunders worked at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. However, he realised that obstetrics was not his calling and instead found a passion for the care of newborn babies. At the time, paediatrics was not a well-recognised field in Irish medical training, and there were no postgraduate courses available. To advance his knowledge, Saunders took the initiative to study paediatrics abroad. He studied under the renowned bacteriologist Professor Clemens Von Pirquet at the University of Vienna and later under Professor Ludwig F. Meyer at the Children’s Hospital in Berlin. He also visited paediatric units in Budapest, Prague, and Zurich, all of which influenced his vision for paediatric care in Ireland.

Upon returning to Dublin, Saunders established himself as a consultant paediatrician. He was appointed to the visiting staff of the Children’s Hospital in Temple Street and Holles Street, and later to the Women’s Hospital at the Coombe. His rigorous training abroad and dedication to his work made his clinics popular among doctors, medical students, and nursing staff.

During the late 1930s, Saunders was joined by other paediatric specialists like Robert Collis, Robert Steen, and John Shanley. He began lecturing in paediatric subjects at University College Dublin (UCD) in 1935. His lectures generated significant interest among students, even though paediatrics was an elective course at the time. He was appointed statutory lecturer in 1954 and became the first professor of paediatrics at UCD when a part-time chair of paediatrics was established in 1960. He served in this role until his retirement in July 1971.

One of Saunders’ significant accomplishments was his involvement in the advisory committee for the construction of Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, a purpose-built modern children’s hospital in the Dublin suburbs. He played a pivotal role in demanding individual cubicles for patients to minimize cross-infection, a revolutionary idea at the time. This modern approach was commended by the International Federation of Hospitals, which declared it one of the world’s best children’s hospitals during a pre-opening visit. Saunders served as the hospital’s first medical director from 1956 to 1971.

Saunders received several honours during his career, including becoming a fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (RAMI) and serving as the president of the Irish Paediatric Association. He was also a founder member of the Irish Paediatric Club and was instrumental in introducing the first diploma in child health at UCD. This qualification became valuable for those applying for dispensary doctor’s appointments.

While Saunders conducted early studies on nutrition among his patients, he did not publish numerous research papers. He focused more on the practice of medicine and providing high-quality care to children. His published work includes papers on intracranial haemorrhage in newborn babies.

Colman Patrick Mansfield Saunders, affectionately known as “Colie” to his friends, was known for his gentle, kind, and quiet demeanour, making him an excellent advocate for children’s health. He had a playful sense of humor throughout his life. Outside of medicine, he was an enthusiastic fisherman, even achieving the title of Irish dry-fly champion. Saunders, along with his wife Milly, spent their lives between Dundrum and Fitzwilliam Square and had three children, two daughters, and a son. He passed away on March 14, 1994, in a nursing home in Glenageary, his place of birth.

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Connection with area: Pioneering paediatrician who served on the advisory board for the Crumlin Children's hospital