Groundbreaking Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne dies aged 94

Dubliner transformed Irish attitudes to mental illness and developed understanding of the role of trauma

Ivor Browne, one of Ireland’s best known psychiatrists, died on Wednesday at his home in Ranelagh, Dublin aged 94. He had been ill with a heart condition since October last.

A former professor of psychiatry at UCD and former chief psychiatrist at the then Eastern Health Board, Dr Browne adopted a radical approach to mental illness, with many claiming he transformed attitudes to it in Ireland.

This applied particularly to his understanding of the role of trauma in mental illness and a reluctance to use drugs in its treatment. In his 2008 book Music and Madness he described trauma stored in the body as “the frozen present”.

Born on March 18th, 1929, his family lived at Sandycove in Dublin. He attended Blackrock College before becoming a reluctant medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.


His real passion in those years was for music, in particular jazz and later Irish traditional music, which remained life-long pleasures.

He was awarded a fellowship in public and community mental health at Harvard university in the US after which he returned to Ireland. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, he was chief psychiatrist with the then Eastern Health Board and became professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin. He also founded the Irish Foundation for Human Development, as well as developing linked community models in Ballyfermot and Derry.

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Dr Browne as a “dear friend” and a “polymath”.

“Ivor will be remembered by many citizens as a visionary and radical psychiatrist who left a profound mark on the understanding and attitudes to mental illness in Ireland. Indeed, he is among those outstanding pioneers whose view was one that stressed the value of a holistic approach to life in all its aspects, with culture and human relations at its centre, who has so transformed our understanding of, and our approach to, mental illness in Ireland,” a statement issued by the President said.

“In fearlessly challenging what was a dehumanising system, Ivor Browne liberated countless individuals in institutional care and introduced a number of pioneering ground-breaking therapies to Ireland. His work confronted, and helped to change and reshape, the then prevalent thinking towards mental illness in Ireland. His respect for the dignity of those under his care was renowned and is often recalled by his former patients.”

He is survived by children Ronan, Garvan, Daragh and Tierna as well as stepchildren Diane, Mike and Adam.

People will be able to pay their respects at Fanagan’s funeral home in Dundrum on Friday from 4pm to 7pm; on Saturday from 2pm to 5pm; and on Sunday from 2.30pm to 5pm. On Monday, following a service at 2.30pm in the chapel at Mount Jerome in Harold’s Cross, his remains will be cremated.

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Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times