Doctor and entrepreneur whose life was touched by tragedy

Austin Darragh: April 27th, 1927 - October 4th, 2015

Prof Austin Darragh: treated his patients holistically. Photograph: Eric Luke

Prof Austin Darragh: treated his patients holistically. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Prof Austin Darragh, who has died aged 88, was a highly successful and respected medical practitioner and pioneer, business entrepreneur, broadcaster and writer. He had many notable achievements in the course of a long life but also encountered tragedy and upheaval.

He grew up in Terenure in south Dublin, one of nine children of a teacher father. Both his primary and secondary schooling were at the Catholic University School on Lower Leeson Street. He tried to join the Air Corps after school but was turned down because of lack of height and instead joined the Royal Air Force and was based in Northern Ireland.

On demobilisation, the British government contributed to paying his fees to attend medical school at Trinity College Dublin. He further financed himself by working as a “redcoat” at Butlin’s Mosney, writing articles on motorcycle racing for Speedway magazine and doing radio rugby commentaries on Radio Éireann.

He graduated in 1954 with several honours (including some firsts) in various medical disciplines. He met Marie Therese (Terry) Roddy at Trinity and they married in 1950. They had five children.

Darragh practised general medicine in the Dundrum area and also as an obstetrician in the Rotunda Hospital.

Pharmaceuticals

In 1958, he was the main impetus behind the setting up of a research-based pharmaceutical industry in Ireland when he was the adviser to the company which sought the agency for Ireland and the UK for the Danish pharmaceutical company Leo Laboratories. Following five years helping to establish the firm securely in Ireland, he was appointed consultant endocrinologist at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Psycho-endocrinology became a particular professional passion and he established the Psycho-Endocrine Laboratory in the department of psychiatry in University College Dublin in 1968. In 1977, he formed the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology (ICP), which developed into an international and publicly quoted company on the New York Stock Exchange in 1984.

The company attracted unwanted publicity when a young man who was taking part in one of its drug trials died in May 1986. ICP ran into difficulties in the late 1980s and went into receivership in 1990.

In 1984, Darragh became an adjunct professor of medicine and pharmacology at New York Medical College and helped to set up a clinical research centre there.

In the mid-1990s, he went on to develop an interest in the energy that is required for life, studying the fundamental process of photosynthesis and how it is enhanced by electromagnetically stimulated water. This led to collaboration with scientists at the University of Limerick and in 2003 he was invited to become adjunct research professor in the department of chemical and environmental science at the university, where he was still actively involved up to the final years of his life.

Following the collapse of ICP, he set up a clinic to investigate chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME) and his research contributed much to establishing the medical basis of the disease.

Radio doctor

For more that 20 years his was the well-known voice of “the doctor” on the Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ Radio 1. He spoke openly and directly to his listeners and established a warm rapport with them. He was a highly skilled diagnostician and treated patients holistically, being in this, as in many other aspects of his life, well ahead of his time.

Tragedy struck his family in 1987 when his son-in-law, John O’Grady, was kidnapped by an INLA gang, Austin Darragh himself having been the intended target. O’Grady was held for 32 days and had parts of two of his fingers cut off during the ordeal. He was rescued following a gun battle.

Terry Darragh contracted cancer, possibly as a result of the stress of this event, and died in 1992. Further heartbreak followed in 2005, when his son Paul Darragh, a very successful showjumper, died suddenly aged 51.

Prof Darragh set up the Conquer Cancer Campaign (now the Irish Cancer Society) in 1963 and was closely involved in it for much of his life. He was also past president of the National Council for the Blind, in which role he oversaw a wide extension of the use of braille.

He published extensively all his life and his final book, The Facts of Light, is a collection of scientific and philosophical essays on the basis of life, with particular emphasis on harnessing solar energy to produce food, biofuels and other strategic chemicals essential for the global economy’s functioning.

He loved horses and hunting and was master of the Ballymacad Hunt and the Meath Hounds. He also loved music, especially singing, and was a noted raconteur.

He is survived by his second wife, Anna Longdon, whom he married in 1998, his children Marise, David, Ed and Ruth and his sister Justine Petters.