Kevin Kealy – pioneering work on veterinary radiology won international recognition

An Appreciation

Kevin Kealy: veterinary surgeon, author and former professor of veterinary surgery, obstetrics and radiology at University College Dublin

Kevin Kealy: veterinary surgeon, author and former professor of veterinary surgery, obstetrics and radiology at University College Dublin


Kevin Kealy, veterinary surgeon, author and former professor of veterinary surgery, obstetrics and radiology at University College Dublin, died at his home in Dublin on May 31st in his one hundredth year.

He was well known nationally and internationally for his pioneering contributions to the development of veterinary radiology and his leadership in the establishment of a number of national and international veterinary academic and professional organisations.

Kevin was born on June 20th, 1921, into a Kealy family that lived for over 900 years in Laois.

Following dispossession during the 16th-century plantation, they fled to the remote high ground at Kylenabehy near Wolfhill. There they farmed until the 1950s.

Kevin spent many of his early years at the Kylenabehy home of his grandparents, where he assisted on the farm. His father William, who started his working life as an underground pit clerk in the Modubeagh coal mine, married Mary Forde, a teacher. After the 1926 closure of the mine, the family resettled in Drumcondra in Dublin.

Having completed his secondary education at O’Connell Schools in 1939, Kevin entered the seminary in St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny. Within six months of his planned ordination, he decided he did not have a vocation and left the religious life. He then took up the study of veterinary medicine in Dublin, and in 1950, having won all the available academic medals, he graduated with honours, taking first place in the final examination.

He went into general practice in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, and in 1955 he joined the staff of the Veterinary College in Dublin as a lecturer. In 1957 he spent a year as a Kellogg Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, training in radiology. On his return to Dublin he began setting up a radiological unit at the Veterinary College. Seeking a wider base for information exchange, he made contact with colleagues in British colleges, and on his initiative, together in 1967 they established the British Veterinary Radiology Association, with Kevin as its first president.

In 1961 he married Joan, a physiotherapist and they had six children.

In 1973, Kevin began a two-year sabbatical at the veterinary school of Iowa State University as head of radiology. On his return to Dublin in 1975, he became head of the Department of Veterinary Surgery.

Kevin’s book on veterinary radiology was first published in 1979.

It became a highly successful textbook worldwide and was revised through five editions over the following 35 years and it was translated into eight languages – Polish, French, Italian, Greek, German, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese. The third and later editions were co-authored by colleagues.

In 1986 he received the Douglas and Williamson Award for outstanding contributions to veterinary radiology.

He retired in 1988 but continued his active involvement in his profession at Oregon State University. In 1993, together with two colleagues he undertook the establishment of the European College of Veterinary Imaging. Three years later he was visiting professor of radiology at Ross University, St Kitts, West Indies.

To mark his contribution to veterinary radiology, the International Veterinary Radiology Association in 2003 established the Kevin Kealy Award, which is given for outstanding achievement.

He was an accomplished musician. Over a period of 40 years he played the organ at Sunday Mass in his parish church, Holy Cross Church, Dundrum, Co Dublin, in recognition of which, in 2011 the Pope awarded him the Benemerenti Medal.

He was predeceased by his brothers Liam Patrick, who died young, Brendan, who was a veterinary surgeon, and Fr Stephen, who was a missionary priest in the Philippines, Peru and Arizona.

He is survived by his wife Joan, their six children John, Stephanie, Paul, Michael, Colette and Jane, by 13 grandchildren, and by his sister Máire Kealy, a Dominican.