Microbiologist made enormous contribution to her subject at UCC


Bridget Foley:BRIDGET FOLEY, who has died aged 85, was a microbiologist and a founder member of the faculty of pathology at University College Cork. She was a woman of phenomenal ability and personality who contributed enormously to the development and practice of microbiology in Cork and nationally.

She was a consultant microbiologist at St Finbarr’s Hospital and later at the Cork Regional Hospital, now Cork University Hospital. She was lecturer in microbiology at University College Cork, where the faculty of pathology was established in 1981.

Bridget Foley was born in Manchester in 1925 where her father, Michael, was a journalist. When she was five, the family moved to Belfast when Michael was appointed editor of the Irish Newsnewspaper. In Belfast, Biddy attended a Montessori school and later St Dominic’s Convent School on the Falls Road.

Following the outbreak of the second World War, the family moved from Belfast to Cork, from where both her parents came originally. She applied to study medicine at UCC but the then president, Patrick J Merriman, decided that she was too young. She eventually gained entry in 1942 and following an illustrious undergraduate career, graduated with first-class honours in 1948.

Following post-graduate training in clinical medicine and bacteriology in Belfast, she returned to Cork where she became a consultant at St Finbarr’s Hospital and acting lecturer in bacteriology at UCC.

In 1969, she was appointed statutory lecturer in bacteriology by the senate of the National University of Ireland. During the 1970s, she planned, equipped and staffed the new microbiology department for the Cork Regional Hospital that opened its doors to patients from St Finbarr’s Hospital on November 30th, 1978.

From the time she was appointed, Bridget Foley was dedicated to providing the best possible service to patients and teaching to students. She developed a first-class department and was appreciated by generations of medical and dental students for her erudite delivery and clarity as a lecturer.

Equally, patients greatly benefited from her up-to-date knowledge of her speciality and the professional dedication with which she applied herself to their needs. She also had other interests, such as collecting antique furniture, reading history and poetry, nature and her summer home in west Cork, where she enjoyed gardening.

There was no ambiguity about her: what she said she meant. She treated all people with the same endearing directness and was treated with great respect and affection by staff and colleagues. She was well-known for her wit and her way of addressing people as “child” whether surgeon or sister, seven or 70 – “now, child, go and wash your hands and don’t spread infection”; and this was long before MRSA became a problem. Hospital infection was anathema to her.

Her physical wellbeing slowly deteriorated because of rheumatoid arthritis that plagued her for many years. The side-effects of her medication seriously affected her skeletal system. But this did not deter her from getting on with life or affect her mental alertness, her wit or her remarkable determination and resilience to overcome the frequent setbacks she suffered in her later years. She was an example and inspiration to all who knew her, whether colleagues or friends.

She spent her last years in the comforting care of the staff of St Joseph’s Community Nursing Unit, St Finbarr’s Hospital, where she died peacefully.

Bridget Foley: born August 4th, 1925; died September 30th, 2010