Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Irish Doctor

A number of physicians' names reoccur from time to time in the few records of Lowell's Irish.  One of them was a Dr. Green, a Yankee who ministered to the needs of the early irish community.  As time passed other names began appearing as well.  But Arthur Quinn Phelan was one of their own.  Here is his story brought to us by guest blogger, Rosemary K. Nunnally.  We greatly appreciate her contribution to recording the story of the Irish in Lowell and invite others to submit their stories as well.  Every family has a story.  What is yours?

Arthur George Phelan from the report on his funeral.
Published in the Lowell Sun on August 23, 1897.
Irishman Arthur Quinn Phelan, M.D. ministered to the needs of the citizens of Lowell, MA in the later part of the 1800’s.  His obituary in the Lowell Sun on January 11, 1890 said this: “Dr. Phelan was a gentleman generally beloved and respected. He was modest and retiring and relied entirely upon his worth as a gentleman and a physician to build up his practice. To know him was to respect him.”  What was the story of this good doctor from County Cork?
The newspapers of Lowell were filled with stories of the accidents and difficulties that befell the working families of the city.  Several of these articles mentioned Dr. Phelan as the physician who assisted the sick or injured person.  On July 8, 1882, the Lowell Sun reported that Alexander Reed, aged 8 years, died Thursday night from the effects of a concussion caused by an exploding rocket on the South Common, during fireworks that evening.  Dr. Phelan, who attended him, gave his opinion that the death resulted from fright.  In 1884, seventy year old Mrs. Hannahan fell while leaving St. Peter’s Church.  Dr. Phelan assisted with her fractured thigh though it was doubtful she would survive the shock.  Mrs. Ganley was shot in 1886 and Dr. Phelan attended her.  On January 8, 1887 the Lowell Sun told the story of a boy named Rolly who had his hand caught in the gearing in the Prescott.  One of his fingers had to be amputated with Dr. Phelan doing the service.
Arthur Quinn Phelan was born to Lanford and Mary Phelan in County Cork, Ireland in 1848.  He came from an affluent family.  Arthur’s uncle Robert Swanton was a landowner in West Cork.  Mr. Swanton was killed in 1881 after obtaining an eviction decree against a tenant during the Land War.  Arthur’s family was able to apprentice their son to Dr. O’Callahan, a leading physician in Cork.  Arthur went on to Dublin and passed the examination for the College of Surgeons of Ireland and was a pupil of Dr. Baxter for two years.
It is not known why Arthur Phelan left Ireland.  He came to Lowell in 1868 possibly with members of his family.  In the 1870 census, twenty-two year old Arthur was living with his mother and sisters, Ann and Elizabeth.  Arthur worked for Joseph Plunkett as an apothecary, a pharmacist, for a few years and then studied medicine with Dr. F. C. Plunkett.  Arthur next enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons at the University of New York, graduating after 12 months on Feb. 15, 1876.
Dr. Phelan returned to Lowell and opened an apothecary shop at the corner of Summer and Gorham streets.  He was so successful in his practice of medicine that he sold the apothecary business and opened a medical office in his home on Gorham Street.  Arthur enjoyed a busy life with his wife Mary Malloy and three children – Arthur G., Mary and John.
As a dedicated physician, Arthur was on call for his patients all day, every day; in all conditions; for all ailments and illnesses.  In the winter of 1889 – 1890, the inhabitants of Lowell were suffering with “the grippe”, today called influenza.  Dr. Phelan’s services were in such great demand that he could not rest, even when he contracted the disease.  He showed signs of pneumonia.  Four days later, another physician was called.  Arthur Phelan died that afternoon on January 7, 1890 at age forty-two.
The Lowell Sun reported on Dr. Phelan’s funeral at St. Peter’s Church. The church was almost filled with the friends and relatives of the deceased.  Over 100 members of Court Middlesex Ancient Order of Foresters attended along with delegates from Division 2, Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Massachusetts Medical Society.  The funeral cortege was quite lengthy.  Arthur was buried in the Catholic cemetery, St. Patrick’s in Lowell.

Following Arthur’s death, his wife and daughter carried on as pharmacists in Lowell for over twenty years.  Arthur’s son, Arthur George, died of tuberculosis at age 22 in 1897.  Son John became a civil engineer.  By 1920, the census recorded daughter Mary married to James Monaghan and living in Waltham, MA with her mother in the same household.  John Phelan was living in Washington D.C. and worked for the War Department as a civil engineer.  He had married Emily Matter and had a son John J. Phelan, Jr.

St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Lowell has only a record of son Arthur George’s burial in 1897.  However there must be other family members also buried there.  Dr. Arthur Phelan bought the large plot in December, 1873 presumably for his mother who died in January of 1874.  There is no stone on the large grassy space.

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