Tootling along in the car on holiday. Brain idling, half listening to the radio when, out of the middle of an Irish language programme, jumped Ernest Hart. A former editor of the BMJ in whose eponymously named room we often have editorial meetings. But, on Raidió na Gaeltachta?
A historian recalled the spinning and weaving industry in Gweedore, a small town in County Donegal in the north west of the country. Ernest Hart, and his wife Alice, first visited and witnessed the terrible poverty and destitution in 1872. They returned in 1883 when Alice, herself also a doctor, was pivotal in organising local women and promoting weaving and spinning to provide a sustainable industry that continues today as Donegal Tweed. A remarkable woman who triumphed over considerable resistance both from local landlords and established textile manufacturers. She showed Donegal crafts at Olympia in 1888 and at a huge Donegal pavilion at the World Trade Fair in Chicago in 1893, and helped generate interest in the industry throughout North America.
Ernest Hart was acutely aware of socio economic inequality and its affect on health, a theme that remains important to the BMJ. A fascinating trip through the BMJ archives—thanks to bmj.com—traces his public health mission towards “sanitary reform.” His BMJ profile outlines his social activism, but makes no mention of his Irish connection. His obituary, however, records, among his many achievements, his work for Irish Dispensary doctors and a note that the “ Dublin Branch of the British Medical Association have learned with deep regret the melancholy tidings of the death.” Although an ophthalmic surgeon, he joined the Lancet in 1857 before leaving to become editor of the BMJ in 1866. Although, there is no mention of it in the BMJ, a Lancet profile of previous editors records that his departure signalled the start of a 30 year war between the journals.
Back in London, passing the Ernest Hart room, I can now appreciate his immense achievements, and smile at his Irish legacy and the unlikely link to the hills of Donegal.
Domhnall Macaulay is primary care editor, BMJ