Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Halloran, Sylvester

O'HALLORAN, SYLVESTER (1728–1807), surgeon and antiquary, born in Limerick on 31 Dec. 1728, studied medicine and surgery at the universities of Paris and Leyden. While on the continent he paid particular attention to diseases of the eye, and at Paris wrote a treatise on that organ. This he published, on settling in practice at Limerick in 1750, under the title of 'A new Treatise on the Glaucoma, or Cataract.' It was the first work of the kind that issued from the Irish press, and O'Halloran's ophthalmic practice grew rapidly, In 1752 he addressed a paper on cataract to the Royal Society, and this he afterwards amplified under the title of 'A Critical Analysis of a New Operation for Cataract.' In 1788 he communicated to the Royal Irish Academy his last essay on the eye, entitled 'A Critical and Anatomical Examination of the Parts immediately interested in the Operation for a Cataract, with an attempt to render the Operation itself, whether by Depression or Extraction, more successful.' In 1765 he published 'A Complete Treatise on Gangrene and Sphacelus, with a new mode of Amputation.' In 1791 a paper entitled 'An Attempt to determine with precision such Injuries of the Head as necessarily require the Operation of the Trephine' was printed in the 'Transactions' of the Royal Irish Academy; and he subsequently published 'A new Treatise on the different Disorders arising from external Injuries of the Head,' which displayed much original research. O'Halloran laid down the new but very sound rule that concussion of the brain, characterised by immediate stupor and insensibility, does not require the trephine unless accompanied by evident depression of the skull or extra-vasation, neither of which produces dangerous symptoms for some time after the accident which has given rise to them. Among other achievements, O'Halloran was the virtual founder, in 1760, of the county Limerick infirmary, renting three or four houses which he threw into one. His 'Proposals for the Advancement of Surgery in Ireland, with a retrospective View of the ancient State of Physic amongst us,' appears to have influenced the founders of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1784. On 7 Aug. 1786, two years after the date of the charter, he was elected an honorary member of the college, an unusual honour in those days.

He devoted much time to literary and antiquarian researches, and was acquainted with the Irish language. His first work in this department was 'Insula Sacra,' printed in 1770, with a view to the preservation of the ancient Irish annals. In 1774 he published his 'Ierne Defended,' a plea for the validity and authenticity of ancient Irish history. A literary society in Limerick was chiefly supported by his labours, and was dissolved at his death. His 'General History of Ireland from the earliest Accounts to the Close of the 12th Century' engrossed his chief attention during the latter period of his life, and was published in 1774.

He died at Limerick on 11 Aug. 1807, in his 80th year, and was buried in Killeely churchyard. He married in 1752 Mary O'Casey, by whom he had three sons and one daughter. One son, Sir Joseph O'Halloran, is noticed separately.

A portrait appears in the Dublin 'Journal of Medical Science,' November 1873.

[Dublin Quarterly Journal of Science, August 1848; Memoir by Sir William Wilde, pp. 223-50; Lessons on the Lives of Irish Surgeons: an address introductory to the session of the Royal College of Surgeons, October 1873, by E. D. Mapother, M.D., reprinted from the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, November 1873; Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1891, i. 81.]

J. S. O'H.