Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

My first day at RCSI in 1956

01 September 2016

If you could render yourself invisible and go back in time, you might pick a morning in October 1956 and plant yourself at the Stephen's Green end of York Street...

Gathered are a throng of well-dressed individuals, indeed your first thought might be that this was a wedding party such was the hubbub, laughter and conversation, however what you are seeing is the overflow from the side entrance to the Royal College of Surgeons and that this multi-ethnic, animated group are not wedding guests, but pre-registration medical and dental students.

And you will also see a young man; he has in fact just turned seventeen, arriving on his shiny red Sun 197 cc motorbike, his pride and joy.

After paying a few coins to the residents of York Street for his bike's hopeful safe-keeping, the man shyly squeezes his way through the overflow group and enters the atrium of the College.

On his right, he sees an antiquated lift with a stairs to leading to the Pathology and Physiology Departments, and to the left of the lift, dark sinister-looking steps lead to the canteen. In front of him the young man sees a windowed door, which looks a little like a telephone box but large letters on the glass indicate that this is the Anatomy Room.

Just then a gentleman in a white coat passes close and opens the door the young man immediately becomes aware of a strong stringent smell...

Anatomy Lab

Suddenly, he hears "Silence everyone". The man continued, "I am Dr Seamus Gallen and I am in charge of you lot, so listen carefully I will call out your number and your place position in theatre one, go there sit and keep quiet."

Soon all eighty of us were in place. "Quiet everyone until your physics professor Dr Norman Rea comes." and away he went.

Dr Rea's brief was to instruct the students on the secrets of Physics which included much about measurement and movement, of gravity, of viscosity, the behaviour of fluids and perhaps, most memorably and at the time the most absurd, as to whether if you stood on a scales on the moon you would learn your weight or your mass! Of course you the invisible observer would know that thirteen years later Neil Armstrong could have provided practical help with that question.

An hour later, the professor left in the same flurry with which he had arrived.

After another class, this time on chemistry, with Etna Gaffney, finding his motorbike still in one piece, the young man went home for lunch where he reported back all he had seen to his father who had graduated the year he was born.

In the afternoon the young man returned, but this time to the biology laboratory which was a huge, many-windowed room, and waited for the arrival of Professor Widdess a tall, thin man. The professor laid out what the biology course would entail and how frogs, worms and dogfish, would play an important part in the young man's life.

It is now almost sixty years since that young man's first day but what a memorable day it was.


Our thanks to Peter Docherty (Class of 1962) for this tale! Do you remember your first day? Share your story ... email