Royal Irish Academy

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Sir Robert Henry Woods 1865-1938

Robert Henry Woods was born at Tullamore in 1865. His father Christopher and mother Dorothea (Lowe) operated a shop and held property in the town.

Educated at Wesley college and Trinity, he qualified as a doctor. An expert on the ear, nose and throat; Woods was considered a world leading physician. President of the Royal College of Surgeons, he was knighted for his services to medicine in 1913.

His son Thornley died in 1916 while serving with British Army in Flanders.

In 1918 general election Woods was elected to Westminster for the National University constituency, a seat held until 1917 by Edward Carson.

Elected as an Independent Unionist, Woods was a moderate in personality and politics. He did not take up his seat at the first meeting of the Dail in January 1919. However, unlike other unionist MPs he did formally reply to decline his invitation to attend.

In July 1921 he was part of a delegation of southern Unionists who met with Eamon de Valera in the Mansion House Conference which facilitated the announcement of the Truce.

A rare contributor at Westminster, he made his last speech there in the aftermath of the signing of the Treaty when he told the House of Commons…

‘I hope the Prime Minister will permit me to offer him my congratulations on having brought this Conference to so successful a conclusion. If I may say so without offence, he has done a big thing, and he has done it in a big way. The Unionists in the South of Ireland have received the news of this agreement with feelings of satisfaction that can only be appreciated by those who have lived there in recent years, and perhaps by those who have got imagination to visualise what would have happened had these negotiations fallen through. I think I am correct in saying that the majority of Southern Unionists have for a long time seen that there was no other possibility of settlement of the age-long struggle, and the healing of this Irish sore, except through a Conference… I believe that the end of this Agreement will be an accession of strength, not only to Ireland herself, but to the peace and the prosperity of the world at large, and particularly of that great community of nations of which Ireland will, in the future, herself form an integral part.’ (1)

His last political intervention was an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1925.

A collector of antique furniture, he was also musical enthusiast, president of the Dublin Zoological Society he donated several animals to the Zoo following trips to Asia.

Robert Woods died at his home in Marino in September 1938 and was buried at Deansgrange Cemetery. At his own request the funeral service was private and attended only by his immediate family and household staff.

On his death the Irish Independent commented…

‘Although a Unionist, his liberal and free-minded attitude on all Irish questions was very marked. Rather abrupt and unconventional in manner, the late Sir Robert was a man with a big heart. He was charming in private conversation and his humour was never hurtful, while his wit was always kind. He was extremely popular with his professional colleagues and was ever helpful to the young men attending’ his school. Physically a splendid type of Irishman, he was a familiar figure in Dublin, his broad shoulders, well-shaped head and rugged- features arresting attention.’ (2)


Sources:

(1) Irish Independent. 9 September 1938.

(2) Hansard online at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1921/dec/15/irish-free-state

Hansard online at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1921/dec/15/irish-free-state

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Patrica M. Byrne & Cathy Hayes. ‘Sir Robert Woods’ Dictionary of Irish Biography online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/woods-sir-robert-henry-a9118

Belfast Telegraph. 6 March 1925.

British Medical Journal. 17 September 1938.

Irish Independent. 9 September 1938.

Irish Press. 12 September 1938.

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