Doolin, William (1887–1962), surgeon, editor, and medical historian, was born 19 July 1887 at 20 Ely Place, Dublin, eldest child of Walter G. Doolin, architect, and Marion Doolin (née Creedon). His siblings were Daniel and Walter. He was educated at the Catholic University School, Leeson St., Dublin, St Mary's College, Dundalk, and Clongowes Wood College, before entering the Catholic University medical school in Cecilia St. (1904). Six years later he graduated MB, B.Ch., BAO (NUI) with first-class honours.
After a short postgraduate course at ‘Bart's’ in London, young Doolin (generally called ‘Will’ or ‘Bill’) took up a post as house surgeon in St Vincent's Hospital, then on St Stephen's Green. His wander-year took him to leading schools in Great Britain, Germany, and France. His holidays were spent perfecting his French and German, and visiting the shrines of medicine in Montpellier, Padua, Salerno, etc. He took the FRCSI (1912) and seemed destined for success. Well dressed and handsome, he wore his hat at an angle. His erudition and linguistic gifts were complemented by athletic prowess; he was a strong swimmer and a scratch golfer. For a few years, however, he eked out a living by giving dental anaesthetics, and demonstrating anatomy at Cecilia St. He was about to go abroad to take up a post in Argentina when the first world war intervened, and just then his luck turned. He became extern surgeon to St Vincent's Hospital (1917), visiting surgeon (1928), and visiting surgeon to the Children's Hospital, Temple St., Dublin (1928). He was elected to the council of the RCSI in 1936 and was PRCSI 1938–40.
Doolin was innovative in the surgery of cleft palate and hare-lip, but he is better remembered as a mellifluous public speaker and for his literary gifts. At surgical meetings he had the capacity to address foreign delegates fluently in their vernaculars. As editor of the Irish Journal of Medical Science he had the opportunity to develop latent talents as a writer: editorials, reviews, and abstracts flowed from his pen. Like any editor he was primarily concerned with selecting and preparing for the press the articles of would-be contributors (never lacking courtesy or kindness to the most inept), but he indulged, too, his own passionate interest in the unfoldings of the past. Steadily, he wove into the journal's pages a richly embellished tapestry of medical history, decorated with stylish depictions of the great achievers. He was one of the founders in 1954 of the Section of the History of Medicine in the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. His book reviews were models of their kind, and delighted the authors, who almost invariably wrote to thank him for his generous praise. These letters he preserved by pasting them into the book reviewed, and they delight browsers in the RCSI's Doolin collection. He contributed, too, to Studies, Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Lancet, and the British Medical Journal. Two collections of his essays have been published, Wayfarers in medicine (1947) and Dublin's surgeon-anatomists and other essays, ed. J. B. Lyons (1987). Doolin accepted the editorship of the Journal of the Irish Medical Association in 1952, becoming drawn into medical politics during a contentious period that saw the incursions of state medicine and the formation of the Irish Medical Union. As a rule he retained a measured civility in his objections to the former; but, goaded beyond restraint on one occasion, he deplored ‘the minister's irresponsible and impudent levity’. His editorial ‘Definitely not!’ articulated a personal rather than a generally held viewpoint, for in 1960 a majority in the Irish medical profession felt the formation of a trade union justifiable.
Bill Doolin was the recipient of many honours: hon. FRCS (Eng.); member of the French Académie de Chirurgie; hon. professor of the history of medicine, UCD; D.Litt. hon. causa of both UCD and TCD. He died 14 April 1962 in St Vincent's private nursing home from congestive cardiac failure due to coronary heart disease, and was buried in Glasnevin. The Doolin lecture, inaugurated by the Irish Medical Association in 1964, is given annually in the RCSI. St Vincent's Hospital holds a portrait by Seán Keating (qv).
He married (1916) Claire Kennedy (d. 1937); they lived at 50 Fitzwilliam Square, moving later to no. 2. They had two sons and three daughters: one of the former, Walter, graduated in medicine; Catherine Gyll (née Doolin) held a supervisory and teaching post in radiography. Claire Doolin's death left her husband desolate, but time healed the wound and he married (1942) Maureen Clinton, theatre sister at Temple Street Hospital. They had two sons.