Fagan, Sir John (1843–1930), surgeon and inspector of reformatory and industrial schools, was born 16 July 1843 at Lismacaffrey, Rathowen, Co. Westmeath, the eldest son of James Fagan, esq. Educated at St Vincent's College, Castleknock, Co. Dublin (1858–61), and the Catholic University, Dublin, he became licentiate of the RCSI (1865) and RCPI (1866). After further studies in London, Paris and Vienna, he returned to Ireland and settled in Belfast where he was appointed surgeon to the Royal (General) Hospital, Belfast in 1872. In 1873 he and a colleague, Dr Brice Smyth, founded the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, where Fagan became surgeon. He also was a consulting surgeon to seven other medical institutions in Ulster, and in 1874 became a fellow of the RCSI.
Fagan was an innovator in the surgical field and the first doctor in Belfast to focus his practice solely on surgery; he readily adopted new antiseptic surgical methods introduced by Joseph Lister after 1867. Although a general surgeon, he had a particular skill in orthopaedic surgery and was one of the pioneers of reparative surgery by substituting extensive resections of ‘scrofulous’ joints for amputations, thereby saving limbs. He also was noted for his work with bone and joint tuberculosis in children. He published three major articles: ‘Excision of knee joint, 3 successful cases’ (Dub. Jn. Med. Sc. (1877)); ‘Disease of wrist, with successful case of excision in a child aged six’ (BMJ, 1880); and ‘Knee-haemarthrosis: its nature, diagnosis and treatment’ (BMJ, 1883).
After making a mistake during an operation in 1890, Fagan gave up surgery. Despite this error, he remained a respected member of the Royal Hospital staff. In 1897 he resigned his post as senior surgeon at the Royal Hospital and left his extensive surgical practice in Ulster to accept an appointment as inspector of reformatory and industrial schools. The job was based in Dublin and he settled in Graigavern, near Portarlington, Queen's Co (Laois). Again he was recognised as an innovator and risked unpopularity by changing the educational methods used by these schools, a legacy which survived his death. His success in this area led to his appointment in 1906 as a medical member of the General Prison Board. He was knighted in 1910. Fagan was twice president of the Ulster Medical Society and was one of its few honorary fellows. He was a JP for Co. Antrim and deputy lieutenant for Queen's Co. He retired as inspector of reformatory schools by 1911, and his post with the prison board ceased in 1928. His wife was Mary Catherine Hughes from Belfast; their eldest son was James Bernard Fagan (qv). They had five children, of whom four were alive in 1911. He died at home on 17 March 1930 aged 86. A memorial was erected in his honour at the new Children's Hospital in Belfast.