Kirkpatrick, Thomas Percy Claude (1869–1954), physician, bibliophile, and medical historian, was born 10 September 1869 at 32 Rutland Square, Dublin, second son of John Rutherford Kirkpatrick, King's professor of midwifery in the University of Dublin, and Catherine Kirkpatrick (née Drury). The family moved later to 4 Upper Merrion St. Educated in Foyle College, Derry, and at TCD, he took a first in history (1891) before reading medicine. He graduated MB (1895), proceeding MD in the same year; and was admitted MRCPI (1903), and elected FRCPI (1904) and FRCP Lond., hon. causa (1942). His elder brother (d. 1950) entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and had a distinguished career in the Royal Artillery, retiring as a colonel (DSO, CMG) to live at Kilternan, Co. Dublin.
Kirkpatrick was registrar of the RCPI for forty-four years (1910–54), and general secretary of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland for almost as long. Generally known to his colleagues as Percy or ‘Kirk’, he was anaesthetist to Dr Steevens' Hospital before his appointment there as honorary visiting physician. He took a particular interest in what were then termed venereal diseases; to encourage his patients (many of whom were prostitutes) to attend, he held a clinic for women at a discreet early morning hour to facilitate anonymity. Syphilis was rife, and Erlich's ‘606’ (Salvarsan) was an important development; Kirkpatrick reported its benefits in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science (May 1918). A member of the Bibliographical Society, ‘Kirk’ was himself a prolific author. His articles on anaesthesia and clinical subjects, published in the Medical Press and Circular and the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, were of transitory interest; his contributions to medical history are of a different calibre. He was, indeed, an inspiration to, and source of information for, successive generations of Irish medical historians. His major works are his History of the Medical School in Trinity College, Dublin (1912) for which he was awarded the Litt.D. hon. causa of his own university; The book of the Rotunda Hospital (1913); and History of Dr Steevens' Hospital 1720–1920 (1924). His biographical essays deal with Sir William Petty (qv), Oliver Goldsmith (qv), Edward Hill (qv), Abraham Colles (qv), and many others, and his indices to the biographical notices and historical papers in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science are extremely useful. A chronological handlist of Kirkpatrick's publications was compiled by his friend and colleague Dr F. S. Bourke (qv) (1955); a further bibliographic essay has been contributed to a TCD publication, Long-Room, by Mary O'Doherty (1998). The quality of his work earned the respect of historians. He was president of the Irish Historical Society (1948–51) and D.Litt. hon. causa of the NUI. For many years it was Kirkpatrick's practice to collect printed information about Irish doctors from a wide range of newspapers and periodicals. Stored in envelopes, these cuttings, some thousands in number, are filed in the RCPI; the ‘Kirkpatrick archive’ is an invaluable source for biographers.
He enjoyed good health and his attendance at Dr Steevens' Hospital was rarely interrupted, for as he grew older he was inclined to boast that he had not spent a night away from Dublin for forty years. He was almost certain to be found there, too, on Sundays, not on the wards but in the Worth Library, a bookman's dream that has existed in Steevens' since 1733, the gift of Dr Edward Worth (qv), who had assembled a remarkable collection of superbly bound books. Percy Kirkpatrick's great pleasure was to dust and polish these volumes, which to this day remain in mint condition. His article ‘The Worth Library and Steevens’ Hospital' appeared in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science (Mar. 1919) and was followed by a similar account of Sir Patrick Dun's Library. He amassed a large private collection of books and manuscripts: those of medical interest – 1,100 printed volumes, 3,500 pamphlets, and 126 manuscripts with author and subject card catalogue – were bequeathed to the RCPI; the remainder, including a first edition of Ulysses, were auctioned by Sothebys.
Elected MRIA (1906), he served on the council and held office as vice-president (1941–5, 1949–54) and president (1946–9). A gregarious, clubbable man, Kirkpatrick remained a bachelor of an old-fashioned kind, his residence (11 Fitzwilliam Place) cared for by his unmarried sister Sibyl. He was ten minutes walking distance from the Friendly Brothers' club, where he could be sure of company. After dinner he liked to make punch for his friends, or act as marker in the billiard-room, while his lively conversation entertained fellow-members. In his younger days, Kirk cycled daily to the hospital, mounting his bicycle by the back-step and smoking a pipe as he rolled along. Later, one or other of his younger colleagues picked him up in the mornings and drove him to Steevens', rewarded en route by the historian's comments on little-known aspects of the city.
During Kirkpatrick's tenure as registrar in the RCPI, he saw many presidents come and go. The college acknowledged his long service by presenting him his portrait by Leo Whelan (qv), which now hangs in the library. The governors of Dr Steevens' Hospital, likewise inspired, commissioned Brigid Ganly (qv) (at Kirk's express wish) to paint the portrait that has a prominent place in the hospital, later the headquarters of the Eastern Health Board.
Kirkpatrick died 9 July 1954 in Dr Steevens' Hospital from hypostatic pneumonia and chronic uraemia, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. His admirable qualities are summarised in an obituary by his friend William Doolin: ‘“Kirk” was that rare and lovely being, a humanist in his outlook and in his interests, his humanism lighted by compassion. In his specialised field of clinical work, he often brought to mind Savonarola's axiom: “The physician that bringeth love and charity to the sick, if he be good and learned and skilful, none can be better than he.” In his written work he had three notable gifts: solid learning, so lightly borne, a sense of style, and a deep integrity of craftsmanship.'