O'Beirne, Seamas (Ó Beirn, Séamus; Byrne, James Fahy ) (1881–1935), medical doctor, dramatist, and businessman, was born 18 July 1881 on Tawin island, Co. Galway, the eldest son among at least three sons and two daughters of Patrick Byrne, farmer, and Mary Byrne (née Fahy), of Kinvara, Co. Galway. After receiving primary education locally, he attended the Jesuit college of St Ignatius, Galway city, where he was a distinguished student, winning numerous scholarships. He qualified in medicine at QCG (1905), and subsequently secured a diploma in public health from the RCSI (1908). A native Irish-speaker, he was active from an early age in the Gaelic League, becoming acquainted with both Patrick Pearse (qv) and Éamon de Valera (qv) when they studied Irish on Tawin; he also knew Roger Casement (qv). While still a student he organised an amateur acting company of local people on Tawin, for which he wrote several plays, most notably two bilingual works, An dochtúir (1904) and Obair (1909); the former concerns the complications experienced by a monolingual English-speaking doctor posted to an Irish-speaking parish. O’Beirne was subsequently a founding member of Galway’s Irish-language theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe (1928).
O’Beirne achieved considerable fame while working as dispensary doctor at Clonbur and Leenane, Co. Galway, when he initiated a pioneering health education scheme aimed primarily at reducing the epidemic instance of tuberculosis throughout rural Connemara. With approval from Galway county council, in June 1907 he gave a series of lectures, through Irish, and illustrated by limelight lantern slides, at Kilmilkin national school, near Leenane, dealing with hygiene, sanitation, and the causes of disease. He then repeated the lectures in two Connemara seaboard parishes, in each case exchanging duties with the local medical health officer for the duration. The courses proving so successful and popular in each location, O’Beirne conceived a larger, more sustained scheme. He proposed to the Gaelic League, through Pearse as editor of the league journal An Chlaidheamh Soluis, that they organise a subscription fund to pay a substitute dispensary doctor at Clonbur, thus freeing O’Beirne himself to conduct a far-ranging lecture tour in the desperately impoverished Gaeltacht districts in which the league had an interest. In conjunction with the recently launched Women’s National Health Association (WNHA) of Lady Aberdeen (Ishbel Maria Gordon (qv)), the league swiftly collected the necessary £300. Over a period of three months (February–April 1908), O’Beirne visited eleven locations in Connemara and the Joyce Country, conducting in each a week-long series of evening lectures in Irish, covering elementary anatomy and physiology, and personal and domestic hygiene, with emphasis on the prevention of tuberculosis. He spent the days visiting homes to advise on practical improvements, and often physically assisted householders to install concrete floors, chimneys, windows that opened, and outhouses. Each course concluded with an oral examination for participants, and the awarding of prizes. Described as the apostle of anti-tuberculosis work and public health in the west of Ireland, O’Beirne thus anticipated, by almost two years with his initial Kilmilkin lectures, the famous travelling caravan of Lady Aberdeen’s WNHA. He published articles in Irish on sanitation, and wrote a book on hygiene for young people in the Gaeltacht. Despite his immense vitality, his health broke down under the strain of the work, and he embarked on a lengthy sea voyage (May–December 1908). He had been part of a deputation that met with Sir Henry Robinson (qv), vice-president of the Local Government Board, seeking grant aid for housing and sanitation improvements intended to make south Connemara a model of good public health practice, but the initiative was enervated by his absence.
Returning to his dispensary post, O’Beirne continued with health education activities in his own district. He spent four years in Dublin as medical referee with the National Health Insurance Society (1912–16). Returning to Galway, he left medicine and entered a family wholesaling business, Messrs Fahy and Co., of which he became managing director on the death of a maternal uncle. Becoming acquainted with Guglielmo Marconi (qv), he was appointed Irish manager of the Marconi Marine Wireless Telegraphy Co., and became chairman of the Irish Marconi Shareholders’ Protection Association. He married (1908) Sabina O’Malley, of Kilmilkin; they had at least five sons and five daughters, three of the former becoming doctors. His last residence was Seapark, Salthill, Galway. He died suddenly in Dublin on 23 November 1935, and was buried in Prospect Hill cemetery, Galway city.