Solomons, Bethel Albert Herbert (1885–1965), gynaecologist and rugby player, was born 27 February 1885 at 32 Waterloo Road, Dublin, second son and third child of Maurice Elias Solomons (d. 1922), optician and honorary consul for the Austro–Hungarian empire in Ireland, and Rosa Jane Solomons (née Jacobs; d. 1926). His brother, Edwin, became president of the Dublin stock exchange while his sisters, Estella (qv) and Sophie, became a well-known artist and an opera singer respectively. He attended Dr Barnard's school on Leeson St., Dublin (1892–8) and then St Andrew's College (1898–1902) where his prowess at rugby was first noted. His mother quelled his father's objections to Bethel playing rugby on Saturdays, stating that he could strictly observe the sabbath when they moved to Palestine. He briefly considered an acting career, but studied medicine at TCD, graduating in 1907. In rugby he captained Trinity to the Leinster senior cup (1908).
On completing his degree he turned down a commission in the RAMC and instead became assistant to Sir Robert Woods at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, Dublin. He resigned after three months to do postgraduate work in obstetrics at the Rotunda hospital, Dublin, and was appointed extern maternity assistant (1908–11). His rugby ambitions were limited by his flowering medical career; however, he won ten caps for Ireland (1908–10) and became a selector for the Irish team and vice-president of the IRFU in later years.
He was assistant master of the Rotunda (1911–14). In 1914 he was appointed gynaecologist to Mercer's Hospital, Dublin, set up a private practice, and became a fellow of the RCPI. In 1916, after a brief courtship, he married Gertrude Levy, who had studied with his sister Sophie at the Royal Academy of Music, London. The couple lived in 42 Fitzwilliam Square, from where he organised a very successful practice (1916–26). Among his patients during their pregnancies were George Yeats (qv) and Iseult Gonne (qv) and he later rented the upstairs of 42 Fitzwilliam Square to W. B. Yeats (qv) and his wife George. He studied in Leipzig, Vienna, and Berlin and wrote Handbook of gynaecology (1919). His election as master of the Rotunda (1926) surprised those who felt that a Jew would never hold the post.
When his term ended in 1933, his name was intimately linked with that of the hospital; James Joyce (qv) wrote ‘in my bethel of Solyman's I accouched my rotundaties’ (Finnegans wake, 542). He was a progressive and innovative doctor and master: during his tenure a new operating theatre was opened, radiology and pediatric departments were established, and the gynaecological pathology laboratory was reopened. Crucially he convinced the board of governors, many of whom were protestant clergymen, to accept funding from the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake.
He had an enviable reputation as a surgeon who was both brilliant and genuinely concerned for his patients. In April 1933 he survived life-threatening septic poisoning which he contracted during an operation. Among his numerous publications were Practical midwifery for nurses (1931) and Epitome of obstetrical diagnosis and treatment in general practice (1934). On leaving the Rotunda he was appointed gynaecologist in Dr Steevens’ hospital, where Noel Browne (qv) was his house doctor for a time. By then he was internationally respected, being an honorary member of US, French, and Brazilian societies of gynaecologists. He was president of the RCPI (1946–8). He was the subject of a bust by Arthur Power (1933) – which stands in the front hall of the Rotunda – and another by Jacob Epstein (1951).
A familiar figure in Dublin's literary and social circles, he was friendly not only with Yeats, but with James Stephens (qv); Seumas O'Sullivan (qv) was his brother-in-law. Stephens dedicated The charwoman's daughter (1912) to Solomons, who is certainly the model for Dr Michael McMurrough in Eve's doctor (1937) by Signe Toksvig (qv). A handsome and urbane gynaecologist, McMurrough ‘walked the whole length of the shopping street enveloped in quick warm darting glances and brought secretive smiles that made every husband want to remonstrate with his spouse about her behaviour’ (Eve's doctor, 40–41), while the real Solomons is a constant presence in Toksvig's diaries. A gap in the diaries in July 1934 is explained by a note beginning ‘I've torn out some pages. The truth is, I'd been persuaded to be too friendly with B. S....Still I came to my senses, he never really lost them’ (Pihl, 293). She records an affair between him and Hester Plunket.
A leading member of the Jewish community in Ireland, he was a member of the Jewish Representative Council and a founder and first president of the Liberal Synagogue in Dublin. He established a dispensary for Jewish women with Ada Shillman. In retirement he was inspector of qualifying examinations and visitor of medical schools in midwifery for the general medical council. A volume of memoirs was published in 1956. He died 11 September 1965 at his home, Laughton Beg, Rochestown Avenue, Dún Laoghaire. He had two sons (both gynaecologists) and a daughter, and left £30,427. The Bethel Solomons medal is awarded annually to an outstanding student in midwifery at the hospital.