NOT many people can boast that their mother or grandmother was a surgeon, a suffragette, and a psychiatrist to some of Ireland’s most dangerous criminals.
However, the family of Armande Patricia Brabants Quillinan are doing just that to mark her 100th birthday. Her daughter Elaine Qullinan, who supported Armande Patrica through a devastating dementia diagnosis, felt it was the right time to share her mother’s incredible story.
The family reflected on her achievements as they celebrated the milestone outside Haven Bay Care Centre in Kinsale where she resides.
Elaine recalled how Armande Patricia’s now grown-up great-grandaughter Maria had once vowed to hire a waterslide and pool to celebrate her 100th birthday.
“She was insisting that for my mum’s 100th birthday she would hire mum a slide, carry her to the top in a wheelbarrow and push her into the pool below,” Elaine laughed.
“She must have been about six or seven at the time, but these are the things little girls dream about. I used to tell mum that she was getting that money off the president someday so we could all have a big party.”
Armande Patricia was born in Bishopstown back in 1921. Little did her family realise that she would grow up to become one of Cork’s most inspiring trailblazers.
After graduating from a degree course in medicine at UCC, she spent a year training at a hospital in Coventry.
“It was the second world war and when mum arrived in the UK she had to find her way in a blackout,” Elaine said.
“On her first day at work she took out an appendix. She recounted that experience to us many times. She had never performed an operation before and was terrified. Of course, the surgeon was there to oversee everything but she couldn’t believe that someone had even handed her a knife!”
Armande Patricia also worked in obstetrics and later earned a psychiatry qualification that allowed her to work in prisons. Elaine spoke of her mother’s compassion towards one inmate in a women’s prison.
“She always said that there was no man imprisoned for stealing socks but a woman would be thrown in jail for stealing a pair of tights. She saw the prisoners she worked with as people. It was her belief that many of them were a product of their own environment.
"One prisoner, who was a very young woman, had once told my mother that she never owned a doll. This broke mum’s heart so she went out to buy her one as a gift. The prisoner wasn’t allowed to take the doll for security reasons and could only look at it through the cell door.”
According to her family, Armande Patricia always played down her success.
“I didn’t know she was a doctor until I was 12 years old because she never wanted to be referred to by her title. Her view was that you wouldn’t call someone ‘milkmen’ or ‘postmen’ so why should she be any different.
“There was so much went on during her working day, but every evening she would come home and make us dinner like any other mum. When it came to her work she was always very quiet and humble.”
Armande Patricia is also adored by her grandchildren.
“Mum continued working until very late in life, but she always had so much time for her grandchildren and took them to summer camps or wherever they needed to be dropped off.”
While her mother’s dementia diagnosis came as a significant shock, Elaine is determined to stay strong for her mum.
“Mum diagnosed herself with dementia. I told her that she was wrong and that it was just stress from looking after my dad. He died 13 years ago and I used to come and make mum her meals.
"She said she wanted to go into a nursing home even though I tried to convince her otherwise. I told her she had years left in her and her doctor agreed. However, she had made her decision and this was what she wanted.”
Armande Patricia asked her daughter if she could take her to see some nursing homes and eventually decided on Haven Bay in Kinsale.
“I think she has reached her goal because she can relax now,” Elaine said.
“The main thing I’d like now is to celebrate mum’s achievements because she is such an amazing woman.”