The History of The Irish Gerontological Society

Prof. Cillian Twomey, President 2003-2007

The IGS is one of the oldest societies in the world devoted to the study of ageing. A key figure and founder of the Society is Dr. John Fleetwood. Born in Edinburgh, John Fleetwood graduated in medicine from UCD. He practised as a general practitioner in Blackrock Co. Dublin and at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross.

In 1949, Dr. Fleetwood realised that knowledge about the social medical care of the elderly was scanty. Anxious to improve his knowledge he noted, in the Lancet, that the Medical Society for the Care of the Elderly (later to be renamed the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) was due to meet in Leeds. He attended the meeting, was welcomed with open arms and soon made friends with the great pioneers of British geriatrics including Adams, Ferguson-Anderson, Howell, Irvine, Sheldon, Tungbridge and Wilson. They suggested that Dr. Fleetwood attend the International Association of Gerontology (IAG now IAGG) meeting the following year. He went to the IAG meeting in Liege where he was elected to its governing body as a delegate of the Irish Gerontological Society (conceived but not delivered!).

Following informal contacts, the first meeting of what was to become the Irish Gerontological Society took place on 23rd October 1950 in Blackrock, Co. Dublin and six people attended. Prof. Jerry Jessop, Professor of Physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was elected as Chair and first President and Dr. Fleetwood as the Society's first Honorary Secretary. The first annual dinner was held in Jammet's restaurant in Dublin, attended by 13 members. The first conference organised by the IGS took place one year later.

From an early date the Society held regular meetings and encouraged multidisciplinary membership and active participation. In January 1960 a successful symposium was organised jointly with the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 1963 the IGS hosted a meeting with the British Geriatrics Society. In 1974 a joint meeting with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) was convened in Athlone, Co. Westmeath. The meeting was chaired by Prof. Norman Exton-Smith and other guest speakers included Prof. Tom Arie and Prof. Bernard Isaacs – all eminent names in British geriatric medicine.

In 1982 Dr. Fleetwood was elected President of the IGS in succession to Prof. Jessop who had held office since the foundation of the Society. Dr. Fleetwood served for four years to be succeeded in 1986 by Prof. Kevin O'Malley. The office of presidency has changed roughly every four years since. The other holders, in chronological order, have been: Prof. Davis Coakley, Dr. Michael Hyland, Dr. Denis Keating, Dr. John Lavan and Prof. Cillian Twomey, Prof. Des O'Neill, Prof. J. B. Walsh and the current president Ms. Mo Flynn.

As mentioned above, Dr John Fleetwood was the first Hon Secretary of the IGS and has been succeeded chronologically by Prof. Davis Coakley, Dr. Morgan Crowe, Prof. J. B. Walsh, Dr. Joe Duggan, Dr. Eamon Mulkerrin, Dr. Bill Bourke, Dr. Denis O'Mahony, Prof. Des O'Neill, Ms. Mo Flynn and the current Hon Secretary, Ms. Elaine O Connor.

A major expansion of the IGS in the 1980s was accompanied by the rapid development of geriatric medicine in an increasing number of Irish public hospitals. The annual scientific meeting expanded to virtually two full days was increasingly well attended. This expanded activity owes much to the tireless efforts of all of the Society's secretaries but notably Prof. Bernard Walsh whose inspired term of office coincided with a critical phase of the growth of the IGS. The success that is the Irish Gerontological Society today owes much to his work together with the pioneering efforts of Dr. John Fleetwood way back in 1949.

The IGS has a constitution (last updated at the September 2004 AGM) and two standing committees, the IGS Executive Committee and the IGS Scientific Committee. The Executive has representation from physicians in geriatric medicine, nursing associated with care of older people, psychiatry of old age, psychology of ageing, social gerontology and the therapies associated with rehabilitation of older people.

In addition to its annual scientific meeting held each September, the IGS has, in recent years, hosted other seminars to a wider invited audience on topics such as Long Term Care Issues in June 2005 and Independent Living, Housing, Transport and Technology in June 2006. A one-day multidisciplinary research day for those scientists undertaking PhD or MD work was held in November 2006. Furthermore an IGS Bursary to promote interdisciplinary research in gerontology/geriatric medicine was launched in 2006.

The IGS, by providing a forum for evidenced-based discussion of ageing, age-related disease and services for older people, can provide vital information to inform and facilitate change for the better in services for older people. The Irish Gerontological Society should continue to strive to act as a resource for those charged with implementing policy change, so that this change is both progressive and informed.