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Statement by President Higgins on the death of Dr Ivor Browne

Date: Wed 24th Jan, 2024 | 19:30

“It is with deep sorrow that I have learned of the passing of a dear friend, Dr Ivor Browne, a remarkable multi-talented polymath.

Ivor will be remembered by many citizens as a visionary and radical psychiatrist who left a profound mark on the understanding and attitudes to mental illness in Ireland. Indeed, he is among those outstanding pioneers whose view was one that stressed the value of a holistic approach to life in all its aspects, with culture and human relations at its centre, who has so transformed our understanding of, and our approach to, mental illness in Ireland.

In fearlessly challenging what was a dehumanizing system, Ivor Browne liberated countless individuals in institutional care and introduced a number of pioneering ground-breaking therapies to Ireland. His work confronted, and helped to change and reshape, the then prevalent thinking towards mental illness in Ireland.  His respect for the dignity of those under his care was renowned and is often recalled by his former patients.

Among Ivor’s most valuable contributions in developing a more progressive approach to psychiatry and psychotherapy in Ireland was his concept of trauma of "the frozen present", of unprocessed emotions, a radical idea that became a key part to understanding how he looked at psychiatric and psychotherapeutic work.

Ivor initially served as the Medical Superintendent of Grangegorman Mental Hospital (St. Brendan's) from 1966, and then as chief psychiatrist with the then Eastern Health Board from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. In his capacity as Professor of Psychiatry at University College Dublin, Ivor Browne was a leading figure in the teaching of progressive treatment of mental illness in Ireland.

His pioneering work extended beyond these institutions, it included his founding of the Irish Foundation for Human Development, and the development of innovative community associations in Derry and in Ballyfermot, with which I had the privilege of being associated.

His legacy will endure through the many lives he touched and the transformative impact he had on approaches to the mental wellbeing of Ireland.

Sabina and I had the privilege of having Ivor as a close friend of ours, and of being with him on some of his various campaigns over the decades and of listening to his music, which was such an important element of his life.  May we extend our deepest condolences to his children Ronan, Garvan, Tierna and Daire, to his stepchildren Diane Reid and Mike and Adam Mesbur, to all of his family, friends and colleagues, and to all those whose lives he dedicated himself to helping.

Suimhneas síoraí da anam uasal.”