Ivor Browne

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Ivor Browne

Ivor Browne is an Irish retired psychiatrist, author, former Chief Psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board, and Professor emeritus of psychiatry at University College Dublin.[1] He is known for his opposition to traditional psychiatry, and his scepticism about psychiatric drugs.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Ivor Browne was born in 1929 to a middle-class family from Sandycove, Dublin. He said that he was a dreamy, often miserable child.[3] He attended secondary school at Blackrock College, where he discovered jazz music, and began playing the trumpet. After Blackrock College, he went to a secretarial school, and gained admission to the Royal College of Surgeons. He said that his intention was to become a jazz musician and that he only took up medicine to please his parents. During his time in the college of surgeons, he had several bouts of tuberculosis, which diverted him from being a musician.[3]


In 1955, he became a qualified doctor. According to Browne, his professor of medicine in the Richmond Hospital told him that: "You're only fit to be an obstetrician or a psychiatrist." He had little interest in general medicine, and decided to become a psychiatrist. He started his internship in a neurosurgical unit, where he assisted a surgeon.[3] He said of his work there:

Nearly every Saturday morning one or two patients would be sent down from Grangegorman to have their brains 'chopped'... this was the major lobotomy procedure... where burr holes were drilled on each side of the temples and a blunt instrument inserted to sever the frontal lobes almost completely from the rest of the brain.[3]

Browne went on to work both in the UK and in the US; He was awarded a scholarship to study public and community mental health in Harvard.[4] After returning to Ireland, he became the fifth Medical Superintendent of Grangegorman Mental Hospital (St. Brendan's) in 1966[5] and he was made Professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin and Chief Psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board.[1] He only retired from St Brendan's Hospital in the mid 1990s.[6][7]

Attitude to drugs[edit]

Browne experimented with LSD as a means to encourage regression experiences both in his personal life and professionally.[8][9] He has campaigned against what he sees as an overuse of medications in modern psychiatry. He said:

When someone is depressed, [doctors] assume that this is caused by a disturbance in your biochemistry, which must be related to some sort of genetic thing in your personality. What I would want to know is what has happened in that person's past and their present that is disturbing their biochemistry and making them depressed? Our behaviour has an immediate and far-reaching effect on our chemical balance, but that question's not asked. Even as you and I are sitting here discussing this, there are all sorts of changes happening in your neurochemistry and in your body – so it's highly dynamic.[2]

He has used psychiatric medications with his patients, but he says that he uses a fraction of the drugs prescribed by modern psychiatrists.[2]

Notable patients[edit]

Colm Tóibín, award-winning author and friend of Browne's late wife, June Levine, attended a group therapy session with Browne in St. Brendan's Hospital, Grangegorman.[10] Tóibín says that: "He's just a good doctor, a kind man who would get up in the middle of the night for people. There's an aura off him which is almost holy."[1]

Phyllis Hamilton was a patient of Dr. Browne in St. Loman's hospital.[3] Later, she conceived two children with Fr. Michael Cleary while she was living as his housekeeper.[11] When the story broke after Cleary's death in 1993, Dr. Browne came out in support of Phyllis Hamilton and her children after the Catholic church denied that they were Cleary's family.[1][11][12] He was denounced by the Church for being antagonistic towards it.[11] In 1997, Professor Browne was censured by the Medical Council of Ireland for publicly confirming Hamilton's story. The council accepted that he had acted in the best interests of his patient, but found that he had gone beyond what was ethically permissible. Phyllis Hamilton said that she believed that he had acted properly when disclosing information about her relationship with Michael Cleary.[13]

Community work[edit]

Browne set up the Irish Foundation for Human Development, and started the first community association in Ireland in Ballyfermot, which worked to try to turn it into a thriving community.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d "Would You Believe – Ivor Browne". RTÉ. Retrieved 13 June 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Nolan, Markham (4 May 2008), "The drugs don't work", The Sunday Business Post, archived from the original on 8 January 2010, retrieved 13 June 2010
  3. ^ a b c d e Spain, John (5 April 2008), "The man who railed against Ireland's shameful Bedlam", The Irish Independent, retrieved 13 June 2010
  4. ^ a b Ivor Browne – Music and Madness, archived from the original on 8 July 2011, retrieved 13 June 2010
  5. ^ O'Shea, Brian; Falvey, Jane (1996). "A history of the Richmond Asylum (St. Brendan's Hospital), Dublin". In Hugh Freeman (ed.). 150 Years of British Psychiatry. Volume II: the Aftermath. German E. Berrios. London: Athlone. pp. 407–33.
  6. ^ "Doctor defends shredding of records". Irish Health. 7 June 2007. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  7. ^ "Is Pain a Path to Wisdom? The Writings of Ivor Browne?". Psychiatry and Songs. 20 February 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  8. ^ Benson, Ciaran (19 April 2008). "Book Reviews: An elusive, unorthodox outsider". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2010.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Dwyer, Ciara (18 May 2008). "A fearless maverick with ideals". Irish Independent. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  10. ^ Dwyer, Ciara (3 May 2009). "No place like Colm". Irish Independent. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  11. ^ a b c McKittrick, David (11 September 2007). "The secret life of Michael Cleary (entertainer, radio show host, father of two... and priest)". The Independent. London. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  12. ^ Scanlan, Margaret (2006). Culture and customs of Ireland. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 42. ISBN 0-313-33162-6.
  13. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (11 January 1997). "Medical body censured Browne but ruled he acted for patient". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 June 2010.


  • Ivor Browne, Music and Madness (Cork, Cork University Press, 2010).