Ceremony to mark 100th anniversary of Aleen Cust diploma milestone

Roscommon tour guide Marie Gillooly pictured with Honorary Irish Consul to Jamaica, Brian Denning, at a ceremony at the grave of Aleen Cust in Jamaica earlier this month.

This Wednesday (December 21st) marks 100 years since Aleen Cust, the first female veterinarian in Ireland and Britain, received her diploma in veterinary studies following a 22-year fight for recognition.

To mark this historic anniversary, members of the Aleen Cust Memorial Society will attend a special commemorative ceremony in Roscommon town this week.

Recently, Roscommon tour guide Marie Gillooly visited Aleen Crust’s resting place in Jamaica and brought back a stone from her grave which will be placed on her Roscommon mentor Willie Byrne’s grave at St. Coman’s Church, Roscommon today (Wednesday).

Aleen Cust was born in Tipperary in 1868 and from an early age was determined to be a vet. However, she was initially denied admission to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons because she was a woman. In 1895 a new college was opened in Edinburgh by Professor William Adams and Aleen moved there to study in 1900.

Following her studies, and on the recommendation of Professor Adams, Aleen moved back to Ireland and to Athleague, Co. Roscommon where she worked under local veterinarian Willie Byrne. Aleen, who lived in Ballygar and worked as a part-time veterinary inspector with Galway County Council, took over Mr. Byrne’s practice when he passed away in 1910. She would have frequently used Phillips Medical Hall in Roscommon town, which is now run by the McGuinness family.

Ms. Cust joined the World War One effort, first purchasing war horses for action and even driving her own car to the front in France in 1915.

Pictured at a ceremony at the grave of Aleen Cust in Jamaica recently were Saoirse Gillooly, Marie Gillooly, Honorary Irish Consul Brian Denning, Sr. Marita (Franciscan Order), Sr. Andrea (Anglican Deacon), and Ann Morrison, Verger at St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Kingston.

In 1919, the all-important Sex Disqualification Act was passed and so the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) could now no longer refuse her membership. Eventually, on December 21st, 1922, she received her diploma from Henry Sumner, then-President of the RCVS.

Despite her deep affection for the country, Aleen left Ireland following the War of Independence, severing her roots in 1924. She moved to Plaitford in the New Forest, choosing there because it most resembled the countryside she loved in Ireland.

She subsequently visited friends in Jamaica a number of times in the 1930s and it was during one such visit that she suffered a heart attack and died in January 1937, just eight days short of her 69th birthday.

The Aleen Cust Memorial Society, established in 2021, consists of three vets from the west of Ireland – Donal Connolly, Ascinta Kilroy and Brendan Gardiner. It was established with two main aims: to make Aleen Cust’s name and achievements more widely known, and to locate her burial place.

Thanks to the efforts of people in both Ireland and Jamaica including Honorary Irish Consul Brian Denning and Sr. Marita, Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Conception in Kingston, Aleen’s grave was finally discovered at St. Andrew’s Church, Kingston in December 2021.

A special commemorative ceremony took place at the site on December 1st of this year and was attended by Roscommon tour guide Marie Gillooly and her daughter Saoirse.

The ceremony, which was celebrated by Sr Andrea, Deacon of St. Andrew’s, was also attended by Brian Denning, Antoneil Ashley of JA Headstones and other dignitaries.

A commemorative plaque, acquired by the Aleen Cust Memorial Society, was unveiled while Marie laid a stone from Willie Byrne’s final resting place on Aleen’s grave. A Roscommon flag was also placed on the grave while Brian Denning helped unfurl the Irish flag during the ceremony.

Following the Jamaican ceremony earlier this month, members of the public are invited to Wednesday’s Roscommon ceremony at the grave of Willie Byrne at St. Coman’s Church on Henry Street at 2.30 pm to mark the 100th anniversary of Aleen Cust’s diploma. Afterwards, tea/coffee and mince pies will be served in Gleeson’s Townhouse.