Robert Collis (1900-75)



[Dr. William Robert Fitzgerald Collis; “Bob” Collis]; the twin br. of John Collis; played rugby for Ireland; he served as a doctor in Africa and looked after refugees after World War II; wrote a play, Marrowbone Lane (1942), dealing with Dublin slum life which was initially rejected by the Abbey but was played by the Gate in 1939, and revived in 1941; issued The Silver Fleece (1939) is an autobiography; winner of the Carmichael Essay Prize with The State of Medicine in Ireland (1943);


issued Straight On (1947), with Han[s] Hogerzeil, recounting the liberation of Belsen; Collis married Hogerzeil and adopted five Belsen children; also The Ultimate Value (1951), about refugee children; issued A Doctor’s Nigeria (1960) and To Be a Pilgrim (Secker & Warburg 1975), an autobiography with an intro. by Christy Brown - whom he famously identified as a gifted child in spite of cerebral palsy; there is a photo port. by Lafayette in The Bell (Feb. 1946); he founded the Cerebral Palsy Ireland. DIW

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  • Marrowbone Lane: A play in three acts (Dublin: Runa Press 1943), [6]5pp., ill. [port.], 19 cm [COPAC].
Autobiography & travel
  • The Silver Fleece: An Autobiography (London: T. Nelson & Sons 1936), 290pp., ill.
  • with Han Hogerzeil, Straight On [The Journey to Belsen and the Road Home] (London: Methuen 1947), 216pp., ill. [drawings by E. Ainsworth; photographs incl. portraits, & maps].
  • The Ultimate Value (London 1951) [study of two Hungarian children adopted by the author after their liberation from Belsen; with ports.]
  • A Doctor’s Nigeria (London: Secker & Warburg 1960), 264pp., ill. [map, ports.];
  • Nigeria in Conflict (London: Secker & Warburg 1970), xiii, 215pp., ill. [8 pls., maps, ports.]; another edn. (Lagos: J. West Publications 1970).
  • To Be a Pilgrim: The Autobiography of Robert Collis, introduction by Christy Brown (London: Martin Secker & Warburg 1975), 256pp.
  • The State of Medicine in Ireland [Carmichael Prize Essay] (Dublin: Parkside Press 1943), vi, 70pp.
  • [W.R.F. Collis & P.C. MacClancy,] Some Paediatric Problems Presented at Belsen Camp, in British Medical Journal, Vol. 1 (1946), pp.273-75, ill.
  • W. R. F. Collis, Ninian Falkiner, P. C. D. MacClancy, M. Moran, Modern Methods of Infant Management - Before, During, and After Birth (London: William Heinemann Medical Books 1948), vii, 285pp.
  • ed., Neo-natal Paediatrics (London: William Heinemann Medical 1958) xiii, 301pp.
Contribs. to The Bell
  • A Description of Tuberculosis, in The Bell, VIII, 3 (June, 1944), pp.209-18;
  • ‘Work in Progress, No. 3: Journey to Czecho-Slovakia, being an excerpt from a forthcoming book on the establishment of a children's hospital at Belsen Concentration Camp’, in The Bell, XI, 5 (Feb. 1946), pp.947-59.
  • ‘“The Delicacy”, being a discourse on the T. B. problem’ [with ‘Two Years in a Sanatorium’, an essay by Charles Woodlock], in The Bell, I, 5 (Feb. 1941), pp.33-42.

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“T” [pseud.], review of The Silver Fleece, in The Irish Book Lover, XXIV (May-June 1936), pp.71-72; Denis Johnston, ‘Plays of the Month: The Works of J. M. Barrie, Robert Collis [Marrowbone Lane] and David Sears’, in The Bell, II, 2 (May 1941), pp.86-91; Margaret Barrington, review of The Ultimate Value by Robert Collis, in The Bell, XVII, 6 (Sept. 1951), pp.70-72.

See also Anthony Jordan, Christy Brown’s Women (Dublin: Westport Books 1998), 178pp. which includes “The founding of Cerebral Palsy Ireland” by Robert Collis [noticed in Books Ireland, Dec. 1998, p.262].

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Frank O’Connor: O’Connor remarks on ‘Collis’s play Marrowbone Lane, which dealt with the Dublin slums [and which] was rejected by the Abbey Theatre; not, I imagine, on its merits.’ (‘The Future of Irish Literature’, in Horizon, Jan. 1942; rep. in David Pierce, ed., Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, Cork UP 2000, p.503.)

Claire Wills, The Best are Leaving: Emigration and Post-War Irish Culture (Cambridge UP 2015): ‘Robert Collis, who had plenty of experience of the poor health visited on large families living in squalid urban conditions, put forward broaly neo-Malthusian arguments detailing the problems of “inferior offspring” cause by too many pregnancies, and the effect of poor nutrition, over-crowding and infectious diseases on the health of those with the poorest standards of living.’ (Quotes a memorandumm by Marsh and Collis, remarking that ‘these public health arguments slid into more overtly eugenistic proposals, including suggestions that the right to marry and bear children should be qualified’. (p.49.)

Further [Wills]: In a footnote, she quotes his later views gained through firsthand experience of eugenic experiments on children during the liberation of Belsen, where he adopted five orphans: ‘the only logical response to the Nazis’ doctine of the survival of the fittest, implying the elimination (murder) of the handicapped, is for society to support them in such a way as to give each handicapped child or adupt the greatest fulfilment possible during his sojourn in our world.’ (To be a Pilgram, 1975, p.229.)

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Letter to Irish Press (3 Oct. 1936): ‘Dubliners are wont to describe their City affectionately as “An old lady”. When visitors admire her outer garment – the broad streets, the old 18th century houses, Fitzwilliam Square and St Stephen’s Green – they smile complacently and feel proud. Lift the hem of her outer silken garment, however, and you will find suppurating ulcers covered by stinking rags, for Dublin has the foulest slums of any town in Europe. In these “quaint old eighteenth century houses” the people are herded and live in conditions of horror.’ (Quoted in Kevin C. Kearns, Dublin Tenement Life, An Oral History, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994).

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Cathach Books (1996-97) lists Marrowbone Lane (Dublin: Runa Press 1943), 65pp. [de luxe edn.].

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Kith & Kin? see Robert Fitzgerald Collis, The True Uses of the Law, 2 Sermons (Dublin 1827) - listed in COPAC; copy in Oxford UL; also Sermon, preached on occasion of the death of Mr. Henry Burke, with some notes [&c.] (Dublin: R. M. Tims 1822), 44pp.; Authenticated report of the discussion which took place at Londonderry, between six Roman Catholic priests, and six clergymen of the Established Church; in the diocese of Derry, March, 1828 (Dublin: printed by Richard Coyne [&] Wm. Curry, Jun. & Co. 1828), [2], iii, [1], 39, [1], 60, 63, [1], 61, [3], 67, [1], 63, [1], 79, [1], 71, [1], 73, [1], 48, 73, [1], 86p; 21cm. (Protestant participants:) Alexander Ross, William Smyly, Robert Collis, Mark Bloxham, Archibald Boyd, Robert Henderson. (Catholic :) Patrick O'Loughlin, Francis Quin, Alex J. M’Carron, Edward Maginn, Neal O’Kane, Simon M'Leer; discussion chaired by T. Kennedy; reporters: Frederick Campbell and William Wallen. [COPAC] See also Robert Fitzgerald Collis, The Christian System: or, Manual of Scripture truth. Being a series of discourses on the leading doctrines of Christianity (Strabane: Cowper Walker 1829), 110pp.

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