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Dr. Peter Sweeney

"The Flying Doctor"

by Maeve Sweeney

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Peter Sweeney was born in Meenmore, Dungloe on 29th June, 1940, to Eddie Ned and Maeve who were both schoolteachers. They had eight children, some of whom are now as far away as Austrialia and America. Dr. Peter is affectionately known to his friends as 'Dodo'. How he got this name seems to be a mystery.

He attended Ardcrone National School where his father taught prior to going to second level St. Eunan's College Letterkenney, for boys. There he excelled at sports, playing for Donegal Minors in 1957, and also winning the mile race in record time in 1958.

Art lessons were shared by both St. Eunan's College and the Loretto Convent girls school in those days, and it was at one of these lessons he met his future wife Deirdre Byle.

Leaving Cert. over, he went to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he studied medicine for the next seven years. During this time he married Deirdre and they had two chilren, Peter and Triona. By the time he graduated in 1966 he had taken a definite interest in flying, in fact he was always interested in flying ever since his tenth birthday in 1950 when a single engine plane came to Traigh Eannach strand, (between Lettermacaward and Meenacross), and took people up for a 'spin'. Dodo waited and waited all day to get a 'go' in the plane, but when his turn came, it was time for the plane to leave. So he always determined to not only get a spin, but also, he became determined to pilot the plane himself.

Having spent some time working as locum in various parts of the country, he returned to Dungloe to work as locum for two weeks in Dr. Callaghan's practice. These two weeks became twenty eight years. Having settled in Dungloe, with now responsibility for Dungloe District Hospital, Dodo & Deirdre had two more daughters, Una and Maeve. His first task was to bring proper facilities for both in-patients and day surgery patients. For this he was awarded "Man of the Year" by a grateful community. The flying bug was so strong that by now he began travelling on a regular basis to Dublin for fyling lessons and soon did his first solo flight and obtained his pilots license. Then with the help of Cathal Sweeney of Meenacross, they located a strip of grass, that would be suitable for landing planes, at Carrickfin. With this small strip of grass and a small caravan, as control tower, planes would come to the area and local enthusiasts were able to avail of flying lessons offered by Dr. Sweeney, who went on to qualify as a flying instructor and examiner. The club membership has grown considerably as a result.

From this humble beginning Donegal Aero Club was born. In the late eighties, they had their first Air Show which was a huge success. The club grew, and the field got longer and wider, evolving into an airstrip and the caravan was turned into an Airport. It is now of course Donegal International Airport which has several flights per day to and from England, Scotland, Dublin and Shannon. Several large jet planes arrive each month with charters from European capitals. Fast private charters are available, which business can testify, saves industry thousands of pounds annually. Donegal International Airport has a two thousand foot runway with all the modern equipment capable of landing a Boeing.

Where does this man get all the time to do all this you might ask? Yet, these are but a few of his pastimes. He has a keen interest in photography and video. Much of the past ten years of the Mary from Dngloe Festival has been documented by Dodo. In fact, there are one or two tapes of Daniel O'Donnell in his prime, which many of his fans would give an arm and a leg for.

Music is also a great love in his life, having played the clarinet in a band which consisted of family members. His brother Paul went on to become a member of the famous Capitol Showband and later the Jazz Coasters and is still going strong. Ddo can still manage an odd impromptu in the right company. On top of all this, he has recently become a grandfather.

He always had a great interest in computers, from which stemmed his conviction, that the entire world of patient care and politics of healthcare in Ireland and the EU would change with the advent of sophisticated computer technology. In 1990 he established what was to become first a professional relationship and soon after a close friendship with an American professor of Computer Graphics whom he met that summer in Dungloe.

This American, Alan Garfield, was keen on Dodo's idea from the start. He said it just could not be done with the technology of the day, but that teh technology was changing very, very fast. He agreed with Dodo. Somebody, someday, was going to put forth certain ideas to improve the lot of patient care (and affect the cost of providing that care for the government.) Why not Dodo?

In 1991, he established Donegal Medical Systems Ltd. (DMS) The main trust of the company was research into providing GP software which would provide seemless continuity of healthcare for patients in Ireland. That was the focus then. It is still Dodo's major focus. Realising that Garfield's main area of expertise was human/computer interface design, they decided to develop a software prototype illustrating their ideas.

The autumn of 1994 was a watershed for DMS. During the annual Medical Conference hosted by Dungloe District Hospital, Professor Garfield came over from America to present Dodo's ideas in a working prototype to the GP's, healthcare professionals, and politicians assembled for the keynote speech. The software was called PRiSM, Pharmaceutical Resource Indicative System Management. The results of this first preview were stuff of fiction. Colleague after colleague contacted Dodo during that conference and for a month afterwards requesting the status of the software. They wanted to see it, and use it in their practice. The problem, of course, was that it was only a prototype and as such could not be distributed. Dodo has since expanded his idea for "seamless continuity of healthcare", to include pharaceutical issues, databases established by the World Health Organisation and other international medical groups, various computer hardware and operating systems environments, and the Internet. Dodo and Garfield can be seen in Dublin meeting with the Irish Medical Organisation, banks, venture capital groups and developers of software/hardware. His ideas will require significant funding, if not an entire new industry here in Ireland.

While funding is solicited, Dodo does not rest. He has presented his ideas both formally and informally at various healthcare informatics conferences in Belgium, Britain, Holland, Ireland, and Spain. Dodo and Garfield are presently designing the specs for the next working prototype of PRiSM and knowing their determination, they will certainly succeed.

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