birth name

Brigid Lyons

Known as

Brigid or Brighid, Lyons or Lyons Thornton


Brigid Lyons (13 May 1896-17 April 1987) was from Northyard, near Scramogue, Co. Longford. From 1915 to 1922 she studied medicine in Galway, where she helped to found a branch of Cumann na mBan. In 1916 she participated in the Easter Rising. After a brief period in the Army Medical Service she pursued a long and successful career in public health. She is buried near Foxford, beside her husband Captain Edward ('Ed') Thornton (d. 1947).


Brigid Lyons (13 May 1896-17 April 1987) was from near Scramogue, Co. Longford. Her father was a Fenian who had been jailed in the 1880s. Her mother's family were staunchly Republican, and she was the niece of Sinn Féin T.D. Joseph McGuinness. Having obtained a county scholarship, from 1915 to 1920 she studied medicine in Galway, where she helped to found a branch of Cumann na mBan. In 1916 she travelled to Dublin to take part in the Easter Rising, and was for a time incarcerated in Richmond Barracks. After her graduation she was the first woman to be commissioned in the Irish Army where she served for 2 years (1922-24) as a First Lieutenant in the Army Medical Service. She recounts that when she joined the Army the authorities were so unused to dealing with women recruits that they declined to provide a uniform for her and so she had to improvise her own. In 1926 she married Captain Edward ('Ed') Thornton, from Mayo, whom she met in Nice when recovering from tuberculosis. He too suffered from that disease and died relatively young (1947). Brigid continued to pursue a distinguished career in public health. In the 1950s she was involved in the introduction of the 'BCG' vaccination to protect against tuberculosis, and she also conducted research in Switzerland and Nice. When she died, aged 90, she was buried, with military honours, beside her husband in Toomore Cemetery, Foxford, Co. Mayo.


-  Cathy Hayes 'Thornton, Brigid Lyons' in Dictionary of Irish Biography, Accessed 2023.04.05.
-   UCG Women's Studies Review, 1 (1992): 51–2. 
-  'Longford at war', Accessed 2023.04.05.
-  'Witness statement of Doctor Thornton.', recorded 4 June 1949, at Accessed 2023.04.05
-  Death notice, Evening Herald, 18 April, 1987. Accessed 2023.04.05.




University of Galway Library

Date Modified

23 July 2023


Upload and data entry by; Jane Conroy
Research by: Jane Conroy
To do: confer with Ger and expand the bio note. Use inter alia the Women's Studies Review, vol. 1. Sources differ on her date of graduation - 2020 or 2022 (2020 tallies better with the assertion - to be checked - that she was considered young when she graduated). Sources also differ on where she met her husband (Nice or Switzerland? - the answer seems to be that they met in Nice and became better acquainted when recovering in Lysin, Switzerland). ) Sources also differ on the year they married (1925 or 1926?). And people repeat that she was 91 when she died but in fact she was just nearing her 91st birthday. Some say imprisoned in Richmond Barracks but her gravestone says Kilmainham. Check all this. DIB should be reliable (but has age wrong).

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Ed Thornton with Brigid Lyons at UCG Image