Declan Mulholland: The mind of a pharmacist, the heart of a priest and the soul of a poet
OFTEN in moments of desperate need, especially if we are in a strange place where we do not speak the dialect, and we need a pharmacy or chemist shop, we look for a flashing green cross or the symbol of a snake wound around a standard or chalice-shaped cup.
A symbol, like a picture, speaks a thousand words. The symbol used by pharmacists the world over tells us that help and hope are at hand, that pain will be eased, and health and well-being restored.
The traditional emblem outside a pharmacy stems from Greek mythology for it shows a snake, the symbol of pain and suffering, wound around either the Rod of Asclepius or the Bowl of Hygieia.
By tradition the Greek god Asclepius wielded a serpent-entwined rod to bring healing and deliver medicine. So too his wife, daughter or assistant, Hygieia – only this time with a bowl or chalice.
Not only of late, but down through the years and centuries, pharmacists have always been in the front-line, in the vanguard responding to people’s urgent and heart-felt needs.
Declan Mulholland was an exemplar of what his profession stands for.
Declan was born on All Saints’ Day 1966 in Moira, Co Down, the eldest of six to Patsy and Angela Mulholland.
Schooling brought him to Magheralin, Lismore Comprehensive (where he became deputy head boy) and, having considered for a while a vocation to the priesthood, he found himself at Queen’s University, Belfast studying pharmacy.
Not only did he discover the wonders of pharmaceutical science there, but he found Siobhan Walsh who was also studying pharmacy.
Marriage the year they graduated brought them to Stoke-on-Trent where their son Patrick was born.
Life would see them have a further three children, Niamh, Emer and Eoin, bring them firstly to Strabane - with Declan working in McFadden’s Pharmacy in Letterkenny - and finally to Duffy’s Pharmacy in Buncrana and home in Porthaw.
Declan was a blessing to his family and the communities in which he worked. He had a sharp mind, a generous heart and a deep soul.
Nothing was impossible with him. His wife and children could tell him anything, knowing they never ran the risk of judgement.
A loving husband, a great father and best friend, a loyal son, brother, neighbour, boss, friend and confidante, he had the whole package.
He was generous with his time and talents; he was an outstanding gift to his parish and community; he was the glue that literally held many people’s lives together.
A casual glance at the patient charter for a community pharmacist will find words and phrases like safe and effective services, dignity and respect, accountability, information and privacy, communication and engagement – Declan had these in spades.
But he went further – for he would cut your lawn if needs be, chat with you about everything in life and listen carefully as you told your story. And long before lockdown restrictions came in, he would have your paper and messages delivered together with your medication to your door.
Declan was in the heart of every home – he gave people, especially those in particular need, the confidence they needed to survive.
A lover of cars and conspiracy theories, history and politics, current affairs, cooking and cinema, he was delightfully mischievous too, a great take-the-hand.
He had a loyal staff and would often turn heads when he’d explain that he had six wives; to say nothing of his two blondes: Bell and Poppy, his canine companions.
Beneath all the wonderful gifts he enjoyed, Declan had a profound faith which was lived out to the full.
And despite his protracted illness from a heart condition, he never allowed sickness to define him.
He pushed back every boundary and delivered God’s message of hope amid the prescriptions and necessities of life.
Declan Mulholland, who died aged 53 on May 20, had the mind of a pharmacist, the heart of a priest and the soul of a poet.
May he rest in peace.
Fr Francis Bradley