Belfast Telegraph

New Blue Plaque honours African doctor's work in Derry

By Donna Deeney

A West African medical doctor, poet, author and Nobel Prize nominee is to have a Blue Plaque erected at the place in Londonderry where he lived and worked during the 1940s.

Dr Raphael Armattoe arrived in Derry in 1939 with his wife Leonie. He set up his own practice in 1945 and remained for a further five years.

Born in the Gold Coast in 1913, he was an eminent member of the Ewe tribe from West Africa who was sent to Germany when he was 17 to pursue further education. But due to a rise in Nazism he fled first to France and then to Edinburgh where he qualified to practice medicine.

During his time in Derry he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology for his research into the use of the abochi drug against human parasites. After the war he increasingly concentrated his time on writing and public speaking.

He was a popular if exotic figure in Derry, where there were few black people at the time. But it was after the publication of his book ‘The Golden Age of West African Civilisation’ in 1946 that he hit the world headlines after he revealed he had information about Russians developing an atomic bomb, which compelled US President Harry S Truman to deny any knowledge of the alleged Russian weapon.

His rich contribution to Derry will be the subject of an event at the Verbal Arts Centre next week to mark Community Relations Week. Historian Philippa Robinson will give a talk about his life and work and Felicia Okoroji, president of the Igbo Association Co Donegal, will read his poetry.

Speaking ahead of the event, Ms Robinson said: “Dr Armattoe made a considerable contribution to the cultural life of Derry and was a regular figure giving talks on diverse subjects. He was good friends with the Viennese Jewish families living in Derry and during the war, when the male members were taken to Crumlin Road jail because they were considered German nationals, Dr Armattoe went offered to bail them out.”

Dr Armattoe left in 1950 for Ghana to set up a medical clinic.

Background

Little is known about the Dr Armattoe’s premature death aged just 40. He had addressed the UN in New York in 1953 about the ‘Eweland Question’, advocating Ewe unification after his people had been divided into British and French Togoland.

On his way back to the Gold Coast, he stopped off in Dublin to visit his daughter before travelling on to Germany.

He took sick en route to Hamburg, where he died in hospital — although his wife insisted he had been poisoned.

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