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Michael Swallow: Eminent neurologist who pioneered use of music to aid patients


Dr Michael Swallow, the distinguished Belfast neurologist, has died after a long illness. He was 89.

He was renowned for his passionate love of music with the Royal Victoria Hospital Choir, which he founded, and the St George's Singers.

He was also a committed supporter of the Ulster Orchestra and served as a board member.

It was said that his house in Deramore Drive in Belfast was "a true hub of cultural and artistic life in the city".

Michael William Swallow was born in London on December 11, 1928. A gifted schoolboy with a talent for music, he became a choirboy at Westminster Abbey, and as a mature bass sang at the Queen's Coronation in 1953.

When he left school he had to choose between music and medicine as a career. He chose the latter, and in 1964 was appointed consultant in neurological medicine at the RVH.

He took a special interest in neuro-ophthalmology, Parkinson's disease, rehabilitation, and muscle disease. His clinical practice included the RVH, Claremont Street, Belfast City Hospital, Musgrave Park and Thompson House in Lisburn.

Colleague Dr Stanley Hawkins said: "He was a gifted clinician and he was highly-respected by his consultant colleagues, trainees and nursing staff. He was especially interested in the assessment of disabled children with multiple handicaps, and he enjoyed the considerable challenges of trying to help these children and their families."

In 1995 he was appointed OBE for his services to music therapy and arts for disabled people.

Bob Ferguson, a long-time friend and RVH colleague, said: "Michael was a self-effacing man of great integrity, and the local music scene is in great debt to his talented commitment to good music, which was enjoyed by so many of us."

He was a friend of many distinguished musicians including Pascal Roge, Jeremy Menuhin and John Lill.

Dr Swallow helped to establish Share Music Holidays in 1981, which led to the development of the Share Centre in Fermanagh.

He also established the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust in 1990, now run under the auspices of Every Day Harmony.

Sir Richard Stilgoe, the entertainer with whom Dr Swallow worked closely on the Orpheus Trust, said: "Michael's passion for music and his passion for people changed so many disabled people's lives."

Dr Swallow is survived by his daughters Nicky and Gemma.

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