Ireland and Medicine in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (review)
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Reviewed by
James Kelly and Fiona Clark, eds. Ireland and Medicine in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The History of Medicine in Context. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010. xiv + 227 pp. Ill. $99.95 (978-0-754-665564).

This book derives from a colloquium on Ireland and medicine in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that convened at the Queen's University of Belfast in April 2008. A number of themes resurface in different essays in the volume, among them the education and professional training of Irish medical practitioners in the early modern period; the role played by continental university medical faculties in this process; the diversity of the medical market; the acknowledgment by all social classes that formally trained or licensed medical practitioners did not have a monopoly of diagnostic and therapeutic expertise; the variety of treatments that were available to the sick, or at any rate to those who could afford to pay for medicine and advice; domestic medicine; and the nexus between religion and medicine in Ireland. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries medicine was the only profession from which Catholics were not formally excluded under the Penal Laws, a situation that had implications for the social and financial standing of the individuals concerned, for the practice of medicine in Ireland, and for the country's medical structures and establishments.

A number of essays feature individual practitioners who received some of their training, at least, in continental Europe and their medical degrees from European universities. The most significant was the University of Reims in northeastern France, less for the quality and prestige of its medical training and qualifications than for the numbers it graduated. The University of Reims offered inexpensive medical degrees in an environment that was academically less challenging than that of many other continental universities, and, according to Laurence Brockliss in his outstanding contribution to this volume, the prospect of acquiring a cheap and easy medical degree attracted substantial numbers of Irish students to this provincial French university. From the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century more Irishmen graduated in medicine from the University of Reims than from any other Irish, British, or European university. The vast majority of Irish Reims graduates are likely to have been Catholics; Irish Protestant medical students went mainly to Leiden before the emergence of Edinburgh and Glasgow as medical centers in the latter eighteenth century. Brockliss devotes the second part of his stimulating essay to the seventeen hundred or so Irish surgeons who joined the army and navy medical corps during the French war from 1793 to 1815.

James Kelly's contribution shifts the focus from the professional to the domestic, to self-medication and home treatment, a resort to which much of the rural population was driven because of the paucity of licensed medical practitioners in many parts of Ireland until early in the nineteenth century. Epistolary consultations were another manifestation of deficiencies in the professional medical service, and one contributor offers a case study from the 1730s involving a Church of Ireland bishop and a physician-friend in London. The remaining essays in the volume address the tradition and practice of medicine in Gaelic Ireland, the influence [End Page 141] exerted by medical practitioners over the wider culture of eighteenth-century Ireland, and institutional medical legislation during the same period.

The volume has a number of blemishes, not least the varying usage throughout of practice/practise and practiced/practised. However, this irritating inconsistency and other examples of less than scrupulous proofreading do not detract significantly from the overall attempt to address some of the research lacunae in the history of medicine in early modern Ireland identified by the editors in their introduction.

Laurence M. Geary
University College Cork
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