Saturday, 12 May 2012

Irish Hereditary Medical Families

The pinnacle of care, education and professionalism in traditional Irish medicine before the seventeeth century lay within the hereditary medical families. The chief medical families are named in Table one


Physician families

Ó Callanáin (Callanan),

Ó hÍceadha (Hickey)

Ó Leighin (Lane),

Ó Nialláin (Nealon),

Ó Troighthigh (Troy);
Mac Caisín (Cashin),

Ó Bolgaidhe (Bolger),

Ó Conchubhair (O'Connor),

Ó Cuileamhain (Culhoun, Cullen);
 Mac an Leagha (Mac Kinley)

Mac Beatha (Mac Veigh),

Ó Ceandubháin (Canavan),

Ó Cearnaigh (Kearney),

Ó Fearghusa (Fergus),

Ó (or Mac) Maoil Tuile (Tully, or Flood),
Mac (or Ó) Duinnshléibhe (Donleavy

Ó Caiside (Cassidy),

Ó Siadhail (Shields).

Ó hÍceadha (Hickey) and Ó Leighin (Lane) mean literally healer and leech respectively. How many people with the above names today, realize that they are descendants of the great Irish hereditary medical families? There is a well known bonesetter by the name of Victor Lane in the Newmarket, Co. Cork  and it would be an interesting genealogical study to investigate if that family is descended from the old Irish medical family of the same name who resided in the Blarney area. These families were involved in the transmission of medical knowledge over many generations.  The O’Cassidy family was another famous medical family. The Annals of Ireland mention the deaths of five of the O’Cassidy family, namely, Finghin (d. 1322); Gilla na nAingel (d. 1335); Tadhg (d. 1450); Feonis (d. 1504) and Feidhlimidh (d. 1520) and notes that they were ollamh leighis. An Giolla Glas Ó Caiside is identified with the authorship of a medical manuscript between 1515 and 1527 which is now in the library (along with many more) of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

The kings and great Irish families had herbal physicians attached to them (Table two). This was the most sought after position as it was well paid in land, status and remuneration. A tract of land of up to 500 acres was not uncommon and this was held free of all rent and tribute.  In the case of the O’Shiels, their hereditary estate near the village of Ferbane, is still known as Ballyshiel.  Owen O’Shiel and  other Liaig left Ireland to train (again)  in the European model after the Battle of Kinsale  so as to be able to adapt to the new political order since their patrons were now no more. 

Physicians of a lower rank would have lost their profession in the new political order also. The following table   (two) lists some hereditary physicians and the families to whom they were attached.


MacCarthys of Desmond
Maguires of Fermanagh
O’Flahertys of Connaught
O’Briens of Thomand

O’Kennedys of Ormond

Macnemaras of Clare
Butlers of Ormond
MacMahons of Oriel

MacCoghlans of Delvin
O’Sullivan Beara