Irish medical families

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Irish medical families were hereditary practitioners of professional medicine in Gaelic Ireland, between 1100 and 1700.


Professional medical practitioners in the Gaelic world of Ireland and Scotland was mainly the preserve of a small number of learned families who passed the profession down generation by generation. This principle was practised by other learned families of poets, historians, musicians, and lawyers.

According to Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha:

These kindreds were involved in medical practise over successive generations, and, collectively, were responsible for the organisation and regulation of medical schools, the formation and development of a curriculum, the practical training of students, and the translation, composition and transmission of medical texts. Physicians enjoyed a high legal status in Gaelic society, and were supported by the hereditary tenure of lands that were granted to them by the landowning aristocracy in exchange for medical services ... While the precise nature and effectiveness of the treatment they gave their patients is unclear, the quality of the intellectual training Irish doctors received in their professional medicals schools was high. They were well equipped to offer their aristocratic employers a medical service that was informed by the best of contemporary scientific learning.[1]

The families[edit]

Each province in Ireland had a number of families associated with medical practise. This list is not exhaustive:





Ulster (Ulidia):

The texts[edit]

Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha writes:

The extensive corpus of medical writing that survives in Irish comprises more than a hundred manuscripts written during the period c. 1400 to c. 1700. These documents, most of which are housed in Irish libraries, are the most important written record extant for the institutional organisation and medical practise of physicians in late medieval and early modern Ireland and Scotland.[1]

Among those that survive are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "School of Celtic Studies".
  2. ^ a b Woulfe, Patrick (1993). Irish names and surnames. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, Co. Inc. pp. 314–315 for Mac an Leagha entry, p. 582 for O Laoidig.
  3. ^ a b c MacLysaght, Edward (1957). Irish Families: their names, arms, and origins. Dublin: Hodges Figgis & Co. Ltd. p. 208.
  4. ^ Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland, 5th Edition, Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1980, pp. 238, 292, who cites two entries in The Annals of the Four Masters, which is a historical chronicle that records, among other matter, the births and deaths of Gaelic nobility. The first entry cited is an entry recording the 1395 A.D. death of a Maurice, the son of one "Paul Utach", who is, himself, recorded there to be "Chief Physician of Tyrconnell" and also as "Paul the Ulidian". It is there in the Annals further stated by its authors of the father Paul Ultach that "This is the present usual Irish name of the Mac Donlevy, who were originally chiefs of Ulidia. The branch of the family who became physicians to O'Donnell are still extant (at time of compilation of the Annals in the 17th century just after the fall of the last Gaelic sovereignty of Tyrconnell in 1607), near Kilmacrenan, in the county of Donegal." The second citation is to an entry recording the 1586 A.D. death of "Owen Utach", who is therein noted to be a particularly distinguished and skilled physician. The Annals compilers further elaborate of Owen Ultach at this entry that "His real name was Donlevy or, Mac Donlevy. He was physician to O'Donnell (Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill).”


  • Diarmaid O Cathain (1988) John Fergus MD: Eighteenth-century Doctor, Book Collector and Irish Scholar in J.R.I.A. 118
  • Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha (1999) Medical Writing in Irish, 1400–1700, School of Celtic Studies.
  • Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha (2000) Medical writing in Irish, J. B. Lyons (ed.), Two thousand years of Irish medicine, Dublin.
  • Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha (2006) The medical school of Aghmacat, Queen's County, Ossory, Laois and Leinster 2, 11–43.
  • Katherine Simms, Medical Schools, p. 37, Medieval Ireland:An Encyclopedia, ed. Sean Duffy, 2005.

External links[edit]