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JAMA Revisited
March 10, 2015

Irish Physician-Poets

Author Affiliations

JAMA. 1963;183(10):822.

JAMA. 2015;313(10):1064. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.1172

THE GAELIC ERA.—It is often impossible to dissociate myth from reality in studying the lives of early Gaelic personalities. The poet is often regarded (if only by himself) as seer, priest, healer, and judge as well as a scholar, entertainer, and poet. In reviewing manuscripts of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, one finds, nevertheless, at least a half dozen examples of poets who practiced medicine as a profession and who were regarded by contemporaries as physicians.

Besides transcribing an early (1139 a.d.) Materia Medica of Ireland, Eoin O’Callanain, a 17th century Dublin physician, wrote at least nine poems remaining in various Celtic manuscripts. A long ballad by his contemporaries in praise of O’Callanain’s medical knowledge is also extant in the old Gaelic collection of the Royal Irish Academy. (O’Callanain, E.: Royal Irish Academy, Ms.24.B.2 and Ms.23.N.15, Dublin, circa 1690.)