ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
The Irish Doctors.
From the most ancient pagan times, the Irish doctors were renowned for their skill in the treatment of disease, and the professors of medicine held a high and influential position in the Druid order. They were allowed a distinguished place at
the royal table, next to the nobles, and above the armourers, smiths,and workers in metals; they were also entitled to wear a special robe of honour when, at the courts of the kings, and were always attended by a large staff of pupils, who assisted the master in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and the preparations necessary for the curative potions.
The skill of the Irish physicians was based chiefly upon a profound knowledge of the healing nature and properties of herbs; and they were also well acquainted with the most deadly and concentrated poisons that can be found in the common field plants.
But, in addition to the aid given by science and observation, they also practised magic with great effect, knowing well how strongly charms, incantations, and fairy cures can act on the nerves and impress the mind of a patient. Consequently their treatment of disease was of a medico-religious character, in which various magic ceremonials largely helped the curative process.
The Tuatha De Danan
The oldest record of physicians in Ireland dates from the battle of Magh-tura (Moytura, the plain of the Towers) fought about three thousand years ago between the Firbolgs, the primitive, unlettered dwellers in Erin, and the Tuatha-de-Danans, a new set of invaders from the Isles of the Sea, more learned and powerful than the Firbolgs, skilled as metal workers, and famous as warriors and physicians.
At this great historic battle of Moytura, Dianecht, the chief physicianof the Tuatha, had a bath of herbs prepared, at the rear of the army, of singular' efficacy,into which the wounded were plunged, and from which they emerged healed and whole.
During the fierce combat, Nuada, the King of the Tuatha, lost his hand; but it is recorded that Dianecht made for him a silver hand, fashionedwith the most perfect mechanical and artistic skill;and henceforth the King was known as Nuada,
Airgeat-lamh (Nuad of the silver hand), and bythis name he lives in history. Owing to their great knowledge and skill in metallurgy, the Firbolgs looked on the powerful invaders as necromancers and enchanters, and fled before them to the extreme limit of the western coast, even out to the remote Arran Isles,where they built, for shelter and protection from the enemy, those marvellous Cyclopean forts, whose stupendous, ruins,with the causeway leading to them, formed of enormous masses of stone, can be seen to this day. After this,until the final conquest of Ireland by the Milesians from Spain, the Tuatha long remained masters of Ireland, and learning and art flourished under their rule. An ancient poet
thus describes their great medical power:
The Tuatha by force of potent spells, Could raise a slaughtered army from the earth, And make them live, and breathe,and fight again.
Adjoining the royal palace or "Tara of the Kings" they erected a hospital called "The House of Sorrow" where the wounded knights and chiefs were carried after the battles and forays to be healed of their wounds, and were attended there by the doctor and his staff of pupils until quite restored.
But if the liaigh, or leech, took up his abode at the house of the patient, he was entitled to his diet, along with four of his pupils, in addition to his fees, during the healing of the wound. If the cure, however, did not make satisfactory progress, the liaigh was obliged to pay for the food already consumed, and to refund the fees, which were handed over to a better liaigh.
The practice of physic was hereditary in certain families, and each of the nobles had a special physician attached to his service. In the more ancient times, medical knowledge was handed down by oral tradition from father to son ; then, as learning advanced, by written books, carefully preserved in each family. The sons were generally educated by their fathers in the practice of physic, but it is said that Dianecht, being jealous of the superior skill of his son, caused him to be slain, when from , the grave of the youth sprang a number of herbs, all efficacious in curing disease; and thus, though, dead, he carried on his work.
After the introduction of Christianity by St. Patrick, schools were established both for law; and physic, where Latin was sedulously taught and freely spoken. Camden describes these schools, and says of them: They speak Latin there like the vulgar tongue, conning by rote the aphorisms of Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, and others amongst the great masters of surgery.