Laurence M. Geary lectures in history at University College Cork and the author of The Plan of Campaign, 1886-91 (Cork, 1986).
In this illuminating social history of medicine and charity in Ireland over almost 150 years from 1718 until just after the Great Famine, Laurence M. Geary shows how illness and poverty reacted upon each other. The poverty resulting from great population growth that continued until the arrival of potato blight in 1845 had a severe effect on the health of the country's population, and the Famine itself caused around one million deaths from starvation and disease. This was a period of great change in medical and charitable services. In the eighteenth century the sick had come to be regarded as the deserving poor, therefore having a better claim to public assistance than those whose poverty was the result of their own dissipation, idleness or vice. A network of charities evolved in Ireland to provide free medical aid to the sick poor. The first voluntary hospital in Dublin opened in 1718 and Geary traces the establishment and development of voluntary hospitals and county infirmaries throughout the country.These had a strong Anglican ethos and bias, but after Catholic emancipation in 1829 the nepotism, sectarianism and divisive politics that were rife in these organisations came under increasing scrutiny. Medical practitioners saw considerable progress in the development of a regulated profession. Geary describes developments in policy making and legislation, culminating in the 1851 Medical Charities Act, which he describes as part of a process that characterised the century and more under review in this book: the unrelenting pressure on philanthropy and private medical charity and the inexorable shift from voluntarism to an embryonic system of state medicine.
Part 1 The origins and development of Irish medical institutions
- Voluntary hospitals
Part 2 Patrons, patients and practitioners
- Governors and patients
Part 3 Politics one day, potatoes the next
- The politics of sick poor relief
Medical-relief during the Great Famine
The 1851 Medical Charities Act
"offers some interesting insights into the early dispensary system."
Irish Times Sept 2004
"Laid out in a clear and accessible manner, this book shows a highly enlightened cross-section of Irish society over four or five generations encompassing all classes from the very rich ... to the upper and lower middle class ... to the propertyless of every kind ... Every table-even something as simple as the gender breakdown of admissions to county infirmaries 1841-51-gives us hitherto unavailable insight into Irish life, health and family economies ... an invaluable resource on the history of pre-Famine Ireland, and will become an essential textbook for the period."
Irish Studies Review 13 (2) 2005
"Laurence Geary has written an important book on the development of Ireland's hospital and dispensary services ... The book is an administrative history but enlivened by Geary's attempt to make the story of the dispensary and charitable hospital a history of Ireland's poor."
Greta Jones, University of Ulster Irish Economic and Social History 2005
"The documentary sources for this work are used to good effect ... includes a comprehensive bibliography that is a useful supplement to Geary's fluent and persuasive prose, and will be appreciated by the many future researchers who consult this book."
New Hibernia Review Vol 11, No 1 Spring 2007