Friday, 9 December 2011

Book Review: Irish Folk Medicine

Irish Folk Medicine
Patrick Logan

This title is a re-release of Logan's Irish Country Cures, so as far as I know they're one and the same just under different names.

Having read another of Logan's books I had a vague idea of what to expect here - a book that's short and sweet, well-written and well-researched, and providing a good overview of the subject. This is pretty much what you end up with in this book; it's a nice little tome that covers as much as possible in as few pages as possible - good for an introduction.

It's a quick read and one of those books that you pick up and put down as you find the time. It's not a particularly demanding read, although given the subject matter there are some things in here that I'm totally unfamiliar with - certain ailments and terminology that I'm not particularly sure what they refer to. Logan himself is a doctor so he writes with authority on the subject of various complaints and treatments, but this is both an advantage and disadvantage, I think. Many of the complaints referred to aren't really relevant today, or else they might be called something else, but they were either well-known at the time of writing, or at least still in living memory at the time; as such, at times there's very little explanation of things that I would've appreciated explanation of (or at least a glossary at the back). Me, I've heard of terms like dropsy, but I can never remember what it refers to...

Aside from that, the book gives a good overview of the subject and with Google handy the more obscure elements of the book aren't too much of an inconvenience. Along with human ailments (which are separated into internal and then external sections) there's also a brief section on animal ailments and treatments, and a short section on folk treatments at wells, spas, and sweathouses. At times the writing almost slips into the kind of style that seems to be note form - brief sentences that are barely grammatical - but at least it keeps things pithy.

The content isn't particularly exciting or revolutionary - to me anyway - and the treatments described aren't exactly ones I'll be trying any time soon...But there are some nice bits and pieces to be found here, and along with learning about folk remedies and attitudes towards illness, Logan does a good job of pointing out where these remedies seem to have a long pedigree - being found in Irish or even Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. This says a lot about the longevity of these treatments, some of which are pseudo-medicinal, some of which rely on sympathetic magic, or else sound medicine and common sense.

There isn't much detail as far as the supposed origins of many of these diseases are concerned - the belief in illnesses caused by the evil eye, for example - and nor is there much detail about who these folk-healers that people often consulted in cases where illnesses didn't respond to conventional approaches. The book is slightly lacking for that, but I think that's symptomatic of the time in which it was written - and to be fair, there still hasn't been much work on that, even today.

Over all, this is not one of those books that I'd say is essential reading, but if you have an interest in folk healing and herbology, then this is certainly a good one for the bookshelf. Given its length, this is a good introduction to the subject, for sure, and you should be able to find it cheaply second hand.


nefaeria said...

This looks like a book for me! Thanks for reviewing it! :)

Seren said...

I would highly recommend Mary Beith's Healing Threads as well, if this is a subject that interests you. It's mainly Scottish in focus, but it's a great read.

nefaeria said...

Indeed it is! Thanks for the suggestion, I will add it to my list to check out.

nefaeria said...

Err, indeed it does rather {interest me that is}.

*sips coffee and hopes that some sparks light up in ye olde noggin*