Book review: Healing Touch

  Healing Touch
An illustrated history of
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
Alf McCreary
Published by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. £30

When it comes to the Healing Touch everyone has their favourite story as I discovered at the launch of this important book.

There’s the grisly tale of dissection in the days when the body of a criminal could be bought for £1 3s and surely the most unusual dismemberment in the furtherance of anatomy must have been that on an elephant which had burned to death while on exhibition in Dublin. There’s the experience of Dr. Robert Graves who went to Galway in 1822 where many people were dying of a typhus epidemic in the wake of the famine and where many doctors lost their own lives to the disease. And how did Napoleon Bonaparte’s toothbrush and snuff box end up in the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin city centre and what of the gentleman who requested to be buried standing up so he had a head start in his future. He got his wish – at least to be buried standing up! And a bone of contention, why at one time did all Presidents of the College have to be Protestants of the Church of Ireland?

The College was founded in 1654 for the purpose of regulating the practice of medicine in Ireland and in an attempt to regulate medical practice the 1667 Charter stipulated that no person might practise medicine within a seven mile radius of Dublin unless licensed by the college.

Hundreds of stories swirl in and around the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and they are expertly drawn together by author of ‘Healing Touch’, Alf McCreary. In his customary way, he has painstakingly researched history, this time of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland from 1654 to the present day. Although the book is about the college it is mainly about the people who were and still are involved in the development of medicine, their achievements and their downfalls, their personalities and their lifestyles.

Much is written about Sir Patrick Dun who came to Ireland as a surgeon with King William and after the war remained in Dublin and became a leading figure in the world of medicine and society. After his death the Sir Patrick Dun hospital was named in his honour. He is only one of the many men and women based in the College who have made their mark in medicine throughout the world.

McCreary introduces us to them and then takes us through historic events, the turbulent Easter Rising 1916, two World Wars, the Troubles and car bombs in Dublin in 1974 when members of the College were always at the forefront and years later he brings us up to date with a picture of Sir Bob Geldof with College President Professor John Crowe during the award of an Honorary Fellowship to the activist and peace campaigner.

The amount of research that has gone into this book is phenomenal and it was completed within two years which is extraordinary. Apart from the text, there are over 500 illustrations which have been sympathetically placed by designer Wendy Dunbar so this volume is not only a work of art but an invaluable historic record of one of Ireland’s most prestigious organisations. People like to read about people so this will be a much sought after book.

By Anne Hailes

Post Author: Belfast Times

Leave a Reply