An Irish Country Doctor, Patrick Taylor. New York: Forge Books, 2007 (an earlier version published 2004).
Summary: A young doctor fresh from medical school becomes the assistant to a rural, and somewhat eccentric, general practitioner in a small village in Northern Ireland and learns lessons about life, love, and medicine they didn’t teach in school.
Sometimes even I like a “feel good” book, one with characters, setting, and plot line that warm the heart. This was one such book, and judging from the series of books (now up to eleven) that followed, it is clear that many other readers agree that Patrick Taylor has combined all three quite well in his Irish Country Books. [In this interview, Patrick Taylor talks about the writing of this, the first book in the series.]
Barry Laverty, M.B. has just completed medical training and has signed on to be the assistant to Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, the general practitioner, serving the village and environs of the fictional town of Ballybucklebo, slightly inland on the south side of the Belfast Lough.
Once a Navy doctor with a sterling reputation, he is now an aging practitioner with some unusual methods and a dedicated housekeeper, “Kinky” Kincaid and an overly affectionate dog, Arthur Guinness. As Barry approaches to interview, O’Reilly literally heaves Seamus Galvin out of his office for showing up with dirty feet when he is complaining of an ankle sprain! O’Reilly regularly injects patients (through their clothing into their buttocks) with B 12 injections, kind of a harmless “pick me up”.
Nevertheless, Barry accepts the assistant position and begins to learn that so much of healing involves the relationship between doctor and patient, whether in his vigilant care of a little girl with appendicitis, an old man, Sonny, living in his car to fend off the village real estate tycoon who wanted to seize his property, or Julie, a girl in service who turns up pregnant out of wedlock.
He soon begins to form these bonds as well, as he delivers the baby of Seamus and Maureen Galvin, who is named after him, diagnoses a thyroid condition O’Reilly missed, and learns to speak the language of the village, and not that of a medical textbook. He falls in love with a girl, Patricia, torn between her career aspirations and her love for Barry (funny how at this time, the Sixties, men did not have similar struggles). And he learns the hard limits of his work as he misses the earliest signs of a stroke in a hypochondriacal patient, Fotheringham, treating neck pain as simply a sprain. No other symptoms had yet manifested, and did not for hours, yet he blamed himself, and bore the blame of the patient’s wife.
As the author mentions in his interview, the various plot lines resolve, all in the ways we would like with some delightful surprises, at a party at the end. Seamus, Maureen and Barry Galvin are going to America, funded by Dr. O’Reilly’s “mysterious” sale of Seamus’s “rocking ducks”. A number of other plot threads resolve as well, including that of the Fotheringhams, all in ways that we would want, even some we might not have been thinking about.
This was a delightful read, and carried within it the seeds of setting and people and the possibilities for more stories that make me well inclined to look out for the sequels to this book. You have people at their best and worst, the language is sometimes mildly “salty,” and yet there is an delightful underlying goodness in the relationships built between O’Reilly, Laverty, and the villagers in this delightful place called Ballybucklebo that leaves one wanting more.