MacDunleavy/MacNulty physicians of Tirconnell

The MacDunleavy/MacNulty physicians of Tirconnell (sometimes also noted to include the MacKinley)[1] were originally of one of Gaelic Ireland's royal families, which was, also, one of its ancient hereditary medical families. In the mid to late middle ages, likely, because of, their, unique status as then former royals and their Latin schooling, Tirconnell's MacDonlevy/MacNulty physicians provided an important conduit of communication between Ireland's (really the Celtic Nations) and the rest of Western Europe's medical communities.

The reputation, skill and influence of Tirconnell's MacDonlevy/MacNulty physicians survives, even, into modern times. Dr. Sir Arthur MacNalty (variant of MacNulty),[2] whose father was the physician F.C. MacNalty, M.D., carried on this tradition, becoming, eventually, the 8th Chief Medical Officer, a physician renowned in several medical specialties in his lifetime,[3] an acquaintance of Sir Winston Churchill[4] and the top British government health official during his administration, and is, to today, renowned as a historian (particularly, of published medieval medical history reconstructions).[5] A ground breaking medical scientist, MacNalty was the first to use electrocardiography in clinical medicine. In 1908, Arthur MacNalty and Thomas Lewis (cardiologist) teamed to employ electrocardiography to diagnose Heart block.[6] Based largely on his for then advanced understandings of the relation between endocrine function and neurological disorders and the relation between human immune function and human nutrition, in the late 1930s, Sir Arthur became the first national public health official known to have warned of the dangers of indiscriminant use of Anti-obesity medications (or what was then known as "dosing") and against fad diet (or what was then known as "slimming").[7][8]

Renown of Irish physicians during the middle ages

Through medieval times, most Irish physicians were educated domestically under a hereditary apprenticeship system. In the middle ages, likely, because of this warehousing of over a millennium of empirically accumulated knowledge of medicaments and battlefield surgery techniques, Irish physicians and surgeons were renowned throughout the western world. An Irish king's personal surgeon accompanied him to battle, and many an Irish king owed his life manifold times over to the skills of his surgeon. More than a thousand years before the Frenchman René Laennec in 1816 reinvented or expropriated from the Irish the stethoscope and the Scotsman Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister introduced acid poultices for sanitation of healing surgical wounds, Irish physicians employed elk horns of the same general hollowed conical configuration as early stethoscopes and for the same exact purpose of during auscultation amplifying the sound of the body's cardiac pulse and fire cupping therapy (the vestiges of which can be observed to this day in traditional Chinese medicine practice) to drain the purulence from healing wounds, while also sanitising them by heating of local atmosphere and tissue.[9][10]

Emigration to “Tir Chonaill” or land of The O'Donnell

Upon the late 12th century collapse of the ancient eastern Irish Kingdom of Ulidia, it is reputed that many of the kingdom's ruling MacDunleavy/MacNulty, who, again, were also one of the ancient hereditary medical families of Ireland, sought political asylum in the western Irish Kingdom of Tirconnell,[11] the last standing Gaelic sovereignty, which boundaries were contemporaneous with those of modern County Donegal, where they were named to the high Gaelic status of "ollahm leighis" or the official physicians to the O'Donnells dynasty kings of Tyrconnell (E., var. spell., "Tyrconnell", I. "Tir Chonaill", abbr. "Tir") and to a historical certainty there adopted the agnomen I. Ultach (var. I. spell. Ultagh or Ultaigh, L. Ulidian), which as earlier notated is said to have evolved by prefixing of the Gaelic language element "Mac" to the element Ultagh to form the Irish "patronymic" surname Mac an Ultaigh (English MacNulty or McNulty).[12][13][14]

Communication with medical fraternities on the European continent

Unlike most of Ireland’s other physicians, many of the MacDonlevy/MacNulty physicians of Tirconnell were also educated by medical faculty at Universities on the European continent at a time when continental European medicine was despite the work of Andreas Vesalius and other medical empiricists still mired in the philosophical musings of Galen and other medical rationalists. Tir Chonaill's MacDunleavy/MacNulty physicians provided an important conduit between continental Europe's and Ireland's philosophically divergent medical communities. They maintained discourse with the great continental European medical schools of the time, including at Toulouse, Louvain (Leuven), Paris, Montpellier, Bologna and Padua. Ireland's MacDonleavy/MacNulty physicians both introduced to Ireland continental European medical scholarship and to the European continent Irish medical empiricism, which foreshadowed, if it did not, itself, actually anticipate, the later broader introduction of scientific method to western medicine and surgery by surgeons like the Frenchman Ambroise Paré and Scotsman John Hunter.

List of Tir Chonaill's MacDonlevy/McNulty "ollahm leighis"

This is a partial list, based on the incomplete record of the Annals of the Four Masters or the Irish Annals, of members of the MacDonlevy/McNulty family, who in the Kingdom of Tir Chonaill were official physicians to its O'Donnell dynasty kings.[15]

The Annals note further that the branch of the MacDonlevy, who had been the official physicians to the O'Donnell dynasty kings of Tir Chonaill, still existed near Kilmacrenan, County Donegal in the early 17th century.

Example Cormac MacDonlevy

Cormac MacDonlevy (E. var. MacDunleavy, anglicised from I. Mac or Ó Duinnshléibhe) (Ultach) (fl. c. 1460) was an influential medieval Irish physician and medical scholar. He is famed for advancing Irish medieval medical practice by, for the first time, translating seminal continental European medical texts from Latin to vernacular. His translations provided the, then, exclusively, Gaelic language speaking majority of Irish physicians with their first reference access to these texts.

In or about 1470, Cormac MacDonlevy, M.B.[18] commenced the daunting 12-year task of first translating the French physician Bernard of Gordon's most celebrated and extensive medical work, the Lilium medicine[19](1320), from Latin to Irish.[20] Thereafter, as it had some 150 years earlier with the continental European medical community, the monumental Lilium medicine or English "Lily of Medicine" achieved great popularity among the medical community of the Celtic nations. Cormac, also, first translated Gordon's De pronosticis[21](c. 1295) and Gaulteris Agilon's De dosibus[22](c. 1250) from Latin into Irish. Gaulteris' De dosibus is a pharmaceutical tract and well utilised historical source, providing a concise introduction to the basic principles and operations of medieval European pharmacy. Cormac, too, first translated from Latin to Irish the French surgeon Gui de Chuliac's Chirurgia[23](c. 1363) and, also, 5 other major Continental European medical texts in addition to those hereto cited.[24]

Example Nellanus Glacanus

Tradition is that the MacDonlevy/MacNulty physicians educated in the medical arts L. Nellanus Glacanus, originally, Niall Ó Glacáin of Tir Chonaill or Donegal, and it is quite probable that they would have provided this Tir Chonaill native his medical education. After his reputed education and training under the MacDonleavy/McNulty, and, anyway, in the modern area of County Donegal, Republic of Ireland, Glacanus became a famed physician, professor of medicine and medical researcher on the continent. He was physician to Louis XIII of France and may have attended Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill in 1602 at his deathbed at Simancas Castle in Spain. Glacanus was a professor and researcher at the University of Bologna. Glacanus applied empirical method to pioneer the field of forensic anatomy and pathology. His autopsies first described the petechial haemorrhages of the lung and swelling of the spleen incident of bubonic plague (Tractatus de Peste, 1629), and he early elucidated on the empirical method of differential diagnosis to the continental European medical community (Cursus Medicus, 1655).[25]


  1. Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Priest of the Diocese of Limerick, Member of the Council, National Academy of Ireland, Irish Names and Surnames, 1967 Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, in Irish and English, pp. 319 and 355–356 – One scholarly contention is that both the surnames MacNulty (from I. Mac “son” an “of” or “an” Ultaigh or, var., Ultach L. “Ulidian”) and MacKinley (from I. Mac “son” an “of” or “an” Léigh (liaig) “leech" for "physician”) originated during the middle ages in western Ireland’s Kingdom of Tirconnell. Scholars, so contending, equate the McKinley, the McNulty and the Dunleavy.
  2. Elsdon C. Smith , New Dictionary of American Family Names, New York Harper & Row 1956, 1973, pp 330, 366, 387, 375
  3. Sir Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, "Arthur Salusbury (Sir) MacNalty", Royal College of Physicians, Lives of Fellows, Munk’s Roll, Vol. VI (1966-1975), p. 321
  4. Winston Spencer Churchill, Servant of Crown and Commonwealth. A Tribute By Various Hands presented to Him on His Eightieth Birthday (1954, London, Cassell & Company), Sir James Marchant ( Ed. ), contributors of impressions from personal acquaintance include Sir Arthur Salusbury MacNalty
  5. , Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Henry VIII, ARTICLE, Additional Reading, "Arthur Salusbury MacNalty, Henry VIII: The Difficult Patient (1952), remains the best introduction to the medical history (which had important political consequences).”
  6. ”A note on the simultaneous occurrence of sinus and ventricular rhythm in man", Lewis T, Macnalty AS, J Physiol. 1908 Dec 15;37(5–6):445-58
  7. , Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, Examiner, Friday, 21 January 1938, p 14, which states in postscript "However, the sex which for many years injured its health by tight lacing is not likely to be deterred from slimming by such considerations, The dictates of fashion will be paramount." Sir Arthur was particularly concerned with the neurological side effects of the then popular practice of dosing with thyroid extract to lose weight and, also, use of the then much vaunted weight loss drug dinitrophenol, which his report found killed as many patients as it reduced in girth, as well as, the compromise of the malnourished's immune system and their consequent, often, inability to resist infectious diseases like the then endemic tuberculosis (archaic "epidemics of consumption").
  8. See, also, , Sidney Morning Herald, 17 Nov 1937, p 10.
  9. P.W. Joyce A Social History of Ancient Ireland London: Longmans, Green & Co. (1903) Vol. 1 Chapter 18 "Medicine and Medical Doctors" pp 597–631
  10. See entirety of both A. Nic Donnchadha, “Medical Writing in Irish”, in 2000 Years of Irish Medicine, J.B. Lyons, ed., Dublin, Eirinn Health Care Publications © 2000 (Nic Donchadha contribution reprinted from Irish Journal of Medicine, Vol. 169, No. 3, pp 217–220) and Susan Wilkinson, “Early Medical Education in Ireland”, Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, Vol. 6, No. 3 (November 2008). Both of the preceding articles also discuss the high status that physicians were accorded in Gaelic society. Wilkinson at page 158 specifically discusses the particularly high status of "ollahm leighis".
  11. The Oxford Companion to Irish History, 2nd ed., S.J. Connolly, ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press © 1998, 2002, ISBN 0-19-866270-X, pp. 350–351
  12. Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland, 5th Edition, Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1980, p 238, 292, who cites to 2 entries in The Annals of the Four Masters, which is a historical chronicle that records, among other matter, the births and deaths of Gaelic nobility. The first entry cited is an entry recording the 1395 A.D. death of a Maurice, the son of one "Paul Utach", who is, himself, recorded there to be "Chief Physician of Tyrconnell" and also as "Paul the Ulidian". It is there in the Annals further stated by its authors of the father Paul Ultach that "This is the present usual Irish name of the Mac Donlevy, who were originally chiefs of Ulidia. The branch of the family who became physicians to O'Donnell are still extant (at time of compilation of the Annals in the 17th century just after the fall of the last Gaelic sovereignty of Tyrconnell in 1607), near Kilmacrenan, in the county of Donegal." The second citation is to an entry recording the 1586 A.D. death of "Owen Utach", who is therein noted to be a particularly distinguished and skilled physician. The Annal 's compilers further elaborate of Owen Ultach at this entry that "His real name was Donlevy or, Mac Donlevy. He was physician to O'Donnell (Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill).”
  13. Other prominent MacDunleavy/MacNulty physicians of Gaelic Ireland's Tirconnell noted in The Annals of the Four Masters include a 1527 entry for Donnchadh mac Eoghan Ó Duinnshléibhe
  14. Rev. Patrick Woulfe, Priest of the Diocese of Limerick, Member of the Council, National Academy of Ireland, Irish Names and Surnames, 1967 Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, in Irish and English, p.356
  15. Dictionary of National Biography, ibid, p. 52 and the Irish Annals are the basic sources for this Article section. Sources at particular entries supplement as to the specific additional statements there referenced.
  16. G.H. Hack Genealogical History of the Donlevy Family Columbus, Ohio: printed for private distribution by Chaucer Press, Evans Printing Co. (1901), pp 18, 21 (Wisconsin Historical Society Copy), also, at same pages source for Donnell Ultaigh Donlevy, further down on list of Articles main text
  17. A New History of Modern Ireland (Early modern Ireland 1534–1691) T. Moody, F. Mortin, F. Byrned, eds., NY: Oxford University Press © 1987, 1993 p 611
  18. The degree is noted in British Library MS 333, fol. 113v25, which manuscript copy of the Irish De dosibus was later scribed than the Royal Irish Academy copy of the same appearing in reference below. The British Library copy is dated 1459, so Cormac must have completed this work of translation and his formal medical education sometime earlier than that date. It is unknown where Cormac obtained his medical degree, but it was, likely, from a Continental European university, as, again, institutionalized medical training in Ireland at the time was by apprenticeship, really, pupilage, with medical knowledge, generally, being passed from physician father to student son.
  19. Dublin Royal Irish Academy, MS 443 (24 p 14), pp 1–327, undated (Cormac's translation of this work, though, was completed by 1482, which is the date appearing on a later scribed copy of the Irish Lilium, which copy is housed as Egerton MS 89, fols. 13ra1-192vb13 at the British Library.)
  20. See French Wikipedia article Bernard de Gordon. See, also, A. Nic Donnchadha, ibid, at page 218 at paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 under the subtitle "Medical texts in Irish".
  21. Dublin Royal Irish Academy, MS 439 (3C19), fols. 241–288, undated (The translation of the De pronosticis was also digested in 1468 as National Library of Ireland, MS G11, pp 425–38 and, so was completed by Cormac prior to this date.)
  22. British Library Harley MS 546, fols. 1r-11r (This translation has also been republished modernly as Shawn Sheehan, An Irish Version of Gaulterus (sic) "De dosibus", Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America 1938 and with Cormac's Irish translation and an English translation set side by side on adjoining of its 185 pages.)
  23. National Library of Ireland, MSG 453, fols. 110-27, undated (The translation of the work was also digested with date 1514 as British Library Arundel MS 333, fol. 37va17-21, fol. 35v20-29, and, so, Cormac had completed it at least by such date.)
  24. A. Nic Donnchadha, ibid, at page 218 at paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 under the subtitle "Medical texts in Irish".
  25. David Murphy "Niall O'Glacan" Dictionary of Irish Biography ... to the year 2002, James McGuire and James Quinn, eds., Cambridge, 2009.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/8/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.