Medical Care in Ancient Ireland

Having a place to care for the sick and wounded, what we now refer to as a hospital, was a valuable institution in Ireland as far back as 1169 AD - 1607 AD. While many modern hospitals are secular organizations, most facilities in ancient Ireland had some connection to monasteries, either through management or support. Similar to modern-day hospitals, these ancient clinics could be designated as either general treatment facilities or for treating specific illnesses (such as leprosy).

Sanitation and Patients

Sanitation and cleanliness were important, even hundreds of years ago. Irish law dictated the following requirements for treatment facilities: “ from dirt, should have four open doors, and should have a stream of water running across it through the middle of the floor." [1]

Patients were expected to pay for food and medicine if they could afford the expense. If one individual wounded another without justification, Brehon Law required the guilty party to pay the victim’s medical fees until the patient recovered or died. Further, the assailant was responsible for ensuring the patient was treated properly and that all sanitary regulations were upheld.


Outside the clinics, peasants were known to practice herbal remedies for healing wounds. Although these peasants (called herb-doctors) were not recognized as physicians, they were considerably knowledgeable. Herb-doctors gained their savoir-faire primarily from manuscripts passed down through many generations. However, herb-doctors did not have the same technical qualifications as physicians; they were liable to legal dangers that did not pertain to regular doctors.


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