Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor

Written by Patrick Taylor
Review by Kristen Hannum

In 1936, Fingal is a newly-minted young doctor working for a “dispensary” in Dublin’s tenements, a kind of all-purpose health clinic for the neighborhood. (American readers may find the concept strained, that public health could include actual preventive health care for the poor, doctor’s visits and all, but this is, in fact, an accurate detail.) Fingal loves his work, so much so that he risks losing his sweetheart, nurse Kitty, because of his long, irregular hours.

Some thirty years later, he and Kitty are married, and O’Reilly is the senior partner of a practice in Ballybucklebo. He’s faced with difficulties right and left, from a dyspeptic lawyer’s refusal to be seen by the woman doctor O’Reilly just hired to Kitty wanting to change the wallpaper in his waiting room.

As in Taylor’s other books, the best parts of Fingal O’Reilly are sections showing the young doctor interacting with patients—and the best of those scenes is the one in which O’Reilly is part of an early experiment with a sulfa drug, precursor to antibiotics. Taylor captures the awe and excitement of the breakthrough.

There aren’t any surprises here; it’s rather the enjoyment of spending time with characters who readers already know. I enjoyed Taylor’s other books more than this one, which needs to be read with patience for long-winded characters who often go on and on about very little. Taylor’s publicists have taken to comparing his books to James Herriot’s veterinary books. I disagree: Herriot’s books are filled with laugh-aloud humor and Herriot’s sweet nature. Taylor’s books aren’t funny (unless you think his running a bicyclist off the road is a knee-slapper) and Fingal in his later years is “irascible.”