Time Off With An Easy Read: An Irish Country Doctor (#8 in 52)

Four-day weekends like the recent Easter Holiday are a great opportunity to step away from daily work routines, reconnect with family and recharge for the final two months of school.  In terms of reading and continuing with the 52 in 52 project, I look for something light – something that after I’ve had to put down to deal with child to child name calling, lovingly supportive requests from my wife to take out the trash and “Oh, so now you call me” phone conversations with my mother I can pick up, once again seamlessly immerse myself and read effortlessly.  Really, what I’m looking for is a nice “hallmark special” type read: humour, quirky characters without much baggage, cultural charm and a Hollywood ending that wraps everything up in a feel good, ‘gee it’s great to be alive’, kind of way.

Well, I found that book: Patrick Taylor’s, An Irish Country Doctor. The novel is based on the author’s journals when he was a practicing doctor in Northern Ireland. The time is the mid-1960’s and Barry Laverty, a recent graduate of medical school, is on his way to an interview as an assistant to an established general practitioner in the small village of Ballybucklebo. However, he quickly realizes that Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly is not your typical small town doctor. As Barry approaches the Fingal’s residence, the door swings open:

                  The large man swung the smaller one to and fro in every increasing excursions, then released his grip. Barry gaped as the little victim’s upward flight and keening were both cut short by a rapid descent into the nearest rosebush.

                  “Buck eejit,” the giant roared and hurled a shoe and a sock after the ejectee.

                  Barry flinched. He held his black bag in front of himself.

                  “The next time, Seamus Galvin, you dirty little bugger . . . The next tie you come here after hours on my half day and want me to look at your sore ankle, wash your bloody feet! Do you hear me, Seamus Galvin?”

From this point on, Fingal gives Barry an education in patient care that he never learned from his textbooks or residency. “…stick with me, son.” O’Reilly says. “You’ll learn a thing or two the books don’t teach you” 

In a matter of a couple of weeks, Barry gradually receives the trust of the people of Ballybucklebo. He comes to appreciate and respect Fingal, not just as the learned village doctor, but as a well-read man who throws about literary allusions yet still genuinely connects with, cares for and appreciates his fellow villagers.  Along the way, Barry engages with the quirky citizens and enters into a romantic relationship with the independent Patricia, an engineering student who has a limp due to a bout with polio. Of all the characters, however, it is Fingal’s vast black Labrador, frequently getting drunk on Smithwick’s Bitter, who serves as the novel’s scene-stealer:

“I call him Arthur Guinness because he’s Irish, black, and has a great head on him . . . just like the stout.”

“Yarf,” said Arthur, as he wound his front paws around Barry’s leg and started to hump like a demented pile driver. Keep that up, dog, Barry thought, as he tried and failed to hold the besotted beast at bay. Keep that up, and your next litter will be Labrador-corduroy crossbreed.

The plot, overall, is very simplistic; however, the local charm and the details of life in Northern Ireland in the 60’s make this a pleasant read. In the end, the novel recounts only a few weeks’ worth of experiences, weaving together the stories of several families and individuals and neatly bringing closure to almost all of them. It’s a little too good to be true, but it’s “holiday” fiction, and a happy ending all around is pleasing. 

An Irish Country Doctor, a recommended novel if you’re looking for something light and easy to read on the beach or during a long weekend (or in preparation for dinner at mom’s place!).