Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 24

Of the Diseases reigning in Ireland, and whereunto that Country is particularly subject.

Of the Irish Agues

As Ireland is subject to most diseases in common with other countries, so there are some, whereunto it is peculiarly obnoxious, being at all times so rife there, that they may justly be reputed for Ireland's Endemii morbi or reigning diseases, as indeed they are generally reputed for such.

Of this number is a certain sort of malignant feavers, vulgarly in Ireland called Irish agues, because that at all times they are so common in Ireland, as well among the inhabitants and the natives, as among those who are newly come thither from other countries. This feaver commonly accompanied with a great pain in the head and in all the bones, great weakness, drought, loss of all manner of appetite, and want of sleep, and for the most part idleness or raving, and restlesness or tossings, but no very great nor constant heat, is hard to be cured, for those that understand the disease, and seek to overcome it, do it not by purging, which cannot be used at any time without great and present danger, for the fermentation of the humours which causeth the disease, is hereby mightily encreased, and the patient weakned, and hardly with bleeding, which seldom is used with success otherwise than in the very beginning; but with strengthning medicines and good cordials, in which case, and if all necessary prescriptions be well observed, very few persons do lose their lives; except when some extraordinary and pestilent malignity cometh to it, as it befalleth in some years, with so great violence, that notwithstanding all good helps, some are thereby carried to their graves; the same doth ordinarily come to pass, that it proveth deadly, is the sick do sell into unskilful hands, or neglect all help, or do not observe good directions; in which cases many do perish, and others, who come off with their lives through robustuousness of nature, or hidden causes, are forced to keep their beds a long time in extreme weakness, being a great while before they can recover their perfect health and strength.


Of the Looseness.

THE looseness doth also greatly reign in Ireland, as well among those of the country as among the strangers, wherefore the English inhabitants have given it the name of the country-disease. Many are a great while troubled with it, and yet get no other harm and those that betimes do make use of good medicines, are without any great difficulty cured of it. But they that let the looseness take its course, do commonly after some days get the bleeding with it, whereby the disease doth not only grow much more troublesome and painful, but a great deal harder to be cured, and at last it useth to turn to the bloody flux, the which in some persons, having lasted a great while, leaveth them of it self; but in far the greatest number is very dangerous, and killeth the most part of the sick, except they be carefully assisted with good remedies.

That this disease, as also the other, viz. the malignant feavers, are so rife in Ireland, doth partly come through the peculiar disposition and excessive wetness of the air; but partly also through the errors which people do commit in eating and drinking, and other particulars: as manifestly doth appear by that a very great number, not only of the natives, but also of the strangers coming thither, who take careful heed to themselves in abstaining from hurtful things, never are troubled with either of these infirmities.

Of the Rickets.

AMONG the reigning diseases of Ireland the rickets also may with good reason be reckon'd, a disease peculiar to young children, and so well known to every body in England, as it is needless to give any description of it, and yet to this day never any physician, either English or of any other nation, made any the least mention of it, no not in those works which are expresly written of all manner of diseases and accidents of little children.

In Ireland this disease is wonderful rife now, but it hath nothing near been so long known there as in England, either through the unskilfulness or neglect of the physicians (the most part whereof in both kingdoms to this day are ignorant not only of the manner how to cure it, but even of the nature and property thereof) or that really it is new there, and never before having been in Ireland, hath got footing in it only within these few years, through some strange revolution or constellation or God's immediate sending, which kind of changes several times have befaln in divers countries, and in Ireland it self we have already shown some such matter in another sickness, namely the tertian ague.

This evil being altogether incurable, when it is gone too far, is hard enough to be cured even in the beginning, except it be very carefully look'd unto, and use made of the best remedies; nevertheless this grief, as well as most others, hath its peculiar medicines, the which being applied betimes, and with convenient care, do with God's blessing for the most part produce the effect desired.


Of the Leprosy

THE rickets are of late very rife in Ireland, where few years ago unknown; so on the contrary it hath been almost quite freed from another disease, one of the very worst and miserablest in the world, namely the leprosy, which in former times used to be very common there, especially in the province of Munster; the which therefore was filled with hospitals, expresly built for to receive and keep the leprous persons. But many years since Ireland hath been almost quite freed from this horrible and loathsome disease, and as few leprous persons are now found there, as in any other country in the world; so that the hospitals erected for their use, having stood empty a long time, at length are quite decayed and come to nothing. The cause of this change is not so obscure nor unknown, as it is in most other changes of that nature. For that this sickness was so general in Ireland, did not come by any peculiar defect in the land or the air, but merely through the fault and foul gluttony of the inhabitants, in the successive devouring of unwholsome salmons. The common report in Ireland is, that boiled salmons eaten hot out of the kettle in great quantity, bring this disease, and used to be the cause why it was so common and some famous authors have not stuck to relate as much for a truth. But that is a fable, and salmons have not that evil quality, which way soever they be eaten and prepared, but when they are out of season, which is in the latter end of the year, after they have cast their spawn upon which they do not only grow very weak and flaggy, but so unwholsome, that over their whole body they break out in very filthy spots, just like a scald man's head, so as it would loath any man to see them, nevertheless the Irish, a nation extremly barbarous in all the parts of their life, did use to take them in that very season, as well as at any other time of the year, and to eat them in very great abundance, as easily they might, every river and rivulet in most parts being very full of them, and by that means that horrible disease came to be so common amongst them. But the English having once gotten the command of the whole country into their hands, made very severe laws against the taking of salmons in that unwholsome season, and saw them carefully observed, whereby hindring those barbarians against their will to feed on that poisonous meat, they were the cause that that woful sickness, which used so mightily to reign amongst them, hath in time been almost quite abolished: which great benefit, with so many others, that hateful people hath rewarded with seeking utterly to exterminate their benefactors.

Of the Leaguer Sicknesses.

IN the English armies, which since this bloody rebellion went over into Ireland to fight against that murdering nation, were not only the looseness and the malignant feaver, whereof we have spoken above as of Ireland's reigning diseases, very common, but there besides several other infirmities, viz. violent coughs and of long continuance, stopping of the breath, called in Latin Dispnoea, lameness


of the thighs or Sciatica, painful stranguries, all which griefs seized on so many persons, that they might well have been taken for sicknesses reigning in that land, as I have many times understood of my brother, who at that time not only dwelling and practising at Dublin, but being physician general of the English forces, had but too much occasion to know that perfectly.

But withal he hath assured me, that those diseases had their original not from any defect of the climate, but of the cold, and other hardships, which the soldiers suffered in their marches; for they many times going to the fields in cold and foul weather, and sometimes marching whole days long, yea several days together, in very dirty and wet ways, where their feet and legs were continually cold and wet, besides that they were sometimes constrained to pass through the water up as high as the knees and waist, and after all that hardship endured in the day-time, to lye in the night upon the wet ground in the open air, this caused the aforenamed diseases, and several others amongst them, in so great number, it being to be wondred at, that many more did not fall into them. And without doubt in any other country of the world, where all the same causes did concur, and where an army endured the like hardship, the same effects, if not worse would follow, so that in this behalf the land it self is not at all to be blamed.