Book Review: Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” Series

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Audio-book reader John Keating put on accents from the length and breadth of the emerald isle in the first book of the Irish Country series, An Irish Country Doctor, featuring a young physician in Northern Ireland who falls in love with the tiny Ulster town of Ballybucklebo.

Fresh out of medical school in Belfast, Dr. Barry Laverty decides to give general practice a try under the mentorship of Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. The crusty old doctor lives by the motto “Never let the patient get the upper hand.” Together with a motherly housekeeper named Kinky, a pretty engineering student named Patricia, and a village of quirky characters, he gives Barry a first month of medical practice to remember.

While there is a lot of medical detail suited to the 1960s setting, the book is as much a romantic comedy as a portrait of a family physician at the start of his career. An adult content advisory is in order, not only because of the book’s depiction of gross anatomy in all its grossness but also because of its salty language, fairly frank sexuality, and some social and political issues parents may want to be prepared to discuss with their kids.

Unless the tykes are really into medicine, though, my guess is this book will appeal more to the grown-up reader’s nostalgic streak. The spicy, rustic charm that makes Ireland a favorite holiday destination for American tourists may also bring them in, especially since the tension between Catholics and Protestants is toned down to an all but anachronistic mildness.

This 2007 novel is the first of already 10 novels, counting An Irish Doctor in Love and at Sea, which is due to be released in October. There are also two books of short stories based on the series. I am already enjoying the second book, An Irish Country Village.

The second of ten novels in the Irish Country series concerns a few weeks in the 1960s in the Northern Ireland village of Ballybucklebo, where newly minted physician Barry Laverty has successfully completed his probationary period as assistant to the town doctor, a force of nature named Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.

Trouble comes early to the young general practitioner. The widow of a patient who died shortly after Barry misdiagnosed a brain bleed is threatening to sue, but the autopsy results showing what actually caused the man’s death are slow in coming. If the case goes to court, Barry’s practice may be finished before it really begins. Plus, the girl he loves is taking an exam for a scholarship to Cambridge, making Barry uncertain whether he wants to stay. And then there’s the little affair of the Black Swan, also known as the Dirty Duck – a local watering hole that holds the community together. Only its 99-year lease is up for renewal, and the greedy guts who owns the place is thinking about converting it into a tourist trap.

Barry handles his crises by throwing himself into his work and proving, with patient after patient, to be a terrific doctor. He correctly diagnoses a rare muscle disease. He saves an unwed mother from bleeding to death when her pregnancy miscarries. He scores an appointment with a specialist for a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. And he plays a role in curing a local girl of eczema brought on by workplace stress.

The tale is told with humor, romance, and uniquely Irish charm. John Keating’s skillful audiobook reading doesn’t hurt one bit. And as a special bonus for audiobook readers, there’s an epilogue narrated by the doctors’ delightful housekeeper Maureen “Kinky” Kincaid, including several recipes for traditional Irish dishes enjoyed by her charges in this book. I want to try the soda farls!

In the third book of the Irish Country series, An Irish Country Christmas, young general practice physician Barry Laverty feels the strain of distance on his relationship with the lovely Patricia Spence. She is studying civil engineering at Cambridge while he is still settling into his role as assistant to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly of Ballybucklebo, Northern Ireland. The question that nearly brings their budding romance to a halt is whether she will make it home in time for Christmas 1964.

Meanwhile, a flame is rekindling between the older, widower doctor and Kitty O’Halloran, a senior nurse from the Royal Hospital in Belfast. Conflict is heating up between O’Reilly and an eccentric old rival who has moved into the next practice over. And his mind is turning over a devilishly clever scheme to help a struggling single mother give her children a merry Christmas.

While Barry carries more and more of the weight of the practice, especially during his senior’s illness, he feels compassion for a lonely and often cranky older woman, temptation toward an attractive young teacher, concern about a variety of medical complaints presenting themselves at his surgery, and mischievous delight in one wicked little imp’s improvisation during the village’s ecumenical Christmas play.

Little Colin Brown’s climactic line was a comic highlight in a story full of warmth, intrigue and the charm of Irish manners, dialects and cuisine. Again, I particularly enjoyed John Keating’s audiobook performance of this book. I look forward to checking out the next couple of books in the series, An Irish Country Girl and An Irish Country Courtship.

Patrick Taylor’s Wiki page
Recommended Ages: 13+