The evolution of Irish veterinary practice, 1700-1950
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This thesis explores the evolution of Irish veterinary practice, especially with regards to cattle practice, over the course of some 250 years. It begins in the eighteenth-century, with a discussion on prominent farriers that practiced in Ireland, and culminates in the 1950s, when the veterinary surgeon finally gained approval with the Irish farmer. The main sources cover both the personal testimonies of individuals involved in the medical care of farm animals, farmers, cow-doctors and veterinarians, and documentary sources, which include, newspapers, veterinary registers, folklore collections, state papers, veterinary journals and publications that deal specifically with animal health care. The research identifies the first generations of veterinary surgeons to practice in Ireland and examines their backgrounds and their interactions with each other and with the wider body of animal care providers, namely farmers and traditional practitioners. It questions how these circumstances changed over time. The study considers the main factors that helped with the profession’s development during the nineteenth-century, and those that hindered this development. It examines why Ireland lagged well behind other European countries in attaining a veterinary college, and considers the role of traditional practitioners in the care of farm animals, comparing their proficiency with that of the contemporary veterinary surgeon. Although the profession made major strides during the nineteenth century, with legal recognition and improved standards of education and proficiency, it was hindered in making a significant contribution to Irish farming and society because of internal divisions within the profession, a lack of state support, limitations in treating animals other than the horse, Irish farmers’ dislike for change where the benefit of such was not clear, and a continued preference for traditional methods, many of which were highly effective. However, the veterinary surgeon ultimately achieved a prominent position in Irish agriculture because of the emergence of a more proficient practitioner, a better understanding by farmers of scientific methods, a greater involvement in public health initiatives, and scientific advances, especially the development of effective, life-saving drugs. Generally, the experience of the veterinary profession over the period in question is a combination of both continuity and change. The period was dominated by a practitioner, deficient in training, who had few effective treatments to offer the farmer. Change began to accelerate during the latter part of the nineteenth century, when a better educated vet became more proficient, and was cemented in the 1950s with new opportunities in state employment, and by a conjunction of new scientific advances.