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O'Hickey, Ó hIceada

O'Hickey Family Crest

Azure a lion passant guardant or, on a chief ermine a bend sable.
Crest: A hand in a gauntlet erect holding a baton all proper.

I have seen and heard how you look
And every word you have uttered makes my guess
That I can help you in distress.
(Oliver St. John Gogarty)

The Ó hIceada or O'Hickeys were descendants of a Dalcassian clan who became well known in early times for their role as practitioners in folk medicine. The term "iciadh" means "healer", a well-deserved cognomen, since many manuscripts survive which bear witness to their continuing interest in the recording of various remedial treatments.

The O'Hickeys receive recognition in the popular histories of medicine published in our time which include "History of medicine in Ireland" by Dr. John F. Fleetwood while the bibliography in "A history of the Diocese of Killaloe" by Dermot F. Gleeson contains references to the surviving collections of medical manuscripts written down within the diocese by members of this learned family.

The most interesting collection to be preserved is in the British Museum (Egerton MS No. 89) a compendium known as "Lilium Medicine" which holds a number of translations from medical tracts with a note added to the effect that "these aphorisms were put into Irish by Nicholas Ó hIceada in the year 1403."

There is another medical compendium of interest in the National Library of Ireland (MS/10) "The Books of the O'Hickeys" which is an accumulation of Latin medical texts translated into Irish and brought back to Ireland by members of the family who had travelled abroad so as to keep in touch with the more recent advances made in their profession. They include treatment for common and more serious ailments of the time such as fevers, swellings, hernia, smallpox, cardiac failures and so forth, and some rather off-putting advice about drinking and the "morning after" effects. "It is a rule that it is not right to drink wine without eating first. It is not proper for a man with a weak head to drink wine, so anyone who is at a feast or drinking with friends if he cannot keep his head let him eat peas or cabbage instead."

The Royal Irish Academy also has a collection of medical tracts which were written down in 1469 in a clear style by Donnachad of O hIceada. They contain notes and observations gleaned from prominent Continental practitioners such as Geraldus de Solo and Arnadus de Villa Nova. He also translated into Irish the text books "Chirurgia" and "Regimen Sanitatis" which deals with cancer and other serious infections, works which remained in use in the European schools of medicine for a long time.

The Ó hIceada, by reason of their skills and knowledge of country cures, gained positions of importance and were chosen also as hereditary physicians to the Earls of Thomond. Consequently most of their books and manuscripts' notes were considered to be of great value and were both carefully copied and maintained. Plants, herbs and flower petals, the leaves and roots of many common weeds were all used in the compounding of cures and medicines while the root of the perennial Angelica was considered to have rare curative properties.

Quin Abbey
Quin Abbey
Lieut.-Col. J. Hickey, M.C. contributed an important paper to the North Munster Antiquarian Journal on the history of the family with details of the mensal lands which they once held in the townlands of Drim and Ballyhickey near the village of Quin, much of which they lost during the Elizabethian Confiscations. In a later comment he suggests that many bearers of this surname still practise in far-away places quite unaware of their ancient connection with medicine and who have never heard of Drim or Quin or the famous Abbey where many of their ancestors have been laid to rest.

Further Reading:
Fleetwood, John F. "History of medicine in Ireland". Dublin, Browne and Nolan, 1951.
Gleeson, Dermot F., "A history of the Diocese of Killaloe". Dublin, Gill, 1962.
Hickey, J. 'The O'Hickeys: hereditary physicians to the O'Briens of Thomond and some of their descendants' in "North Munster Antiquarian Journal", vol. 8 (1958).

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Learned Families of Thomond