In 1964, newly minted doctor, Barry Laverty, begins practice as the young assistant of crusty, seasoned, Dr. Fingal O’Reilly, in the small, Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo. At first he thinks his new boss is fierce and unprofessional. But soon, Barry uncovers the sadness in the older doctor’s past and realizes that O’Reilly has excellent, clinical acumen. If he bends the rules, it is usually for the best.

Over the course of a month they face the ordinary struggles of general practice with Barry slowly learning the ropes: appendicitis in a child, a rushed delivery, pneumonia combined with heart failure, hypothyroidism, unwanted pregnancy, and stroke. And of course, the more minor staples of headache, cuts, and scrapes.

Not everything turns out well. Barry misses a diagnosis and cannot stop blaming himself, but his admission of the error to the patient’s wife is an important step in his education. The patients, however, leave the practice.

Social factors such as poverty, discrimination, and corruption of local officials pervade each vignette.

Barry also meets the beautiful Patricia—a survivor of polio—whose desire to pursue a career in civil engineering seems to pose an obstacle until all is happily resolved in the end.


This is the first in a rapidly growing series of popular medical novels about Ulster at a moment just before the late-twentieth-century troubles came to alter that way of life.

The light, mildly humorous tales of feckless yokels and their animals—alcoholic dogs, imperious felines, and cattle—are highly reminiscent of the famous stories of Yorkshire veterinarian James Herriot. This time, however, the patients are (usually) human and the outcomes, though undeniably heart-warming, are a bit too predictable.

The multiple allusions to physical signs will satisfy residents and medical students alike, as they can happily predict the diagnoses before they are revealed. They might also enjoy the “newness” and complexities of various tests for thyroid function and pregnancy from half a century ago.

The Ulster-born author has had a full career as a practitioner and researcher in reproductive medicine and now lives in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. He writes with nostalgia, affection, and tenderness for his original home. Although he denies any autobiographical similarity between his protagonist and himself, readers will accept that claim as another Irish fairy tale.



First published as "The Apprenticeship of Doctor Laverty" Toronto: Insomniac Press, 2004


Tom Doherty Associates

Place Published

New York



Page Count