Marsh's Library, DublinAlex Ramsay

A valuable medical book missing for over a hundred years has finally been returned to a Dublin library.
The 500-year-old medical textbook is now back in the possession of Marsh’s Library according to the Irish Times.

The paper reports that the book was bought, along with an antique mirror, for just $130 from a Dublin junk shop by an unnamed barrister.

The book, returned to the library last Friday, has been described by Dr Jason McElligott from Marsh’s as ‘gold dust’.

It was originally published in 1538 in Basle, Switzerland, and is the third volume in a series of five on the medical works of physician, philosopher and surgeon Galen.

Dr McElligott told The Irish Times that the book had been part of the library’s collection since its foundation in 1701.

The paper reports that the volume were previously owned by the 17th-century English physician and scholar Theodore Gulston, who set about improving on Galen’s works by updating them and making the text clearer for students.

The Irish Times also states that the book in question is heavily marked with annotations and even has slips of paper held in place with a needle containing Gulston’s notes on the text.
“In terms of scholarship and learning it is absolutely priceless,” Dr McElligott told the paper.

“What we have is a very important medic in the history of medicine working through his thoughts as he’s working through the work of Galen.

“Throughout the book there are notes to himself. He put a slip of paper and pins it in with a needle - the 17th century equivalent of a thumbtack -so for historians and academics this is like gold dust.”

According to Dr McElligott, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh bought or was donated the book some time before coming to Dublin in 1679. It formed part of the library’s original collection.

Marsh’s was the first public library in Ireland but books have never been lent out. “A significant medical text like this would have been kept locked away even when it disappeared more than 100 years ago,” he added.

He told the paper that when the book was returned on Friday - wrapped in a copy of The Irish Times - he knew ‘within a few seconds it was the missing copy’.

“We are very grateful to have the book back and it was complete luck that somebody with a knowledge of books thought hang on, that doesn’t belong in a junk shop,” he said.

“The barrister is a complete gentleman and a scholar. What was particularly impressive is he declined all offers of a reward – all he wanted to do was do the right thing.”