O'Meara (Meara), Dermot (Dermod, Dermitius)
Appointed physician to the 10th earl of Ormond, he became one of the best-known physicians in Ireland. In 1619 he published Pathologia hereditaria generalis, the first medical book printed in Dublin and one of the first to be printed by an Irishman anywhere. He was also the first physician known to comment on medical standards in Dublin; in his preface, dedicated to the lord deputy, Sir Oliver St John (qv), he lamented that there were no regulations covering medical practice and that it was undertaken by ‘cursed mountebanks, ignorant barbers, and shameless quack compounders . . . with an unbridled passion for making money’ (Widdess, 2); he maintained that in every well-governed city, only physicians qualified by public certificate or from a university are authorised to practise medicine, which he hoped would become true of Dublin. These sentiments were probably prompted by the reincorporation of the London College of Physicians (1617); the Irish College of Physicians was eventually founded in 1654 as the Fraternity of Physicians in Ireland and granted a royal charter in 1667.
In 1615 O'Meara published Ormonius, a Latin poem honouring Thomas Butler, which included an obituary of him and was dedicated to his nephew Walter Butler (qv), 11th earl of Ormond, to whom O'Meara was physician from 1613 until Butler's imprisonment in 1619. It was probably at this time, with the loss of his patron, that O'Meara taught humanities and logic in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary; he also practised in Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny. His former close association with the Butler family seems to have lapsed, for a letter (12 October 1642) from the lords justices and council in Dublin to Sir Edward Nicholas (1593–1669), Charles I's secretary of state, warned him that O'Meara had appeared in court indicted of high treason. It bore, with others, the signature of James Butler (qv), 12th earl of Ormond. O'Meara probably supported the Old Irish party, though no evidence has been found that he was a representative of any of the parties to the Catholic Confederation. Walter Enos (fl. 1646), in ‘A survey of the articles of the late rejected peace’, includes a letter (29 July 1646) written by O'Meara from England to a friend in Dublin, in which he refers to Ormond's great influence with Charles I: ‘Here (with the king) all things concerning Ireland are squared according to the rule prescribed by [Ormond] your great one there; his will is that the dismembered parliament (in Dublin) continue, and prayed the king to turn the Irish over unto him and he would draw them to what condition he pleased’ (Bellings, 393). There are no further references to O'Meara, and no evidence has been found of the date or place of death, or any will.
His son Edmund O'Meara (de Meara) (c.1614–c.1681), physician and author, was born in Ormond, Co. Tipperary, and graduated in medicine at Rheims (1636). Physician to Ulick Burke (qv), 1st marquis of Clanricard, he was resident in Ireland during the war (1641–53) and probably identified with the Old Irish party, for he was a delegate with Arthur Magennis (fl. 1647–53), bishop of Down and Connor, a supporter of the Old Irish, to the confederation of Kilkenny from the synod of Clonmacnoise. He was friendly with the papal nuncio GianBattista Rinuccini (qv); Commentarius Rinuccinianus (1666) contains references to him, poetry by him, and an exchange of epigrams. He also wrote epitaphs for Malachy O'Queely (qv) and John Bourke (qv), archbishops of Tuam.
Around 1652 he fled to England ‘to escape the Cromwellian decimators’ (Le Fanu, 303) and established a practice in Bristol. He associated with eminent doctors, acted often as a consultant in Bath and London, and was admitted an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London (1664). In 1665 he excited controversy with his publication in London of Examen diatribae Thomae Willisii de febribus (reprinted Amsterdam, 1667), in which he criticises the neurological theories in De febribus (1659), written by the eminent Oxford professor, Thomas Willis (1621–75). O'Meara was in turn attacked by Richard Lower (1631–91) in Diatribae T. Willisii de febribus vindicatio adversus E. de Meara (1665) and again in his Tractatus de corde (1669), where he speaks of ignoramuses and refers to O'Meara as the Irishman who ‘takes from all the others the palm of impudence and ignorance’ (Logan, 314). There is little medical significance in the controversy, since the views of both writers were highly speculative. O'Meara's book was dedicated to Sir Kenelm Digby (1603–65), FRS, and included nineteen case histories, the first dated 1653, and a reprint of his father's work, Pathologia hereditaria generalis.
With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, O'Meara – furnished with a testimonial from the marchioness of Clanricard, testifying to his former position as physician to her husband and his loyalty during the rebellion, and a recommendation from the lord chancellor Sir Maurice Eustace (qv) – appealed for the restoration of his forfeited lands in Co. Wicklow in 1660 and in 1663 and was probably successful. An eminent doctor, he returned to Ireland c.1666 and established a practice in Dublin. His signature, together with four others, appears on the earliest surviving report of a post-mortem in Ireland, dated 13 July 1671, carried out on Lady Dorcas Lane (d. 10 July 1671), wife of Sir George Lane (qv); an interesting document, it describes the anatomical examination and relates it to the patient's symptoms.
O'Meara re-established the family association with the Butler family in 1674 when he acted as medical consultant to James, then duke of Ormond. There are several references to him in the Ormond papers, which include a letter (12 July 1679) from Arthur Annesley (qv), 1st earl of Anglesea, to Ormond, referring to a certificate received from O'Meara, which had facilitated the release from jail of Richard Talbot (qv) (later earl of Tyrconnell) to receive medical treatment in France (Ormond MSS, new ser., v (1908), 152), a timely action in the context of the ‘popish plot’ and the consequent anti-catholic reaction. He died c.1681; his will was proved 15 August 1681. After his death he was mentioned in a poem written in 1696 by Feardorca Ó Dálaigh, who contrasted the quackery of Dr John Whalley (qv) with the skill and learning of O'Meara.
He married Cathleen (maiden name and date of marriage unknown); they had one daughter, Martha, and three sons. James O'Meara became a Jesuit; Francis O'Meara, sheriff of Wicklow and major in Tyrconnell's regiment, was killed at the battle of the Boyne (1690), and William O'Meara practised medicine and his Latin verse was prefixed to the reprinting of his father's Examen.