Did You Know That the First Xenograft in the Western World Was Carried Out in Ireland in the 8th Century?

By Shaun Richard McCann

Did you know that the first xenograft in the western world was carried out in Ireland in the 8th century?

The story is well recorded in a famous book about the cattle raids by the armies of Queen Medb (Maeve) and King Ailill when an attempt was made to steal the great Brown Bull of Cuailgne: ‘Thereupon Fingin, the prophetic leech asked of Cuchulain for a vat of marrow to heal and cure Cethern son of Fintan. Cuchulain proceeded to the camp and entrenchment of the men of Eirin, and whatsoever he found of herds and flocks he took away with him. And he made a marrow – mash of their flesh and their bones and their skins: and Cethern, son of Fintan was placed in the marrow – mash till the end of three days and three nights. And his flesh began to drink in the marrow – mash about him and the marrow – mash entered in within his stabs and his cut, his sores and his many wounds’.    

Thereafter he arose from the marrow – mash at the end of three days and three nights… It was thus Cethern arose, with a slab of the chariot pressed to his belly so that his entrails and bowels would not drop out of him’.

An Táin 8th century AD. Illustration by James Cogan.


The author is very grateful to the artist James Cogan.

Further reading:

Project Gutenberg’s The Ancient Irish Epic Tale Táin Bó Cuailgne, by unknown (click here for eBook).

Shaun McCann: A History of Haematology: from Herodotus to HIV. Oxford University Press. Haematology. 2016. ISBN 9780 198 717607.