care or your health because if you lose it you will be in your own way and in
the way of others" - (old saying from the Irish language of this area).
It explains why people always tried to get a cure early on in the sickness.
In olden times therer wera few ailments in man or animal that someone in the
locality hadn't a cure for. They worked greatly with herbs and it was accepted
that there was a cure in every plant that grows if people only knew it.
In olden times most ailments were attributed to the action of unfriendly powers;
evil spirits, fairies, ghosts and so on. Man's main weapon against them was
magic, and his efforts gave him comfort, even if they didi not always bring
relief. When surgery and medical knowledge progressed in later times, folk techniques
in dealing with disease and sickness were branded as quackerly and were forbidden
by law in many countries. However the old traditional cures lived on among the
common people. The simple and other "cures" of the countryside were
looked upon as both ridiculous and dangerous until fairly recent times, when
medical men discovered that at least some items of folk medicine had a sound
and rational basis. This came about through the search for new medicines. Salicylate
made from the bark of some willows was found to be used by primitive people
for thousands of years as a remedy for rheumatism. It is now a standard medical
therapy. So too the extract of the foxglove plant, digitalin had been used in
Ireland and elsewhere as a remedy for heart ailments. Even penicillin which
was accidently discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming was used in Ireland long
before that as a cure for septic wounds. Our ancestors had traditional knowledge
of the values of plasters and compresses, hot baths and other medicaments. Even
surgery seems to have been attempted in olden times and the drawing of blood,
as a remedy for certain illnesses, was well known in Ireland. It is curious
to discover that specialists in herbal medicine in all countries, while being
useful abd respected members of their communities, seem to have the lowest grade
among medicine men. Thousands of years ago the Greeks, the Egyptians and the
Romans were well versed in the currative properties of herbs and in the library
of Nineeveh there are listed 250 vegetable remidies as well as others of mineral
and animal origin. In the middle ages another doctrine developed that any herb
that showed a similarity to the symptons of the disease could be used to cure
it. Thus the juice of the greater celandine was used to treat stomach ailments
because the color of yellow bile, burdock for stones in the kindeys because
when its brownish-grey fruits were dried they looked like small stones. Among
these superstitions was mingled a large amount of genuine knowledge. Every medieval
peasant had a small herb patch of land but unfortunately in those days there
was no such thing as a controlled experiment and some recommended "CURES"
probably didi more harm through overdosing but when disease was rampant the
death common, as it was in Stuart times, both were considered to be Gos's will.
In Ireland the straightforward cure of some ailment by the simple application
of a plaster or other remedy didi not impress our ancestors half so much ritual
carried out by the local "wise" man or woman to effect a cure. The
ceremonial curing of a complaint by the recitation of an often corrupt spell
or charm as well as by complicated acts and gestures not onlr reassured the
patient but also his relatives and prople generally. The patient's faith in
the efficacy of the cure was activeted by the complicated ritual of the "doctor",
and he felt better as a result. This has beenproven to be the case in modern
medicine too. The faith of the average patient in the power is so great that
improvement, even recovery, can result even though the medicine itself is intrinsically
ineffective and, of curse, we must always remember that 80% of the people have
the cababilities of curing themselves. The beliefs and customs associated with
folk medicine in Ireland are very numerous. Illnesses might be caused by evil
neighbours (through looks, curses or wishes) or by fairies or inimical spirits
just as often as they might arise through bodily weakness of infection. Precautions
against illness included going around the midsummer bonfire thrice, abstaining
from meat on St. Stephen's Day, taking three meals of nettles in May, or the
possession of a St. Brigid's cloak - which was usual in this area. Magic played
a prominent part in the treatment of ailments and it was believed that diseases
could be transferred to objects or other people, e.g. warts. Forge-water and
water from a triple boundary were much in vogue as remidies. So too the relics
of saints, cupping to raise the breastbone, and the use of sweathouses and hot
baths were normal parts of old time medicine. Passing a patient through an opening,
by which he was supposed to leave his ailments behind at the other side, was
commonly carried out and also through clefts in trees to cure rickets in children.
While medicine was hereditary in some families, e.g. the Cassidy family, physicians
to the Maguires of Fermanagh, had the cure of the disease which cattle got after
drinking the Doirb, and others came from old-time medical books.
Still, many of the practitioners of healing were the thought to have got their
powers from higher sources. Posthumous children (because of the unusual circumstances
of their birth), the seventh son of a seventh son or just a seventh son with
no daughter intervening, persons with certain surnames, e.g. The McElroys who
are the traditional curers of the Rose, silenced priests, blacksmiths and many
others who were considered as having special medical powers. Charm-setters (persons
who knew the tratitional charms) were much in vogue as healers, and great mystery
surrounded the application of these verbal cures. "Wise" men and women
were often among this latter class. By using whatever knowledge they had inherited
and allying it with shrewd observation and commonsense, as well as a constructive
imagination, they were able to impress their neighbours not only with their
mebical skill, but also with their knowledge of faraway events (supposedly obtained
through their association with their fairies) and their ability to give sound
advice beyond the powers of others. It is evident also that some of these cures
come down from Pre-Reformation times. Several cures were practised by Protestents
who invoke the Blessed Trinity and in the case of the cure of the blood nine
"Hail Marys" are said.
SO MANY OF THE CURES STILL PRACTISED IN THIS PARISH?
hadn't a devastating effect on this parish in the last century. Irish was the
language of the people right up to the end of the last century. For several
centuries the Irish language and English language existed side by side and the
majority of the people was proficent in both, therefore they were able to save
a lot of the cures. When people did move out of the area they were usually replaced
by people from South Armagh or from South Monaghan - these people brought their
cures with them and they also spoke the Irish language. There was a custom in
this parish that harvest workers called Gawthans came every year from South
Armagh especially, to work for the duration of the harvest and in this way knowledge
of the cures was constantly spreading. In this parish there were landlords whose
sons held various ranks in the british army and served in the East e.g. Major
Fortescue and Col. Bolton. These gentlemen, on their return, brought back information
on herbs and this they passed on to their gardeners, and in this eay a greater
number of cures came into general use. In this parish at the present it is possible
to get herbal cures for the following ailments: influenza, coughs, asthma, congested
lungs, clearing and prevention of boils and pimples, warts , worms and stomach
disorders, kidneys, rheumatism and arthritis, burns and scalds, deep cuts and
bruises, migrane, piles, hiccup, jaundice, cysts, insomnia, chilblains, corns,
toothache, whooping cough, eczema, tonsils and quincy, stings, scurvy, hypertension,
pluerisy, varicose ulsers and sickness attached to pregnancy and allied problems.
It is possible also to get cures for shingles, gallstones and whitlow (whittle)
and there are several people capable of making various concoctions from herbs
that are used as beauty treatments for the face. Strange as it may seem the
use and belief in Charms is more widespread than any other type of "cure"
in this area. Benevolent or malefic they have existed in this way for centuries
and are in practical use up to the present day. Most of these Charms were handed
down by word of mouth through the years, father to daughter, mother to son,
jealously preserved from the eyes and ears of strangers. All of these charms
have one thing in common, that is, the intoductory ritual of talking to the
"patients" to put them at ease, but after that the similiarity ends.
There are charms for shingles, haitus, hernia (cure of the spool of the breast),
cure for the heart, thrush (the dirty mouth), bleeding and haemorrhage, ring
worm, the rose (erysipelas), hernia, mumps, whooping cough, asthma and toothache.
Patrick Kavanagh writing in his book, "The Green Fool", page 45, about
the McElroy's and the cure of the rose, says: "No matter what they tell
you no doctor can cure the rose, Harry McElroy had a practise large enough to
fill any doctor with envy".
The Seventh son: Even when Raymond McNally was at school he used to display
the power he had in his hands. Whenever he put a worm on the palm of his hands
it died immediately and the children who can be most discerning at times always
referred to him as "Doc". He invokes The Blessed Trinity and places
his hands where the pain is. It is claimed that he could cure any disease of
the skin, rheumatism, arthritis, sprains, and one national newspaper reported
that he could cure breast cancer.
The Silenced Priest: Many years ago the older people of this parish had great
faith in the power of the silenced priest, Fr. Pat McConnon, who resided in
the parish of Iniskeen. He was born in the parish of Corduff and came as a curate
to Iniskeen in 1903. He ministered there as a curate until 1919 when he was
silenced by the bishop. He remained living in Iniskeen until he died in 1926.
The people that he had the power to cure any disease and because of that he
continued to live in reasonable comfort until he died. In "The Green Fool",
Patrick Kavanagh referred to Fr. McConnon as the "Penny Doctor", p.
Sweat Houses: There were sweat houses in the parish that could be compared to
medern saunas. The last one was distroyed in Carricklea, in 1969. It is said
that they were used to cure pneumonia, asthma, pleurisy, tuberculosis, rheumatism,
and pains of all sorts. Further information on the sweat houses may be found
in an article written by Ua Cuinn in the Louth Arch. Journal 1905.
Salt Baths: People in this area and in Monaghan and in Cavan had great faith
in the curative powers of the salt baths for ailments of the skin and for rheumatism.
Actually all the marine plants that could be gathered on the beach at low tide
were collected and mixed with hot water. The Salt baths owned by the Callan
family on the promenade in Blackrock, Co. Louth were famous far and wide. It
was usual to have at least two baths every year one at the end of spring so
as to clean up any diseases of the skin which might have remained on after the
winter, and one at the end of summer to prepare for the onset of the bad weather.
One had to be very cautious however after the bath. It was not unknown that
people who sat on the wall in the cool sea breeze actually got pneumonia.
Funny Cures: There are many funny cures also- but really they are only jokes
and these where much in vogue when people gathered in various houses to pass
the winter nights before the advent of the radio and the television. Here is
the "cure" for the toothache. First af all you fill your mouth with
well water and then you stand with your "behind" to a good open fire.
You remain so until the water boils in your mouth. At this point you will have
no toothache - there is no mention of the other afflictions you will have. There
are many others of this kind too numerous to mention here.
There are other kinds of cures which are very difficult to comprehend or understand
and here is one example. Mr. N. Gillas of Tandragee can remove pirces of wood
or steel or any other foreign body from your eye in a most unusual fashion.
First of all there is the usual introduction. Then taking a cup of water and
turning his back to the patient he says some prayers or recites some old "charm".
Then taking a large mouthful of water he rinses his mouth out and then spits
it back into the cup. You will find that whatever was in your eye is now in
the cup. Further examples of these kinds of cures are documented in the book
Irish Earth Folk, written by Diarmuid McManus . Even though I collected all
the cures still remembered by the people of this area I always advise extreme
caution in their use. People should remember that a young couple in this area
took a cure in the early days of 1935 and both of them died as a result. Here
is a report of thet tragic event in the Dundalk Democrat on 16 March, 1935.
"Seven Dundalk jurymen (out of nine) found last week that the deaths of
Edward Duffy and his wife were due to poison taken by misadventure. They were
a happy couple, living contentedly in prosperous circumstances and moreover
were good-living, God-fearing people os that any suggestion of suicide must
be quite definitely ruled out. The medical experts found no trace whatever of
any known poison. They failed to find any natural cause of death".
However I am happy i collected the cures that are left and they are safe now.
It is only when the well is almost dry that we appreciate the little that is
left. Over a hundred years ago the people in this area had great faith in the
"charms" practised by Phelim McCoy from South Armagh nicknamed the
"Charm Monger". Nicholas óKearney, the poet from Thomastown,
wrote alot about him and this information can be had in M.S. 24 E.20, R.I.A.
and it is no wonder in modern times they have higher regard for the cures associated
with charms than any other kind. People who have "charms" should remember,
if they are worried about it, "That it is God's way of honouring the faith
of the people". If other people think that these cures are foolish or ineffective
they should remember that "A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best
cures in the Doctor's bag".
Raymond McNally, Micheal McBride, Tony McElroy, Seamas McComish, Mrs. Joan McKenna
and P. McArdle are a few of the parishioners who have very useful cures and
there are numerous others who are capable of making very beneficial cures from
Some people believe that practicing the "charms" may have a detrimental
effect on your health and it is for this reason that Sean Manning has ceased
giving the cure to stop the bleeding. Here are a few interesting cures taken
from a notebook which was written in Rathiddy in the year 1832.
"Cardamom heated kills worms, cleance the runs and provoke urine.
Cummin seeds heated bind and stops blood, expels wind, eases pain and helps
the bite of venemous beasts outwardly applied in plasters.
Sorrel seeds resists poison, helps fluxes and such stonachs as load their meat.
Succory (chicory) seeds cools the heat of the blood and extinguishes lust.
Poppy seeds ease pain and provoke sleep.
Rue seeds help such as cannot hold their water.
Lettuce seeds cure the blood.
Earth worms are a remedy for cut nerves, they provoke urine and the powder of
them put into a hollow tooth makes it drop out.
Swallows being eaten clear the sight, the ashes of them being burnt and eaten
preserves from drunkness and helps sore throats.
Tea made of slippery elm is good for the blood and for piles and it must be
of lard, sulphur and cream of tartar simmered together is good for the piles.
The buds of the elder bush gathered in early Spring and simmered with new butter
or sweet lard make a very healing and cooling ointment.
For a sore throat or throat distemper you mix the pulp of a roasted apple with
an ounce of tobacco and wet the whole lot with spirits of wine. Spread on a
linen rag and apply to the sore part".
There were numerous other cures for human sicknesses and remedies for diseases
in cattle, explanations of the differences in various land measurements, how
to ascertain the weight of animals and hay and there were two prayers in Irish
all written in a good hand in this very valuable notebook.