Ireland is well known for its folklore, myths and legends and part of this are the recordings of old cures and healing powers attributed to people. In times when a doctor or vet could be ill afforded knowing someone with a cure was invaluable. Our ancestors had cues for almost everything from a broken heart to stomach disorders to colic in horses.
The Schools' Collection compiled in the 1930s provides a great local history resource for anyone interested in researching myths, legends, and history in a very local context. As part of the school's curriculum children aged between 11 and 14 were invited to research stories in relation to over 55 themes, one of which was cures. The children would enlist the help of their parents, grandparents and even neighbors to complete their research. Once ready each student presented a copybook of their research to their teacher who complied a master book for each class.
The collection is retained at University College Dublin and is part of the wider archives represented by the National Folklore Collection and includes approximately 740,000 pages of folklore and local tradition written by students between 1937 and 1939. Over 5,000 primary schools took part mostly in rural parts of the country. The schools that were chosen can be viewed online by county, school, and the name of the school child. More and more of the School's Collection is being made available online on a phased basis through the Duchas Website. These stories written just after the Famine provide a rich insight into what life was like at the time and also important genealogical information such as the name of the student, age, address coupled with names addresses, and occupations of those who helped with the research. You can browse the 'weekly pick' here.
Going for 'The Cure'
Under the title Irish Folklore and Tradition, there were 55 topics of which, Local Cures was just one. The stories collected give us a fascinating insight into a time before x-rays, chiropractors or midwives were readily available. Going for 'the cure' is a phrase still used in modern Ireland. Most communities had known healers, people who were gifted with unique powers. Having the power of the 'cure' is not restricted to any religious faith and be performed on and by people of any faith and none. Often no money was exchanged as part of the process and sometimes the fulfillment of the remedy involved prayer on the part of the person with the gift or the person receiving it. More often than not the recorded cures had a very practical application, particularly for children. Much local folklore came about as a result of what we would today call superstition and from an intimate knowledge of the weather, animals, or basic biology - something that we are a little removed from in today's hectic world. Cures and special remedies could sometimes have underlying reasoning behind their application that is quite understandable. If you suffered from a cold, for example, a common remedy included various mixtures of honey, butter, sugar, and lemon. Some cures though are not so easy to understand. In Ardaghy, Omeath, Co. Louth one recorded cure for toothache required a promise by the patient never to shave on Sundays.
As well as being a valuable insight into social and cultural norms and traditions, the exercise books themselves are a tangible connection to our ancestors as children, teachers, and parents. As more and more of the collection is being digitized, we can search for mentions of our ancestors amongst them, or find an actual account written by one of them and read the story in their own handwriting. Cures could be found for all sorts of ailments from shingles, baldness, warts, worms, skin conditions, and many, many more. Many people were said to be born having the cure for something and this they could sometimes pass down through generations. For some cures, the gift is passed specifically on either the male or female line. In his book, Irish County Cures, Patrick Lohan refers to a family near Tuam, Co. Galway known for five generations as bonesetters. Sometimes the bone setter's symbol can be found on a headstone, indicating that person's skill in the area and is recognizable as a fist clutching a broken piece of bone.
Picture: Bone settler symbol on the headstone in Kilbannon Graveyard, Tuam, Co. Galway
Do you recognise any of the cures below?
Browsing through the collection was lots of fun, you never know you might find an entry from your ancestor. All the records can be searched by pupils name, informant name, school, school address, and teacher.
One in three cures listed in the Schools Project relates to skin conditions. Cures for eczema were wildly mentioned, some of which are listed below
- Steeping Oat-meal and washing the sore with the liquid ( Vol 0810, pg 22)
- Lard and sulphus mixed together and rubbed on it (Vol 0821, p115)
- The moonflower is a great flower. It cures eczema. You boil it in water for 20 minutes and then put a spoon of cream in and apply it to the place where the Eczema is and in a week it is all gone. Vol 0609, pg 334
- There is a well in Lackenstown near Drews which cures eczema. The water from the well is applied three times a day for three days. It is called St.Dominic's well. Vol 0740, pg 314
- Mrs.Mulvey of Carrickedmond, County Longford cures eczema. She makes a bottle of herbs. This bottle is supposed to contain poison but you must drink it three times, Vol 0740, pg 314
- Wild thyme. 'Pour one pint of boiling water on one ounce of wild thyme. Sweeten with a loaf of sugar. For those over 12 half, a teacupful is taken 3 times daily but for children, a small quantity will suffice' Vol 897, p239
- Say the following, The three oldest, the three youngest and the three strongest in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit guard me tonight from bad dreams Vol 0678, pg 114
- The cure for a nightmare is to get three horseshoe nails and hang them around your neck, Vol 0624, p556
- A cup of cold water taken every night just before retiring will prevent a child from taking the nightmare Vol 1011, p039
- Rub Easter Sunday Holy Water on the wart for nine consecutive Fridays and the wart will disappear Vol 0776, page 490
- For each wart get a pebble. Rub a pebble on each wart. Put the pebbles in a bag and leave the bag on the road. The person who picks up the bag will get the warts, while the first person will be cured Vol 0776, page 490
- Rub a piece of fat bacon on the warts. Put the piece of bacon in a parcel and leave it on the road. The first person to handle the bacon will take the warts and the original is cured Vol 0776, page 490
- Rub a dandelion juice on warts Vol 0773,p015
- A cure for toothache is to go into a garden where potatoes grow, get a potato pecked by a crow, put it into our pocket, never let it fall out and you'll never get a toothache again, Vol 481 pg 340
- If you get a pig's tooth and sleep on it for a week you will not have toothache for a week, Vol 0975 pg 248
- The toothache is cured in St. John's well in Moate, this well is situated on the Moate road about two miles from Moynalty. To cure the toothache you must lift the water and rub it to the affected part and say some prayers at the same time, Vol 0705 pg 161
- There is a wishing tree in the graveyard of Mullandoy and if you walk around it three times and stick a pin in its bark and wish for your toothache to get better your wish will come true. A man who lives here has the charm cure for toothache and his name is John McCabe. He writes out a prayer and gives it to the person with the toothache and he is not supposed to look at it. Vol 0943, pg 052
- Black currants boiled and sweetened will cure a cough, Vol 0735, pg 121
- Ferret's leavings of milk cure whooping cough, vol 0259, pg 281
- There is a thistle called the blessed thistle, and if it is boiled on milk, the cream will cure whooping cough Vol 0975, pg 251
- There is a Holy Well in the townlands of Drumkirk, which is situated in the parish of Lavey, about three miles from the village of Stradone, County Cavan. The well is situated in a field belonging to Mr. Patrick Reilly, Aughadreena. The water of this will is supposed to cure whooping cough and toothache. People do not leave tokens at this well. On a stone in front of the well, there is a track of a horseshoe and an impression of a human foot. It has been said a priest dipped his chalice into the well and drank from it. he threw the remainder of the water back into the well, saying that from now on it would cure Whooping cough and toothache. Vol 0979 005
- Roasted salt in a stocking tied around the throat is the best cure for a sore throat or a more common one is to gargle with salt and water. Flaxseed was and is still used for sore throat. The seeds were boiled and the water in which it was boiled was taken. Vol 0828 pg109
- A cure for a sore throat is a bit of chicken weed. Chicken weed is found at the but of a stack of oats or straw. Some people call it yellow boy because of its yellow stem. Vol 0015 pg 202
- If a person is suffering from a sore throat he slices up a turnip and leaves it in a covered basin during the night with a good coating of sugar. When the turnip has all the sugar-soaked it boiled and the person drinks the juice, soon the sore throat will be cured Vol 01666, 329
- Get wrack from the shore and suck the wee beady things that are on the wrack, suck it and rink it up, spit out the wee bits of wrack and the sore throat will go away soon, Vol 1090, pg 439
- Boiled milk and soda is a drink that cures pain in the stomach, Vol 0220 pg211
- Boil burdock seed and drink for a bad stomach, Vol 0770, pg 065
- They used dandelion very much for pain in the stomach; they picked it and washed it in cold water, and then put it down to boil, it was then used in a bottle for the stomach, Vol 0409, pg 205
Watch Lizzy Donnelly share the cure for jaundice, Lizzy Masterson shares the cure for 'the thorn' and Bobby Trimble shares the cure for warts and a urinary condition known as 'the gravel', courtesy of RTE Archives.