Traditional Cures

Mikey Stokes of Longford tells the story of a Mrs. Rattigan up at Strandmore Crossroads who has the cure for liver damage.

Mary Doyle tells of a salve for burns made from the mixture of the fox tongue or foxglove plant fried with white lard.

Winnie McDonagh reports that “a man in Navan has the cure of burns, he licks them.” These and others make up the varied forms of cures which are available to anyone who will have the belief that they will work.

Knowledge of the location of a cure is not something to be kept to oneself. Travellers speak of telling other people of a successful cure almost as though it were a duty. Perhaps this springs from the belief that all cures come from God.

Passing the Information on

Whatever the reason, even settled people are told about cures, although Travellers are very much aware that few of the country people put much stock in them. Tom McDonnell says that he would tell a country person of a cure that he knew, but that he never heard of any of them going and feels that this is probably because they do not believe in cures.

Christy McDonagh, on the other hand, has a story of a settled person who did go for a cure.

“There was a child and a man and woman living outside of the Silver Tankard and I was in it one day and she was telling me about some friend of her child who was covered in eczema …. I said to her, “Did you go for the cure of it?” This is the truth, the woman told me, “We’ll go anywhere for it, anywhere, doesn’t make a bit of difference where it is.” So, I gave them the address of the man in Athlone…. The child was covered from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, every bit of him, with eczema. The child was in hospital and still didn’t do anything with it … They went to that man, a couple of weeks from that the child was clean”.

Whenever these people would see Christy McDonagh afterwards they would bring up the story.

“They did every time I saw them, and no matter where I’d see them they would roar out through the car, no matter who they’re with.”

The Cost of the Cure

While faith is necessary in order for a cure to work, Mary Doyle insists that she would only believe in the person who would not take money for a cure . “You don’t pay for a cure, no way, because it’s handed down from God.” Likewise, Bobby McDonagh reports that she did not have to give money for cures that she has received.

Mikey McDonagh was asked did he ever recommend a cure to anyone. He said:

” Yes, a country lad. This man came to me one day to see what was wrong with him and I knew it wasn’t good. I asked him did he ever go to anybody to get a cure for it, he said he tried every doctor in Ireland. So I showed him a place to go to. He came to Navan a few months after and he said he was very thankful to me. He was delighted with the cure. He said he would tell other people about the cure.”

Nellie Joyce, however, says:

If I was taking the child to the person to be cured, then it wouldn’t matter to me if the person took money, as long as the child would be cured. It would make no difference to me whether you would have to pay them or not. You would have the one belief in the person that would take the money as you would in the person that wouldn’t.

Old Julia Quinn thinks that the man or woman who will not take the money is the more reliable cure, but she has an exception for a woman who collects money for a good use.

“Now, there’s an awful lot of people who has the cure for the bleeding of the nose. There’s a woman out there in Rahan, definitely she has a dead cure. The thing, like everything else, you have to have faith and believe. She takes two pound, three pound, but then she has the whole address there to show where it’s going, that it’s going out to the foreign missionaries. She has the box and phone number and all.

If you have belief in her she has the cure of cancer, that’s the truth. A young man was getting married. He was going to tell the girl. The girl knew it already. “No,” she said, “don’t call off the wedding. Come back again to me.” Definitely she did cure it. Oh, that’s as sure as God. But then you have to leave your mind and your heart down in it. Going outside the door and making a laugh, that’s no good. You needn’t be going to her or you needn’t be going to anyone.

Dyna Duke says she wouldn’t believe in a person taking money for a cure. Asked whether she would take the children to the doctor also if they have received a cure, Julia Quinn goes on to reply:

“No, just let the cure work itself But, then, there’s an awful lot of people that doesn’t have the belief or hasn’t the faith, you know. Well, they might say that man or that woman has no cure, and there are a few people through the country that has no cure. Now, there’s more people that has the cure of arthritis, all things like that, dead cures now, but there is an awful lot of Travellers today that won’t believe in it now”.

Confidence in Cures is Crucial

Belief in the success of a cure is often so strong that a person will travel any distance to receive it. This is reported time and again by the men and women interviewed. Nellie Joyce, who tells that she believes in cures because she has often gotten them for whooping cough, eczema, ringworm, burns and the thrush for the children, says that “If you needed the cure badly you would try and get to it no matter how far it would be.”

Bobby McDonagh tells that the cures would be given by “ordinary people”; they would not necessarily have to be priests.”If I thought I was going to get one,” she says, “I’d go to the end of the earth.” She specifically mentions, “there’s a man living at Edenderry that has the cure of pains … and he is a deadly cure.”

Tom McDonnell states that he does not believe in very many cures, but is able to provide one example in which he has confidence . “There’s a cure outside Athlone for eczema,” he says. “That’s the only real one I know. It does cure eczema.” Tom has heard reports of children who were there, and cautions that the cure takes a couple of months to work.

Asked whether he believes in cures, Patsy Joyce replied:

“I do. I often travelled sixty miles for a cure. I often saw children suffering with eczema, yellow jaundice and ringworm get cures, and they’d be a success. I knew a little girl who had a murmur on the heart, and I brought her to an auld man below in Longford. Martin Parker was his name, and about a fortnight later her mother brought her to the doctor, and the murmur was gone completely and never came back again. Thanks be to God. The doctor thought he had cured it, but it was the man in Longford and the power of God. ”

Christy McDonagh tells that he believes in cures, but that he has never gone for one himself. He gives this story:

“I seen Winnie at about thirty years of age, her two hands were crippled up with arthritis. She couldn’t open them. They were like that (demonstrates with his hands). This is the truth now, we went to the man in Carberry outside in Edenderry. That man gave her some kind of a rub for it. Thanks be to God, it went away; her hands straightened back up completely.”

Mary Doyle draws from her experience to provide several examples of cures, for ailments as routine as a burn or as serious as pneumonia.

“When a few of my children had the chin cough, they call it whooping cough, we used to boil goat’s milk for them and give it to them. It used to bring up the phlegm.

If you had a bad, heavy flu you would boil buttermilk and sugar. You would boil gruel or old buttermilk; if you took that you would be as right as day.

If a child got a burn you got a fox’s tongue not a live fox, it grows in the ditch foxglove and you came along and you washed out your pans. You fried it with white lard without salt … and you drained it into a saucer. You leave it there until it turns green and you rub that onto the burn. No matter how deep it was, it wouldn’t leave a mark or it wouldn’t leave a pain.

If you took pneumonia in my days you were painted from the top of your head to your lip with iodine … red iodine.

For the child with the thrush in the tongue, yes, I do know the cure, because I cured my own. You come along with a sup of lukewarm water and put it in a saucer. You put a big spoonful of bread soda into it. You get three pieces of white rag and wrap it around your finger, and as according to when it’s coming off you burn the rag in the fire, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Next morning the child would have no thrush”.

Mary tells that the only people to whom she ever went for a cure was “the nun in Kells and the Friars in Muitifarnham. The story she tells of her is that:
“The nun in Kells, that Sister Eileen Sullivan, she’s a good nun. That young one of mine, she cured her of dying. She was dying above in Our Lady’s Hospital in Dublin. I was staying in the Bishop’s Road and she was three months old, and I got the word back that she was dying, and I went to her. She told me that this day month the child would be down, and that day month she was down. She is there yet, thanks be to God.”

According to Mickey Stokes, there is a woman living at Strandmore Crossroads who can cure damage to the liver. This woman, a Mrs. Rattigan, explains that there can be three things wrong with the liver, and she is able to cure two of them.

Mickey tells about two wells in Athlone. The first is not named, but is described as one which will cure warts. The second is St. Brigid’s Well where he reports that people go to pray for cures, but must also pray for themselves.

“There’s a little well at Athlone, now sure you all know about that … I have a first cousin, and his little young fellow was destroyed with warts, and these people didn’t believe such a thing was to be had, or they weren’t the type of people that would listen to you. But he came to me for me advice anyway, and this young fellow was destroyed with warts, his hands and feet and sometimes they would be bleeding. So, he says to me, “Mickey”, he said, “you can go ’round a good little bit and enquire, and do you know where I can get that little boy cured?” “I do” I says, “it’s only about two miles from here”. So me and him went out … from the Ballymore Road out to Athlone. We passed an auld iron gate, and down along by a river we met a little lone tree and a little lone track, and hid from somewhere under the little lone tree the water was pouring into the little stone trough, but it wasn’t used for years and years and years …

A country man farmer told me under that tree is the cure of warts, so he rubbed it on and a couple of days after they were gone and never came back no more”.

Regarding St. Brigid’s Well, Mikey tells the story of a man who twice threw himself into the River Shannon in an attempt to drown himself. He was saved both times, and after the second time the man’s father asked when he had prayed at the well he had thought to pray for himself. It came as no surprise to the father to learn that th.e son had only prayed for others. Back to the well they went, the son said a prayer for himself and from that point he no longer felt the urge to drown himself in the Shannon. As shown there are diverse forms of cures from the natural to the spiritual. Travellers place a strong faith in these remedies.

Nanny McDonagh remembers an unusual cure for burns, and as she relates in her story, she had need to try this cure as a young girl,

“One day my father and mother were going into Mullingar to buy tin and they left me minding all the children. Our Patsy was a tall boy and he wore short trousers and no boots.

So when I knew it was time to make the tea I’d get the smaller ones to get the sticks.

I’d light a big fire and hang the tea can on the bar to make the tea. All the children would be sitting around the fire. Patsy was sitting around the fire with his two legs crossed warming himself.

Anyway, I picked up the can and it burned the hand of me, so I dropped it and it went all over Patsy’s legs and knees. I scalded him. We were staying beside a big field with cows in it and I used to hear my mother say that cow’s dirt was good for burns. So didn’t I run down with a bucket and shovel and got the cow’s dirt from the field. I ran back up and rubbed it onto Patsy’s legs.

You could hear Patsy roaring ten miles away with the pain. As well as doing that I went to one of the cottages beside us and got some bread soda. I told the woman what I wanted it for and she said it was no good, that she never heard of bread soda curing a burn. I came back down to Patsy and rubbed the bread soda on his legs. He was still roaring and crying. It was five miles to the nearest doctor, so I got Patsy ready and left the small children there. There was no one to mind them only themselves. “I have to go the doctor” I said “Sit down there till I come back, or my father and mother comes back says I “and tell them where I’m gone.”

My father came back first and he was wondering why there was no children or anyone around. The smaller ones told him what had happened. I came back after being away for hours and my father was very angry. He asked me what had happened so I told him. He had a big red ash stick waiting for me, so he gave me a few clouts of it”.

Other Cures

Kidney Infection Boil barley in water for a few hours. Strain the liquid and drink it. (It can be kept in the fridge).

A glass of rum diluted with 2/ 3rds 7 Up drunk three times a day is also good.

Nappy Rash Apply dry Robinson’s starch to the rash. Within a day or two the rash will be gone. Also, you can use the white of an egg. Apply to the nappy rash.

Thrush, Diarrhoea and Ringworm A child whose father died before they were born will have the cure for thrush, diarrhoea and ringworm.

Wasp Sting Rub a ball of blue into the sting to draw it out, then put the juice of a raw potatoe on the sting.

Warts Get clay from a relatives’ grave and rub it into the warts or get a black snail, a piece of bacon fat and a piece of carbolic soap. Tie them together with thread and hang from a thorny bush. When this has rotted the wart will fall off or else rub the milk from steamed dandelion flowers into the wart until it falls off. Another cure is to get a piece of cloth and make a purse of it, then get nine pebbles. Bless the wart with each pebble and put it into the purse. Go to a crossroads and leave the purse there, (but don’t let anyone see you do this).

Whooping Cough Get a pint of milk and give some to a ferret to drink. Keep some of the milk and give this to the child to drink. Within a couple of days the cough will be gone. Also, if you see a man with a white horse, go to him and say: “Kind sir with the white horse give me a cure for the Whooping Cough”. Whatever he will say to you will cure the cough!!


Please note that the publishing of these cures is just for your interest. Meath Travellers Workshops do not recommend the use of any cures. Some cures are published in old books, and might be seen to be harmful, if used in place of modern medicines. These cures are not intended to be substituted for the advice of your health care professional.