There is a saying in Irish, "An old woman without
learning, it is she will be doing charms"; and I have told in
"Poets and Dreamers" of old Bridget Ruane who came and gave me my
first knowledge of the healing power of certain plants, some it seemed
having a natural and some a mysterious power. And I said that she had
"died last winter, and we may be sure that among the green herbs that
cover her grave there are some that are good for every bone in the body and
that are very good for a sore heart."
As to the book she told me of that had come from the
unseen and was written in Irish, I think of Mrs. Sheridan's answer when I
asked in what language the strange unearthly people she had been among had
talked: "Irish of course-what else would they talk?" And I
remember also that when Blake told Crabb Robinson of the intercourse he had
had with Voltaire and was asked in what tongue Voltaire spoke he said,
"To my sensations it was English. It was like the touch of a musical
key. He touched it probably in French, but to my ear it became
I was told by her:
There is a Saint at the Oratory in London, but I don't
know his name, and a girl heard of him in London, and he sent her back to
Gort, and he said, "There's a woman there that will cure you," and
she came to me, and I cured her in two days.
And if you could find out the name of that Saint
through the Press, he'd tell me his remedies, and all the world would be
cured. For I can't do all cures though there are a great many I can do.
I cured Pat Carty when the doctor couldn't do it,
and a woman in Gort that was paralysed and her two sons that were stretched.
For I can bring back the dead with the same herbs our Lord was brought back
with - the slanlus and the garblus. But there are some
things I can't do. I can't help any one that has got a stroke from the
Queen or the Fool of the Forth.
I know a woman that saw the Queen one time, and she
said she looked like any Christian. I never heard of any that saw the Fool
but one woman that was walking near Gort, and she called out, "There's
the Fool of the Forth coming after me."
So her friends that were with her called out
though they could see nothing, and I suppose he went away at that for she
got no harm. He was like a big strong man, and half-naked, that's all she
said about him.
It was my brother got the knowledge of cures from a
book that was thrown down before him on the road. What language was it
written in? What language would it be but Irish.
Maybe it was God gave it to him, and maybe it was the
other people. He was a fine strong man, and he weighed twenty-five stone-and
he went to England, and then he cured all the world, so that the doctors had
no way of living.
So one time he got on a ship to go to America,
and the doctors had bad men engaged to shipwreck him out of the ship; he
wasn't drowned but he was broken to pieces on the rocks, and the book was
lost along with him.
But he taught me a good deal out of it. So I know
all herbs, and I do a good many cures, and I have brought a great many
children home, home to the world-and never lost one, or one of the women
that bore them. I was never away myself, but I am a cousin of
Saggarton, and his uncle was away for twenty-one years.
This is dwareen (knapweed) and what you have to
do with this is to put it down, with other herbs, and with a bit of
three-penny sugar, and to boil it and to drink it for pains in the bones,
and don't be afraid but it will cure you. Sure the Lord put it in the
world for curing.
And this is corn-corn (small aromatic tansy);
it's very good for the heart-boiled like the others.
This is atair-talam (wild
chamomile), the father
of all herbs - the father of the ground. This is very hard to pull, and when
you go for it, you must have a black-handled knife.
And this is camal-buide (loosestrife) that will
keep all bad things away.
This is fearaban (water buttercup) and it's good
for every bone of your body.
This is dub-cosac (lichen), that's good for the
heart, very good for a sore heart. Here are the slanlus (plantain)
and the garblus (dandelion) and these would cure the wide world, and
it was these brought our Lord from the Cross, after the ruffians that was
with the Jews* did all the harm to Him. And not one could be got to
pierce His heart till a dark man came and said, "Give me the spear, and
I'll do it," and the blood that sprang out touched his eyes and they
got their sight.
And it was after that, His Mother and Mary and Joseph
gathered their herbs and cured His wounds. These are the best of the herbs,
but they are all good, and there isn't one among them but would cure seven
diseases. I'm all the days of my life gathering them, and I know them
all, but it isn't easy to make them out. Sunday evening is the best time to
get them, and I was never interfered with. Seven ~"Hail
Marys" I say when I'm gathering them, and I pray to our Lord and to St.
Joseph and St. Colman. And there may be some watching me, but
they never meddled with me at all.
Monday is a good day for pulling herbs, or Tuesday, not
Sunday. A Sunday cure is no cure. The cosac (lichen) is good
for the heart, there was Mineog in Gort, one time his heart was wore to a
silk thread, and it cured him. The slanugad (ribgrass) is very good,
and it will take away lumps. You must go down when it's growing on the
scraws, and pull it with three pulls, and mind would the wind change when
you are pulling it or your head will be gone. Warm it on the tongs when you
bring it and put it on the lump. The lus-mor (mullein) is the only
one that's good to bring back children that are away. But what's better than
that is to save what's in the craw of a cock you'll kill on St. Martin's Eve
and put it by and dry it, and give it to the child that's away.
There's something in green flax I know, for my mother
often told me about one night she was spinning flax, before she was married
and she was up late. And a man of the faeries came in.
She had no right to be sitting up so late, they don't
like that. And he told her to go to bed, for he wanted to kill her,
and he couldn't touch her while she was handling the flax. And every time
he'd tell her to go to bed, she'd give him some answer, and she'd go on
pulling a thread of the flax, or mending a broken one, for she was wise, and
she knew that at the crowing of the cock he'd have to go. So at last the
cock crowed, and he was gone, and she was safe then, for the cock is
As to the lus-mor, whatever way the wind is blowing
when you begin to cut it, if it changes while you're cutting it, you'll lose
your mind. And if you're paid for cutting it, you can do it when you like,
but if not they mightn't like it.
I knew a woman was cutting it one time, and a
voice, an enchanted voice, called out, "Don't cut that if you're not
paid, or you'll be sorry," But if you put a bit of this with every
other herb you drink, you'll live for ever. My grandmother used to put a bit
with everything she took, and she lived to be over a hundred.
An Old Man on the
I wouldn't give in to those things, but I'll tell you what
happened to a son of my own. He was as fine and as stout a boy as ever you
saw, and one day he was out with me, and a letter came and told of the death
of some one's child that was in America, and all the island gathered to hear
And all the people were pressing to each other
there. And when we were coming home, he had a bit of a kippeen in his
hand, and getting over a wall he fell, and some way the kippeen went in at
his throat, where it had a sharp point and hurt the palate of his mouth, and
he got paralysed from the waist up.
There was a woman over in Spiddal, and my wife gave me
no ease till I went to her, and she gave me some herb for him. He got better
after, and there's no man in the island stronger and stouter than what he is
but he never got back the use of his left hand, but the strength he has in
the other hand is equal to what another man would have in two.
Did the woman in Spiddal say what gave him the touch?
Oh well, she said all sorts of things. But I wouldn't like to meddle too
much with such as her, for it's by witchcraft I believe it's done.
There was a woman of the same sort over in
Roundstone, and I knew a man went to her about his wife, and first she said
the sickness had nothing to do with her business, but he said he came too
far to bring back an answer like that. So she went into a little room, and
he heard her call on the name of all the devils. So he cried out that that
was enough, and she came out then and made the sign of the Cross, but he
wouldn't stop in it.
But a priest told me that there was a woman in France
used to cure all the dumb that came to her, and that it was a great loss and
a great pity when she died.
I knew some could cure with herbs; but it's not right for
any one that doesn't understand them to be meddling with them. There was a
woman I knew one time wanted a certain herb I knew for a cure for her
daughter, and the only place that herb was to be had was down in the bottom
of a spring well.
She was always asking me would I go and get it
for her, but I took advice, and I was advised not to do it. So then she went
herself and she got it out, a very green herb it was, not watercress, but it
had a bunch of green leaves. And so soon as she brought it into the house,
she fell as if dead and there she lay for two hours. And not long after that
she died, but she cured the daughter, and it's well I didn't go to gather
the herb, or it's on me all the harm would have come.
I used to be gathering an herb one time for the Bishop
that lived at Loughmore, dandelion it was. There are two sorts, the white
that has no harm in it, that's what I used to be gathering, and the red that
has a pishogue in it, but I left that alone.
The best herb-doctor I ever knew was Connolly up at
Ballyturn. He knew every herb that grew in the earth. It was said that he
was away with the faeries one time, and when I knew him he had the two
thumbs turned in, and it was said that was the sign they left on him.
I had a lump on the thigh one time and my father went
to him, and he gave him an herb for it but he told him not to come into the
house by the door the wind would be blowing in at. They thought it was the
evil I had, that is given by them by a touch, and that is why he said about
the wind, for if it was the evil, there would be a worm in it, and if it
smelled the herb that was brought in at the door, it might change to another
I don't know what the herb was, but I would have
been dead if I had it on another hour, it burned so much, and I had to get
the lump lanced after, for it wasn't the evil I had.
Connolly cured many a one. Jack Hall that fell into a
pot of water they were after boiling potatoes in, had the skin scalded off
him and that Doctor Lynch could do nothing for, he cured.
He boiled down herbs with a bit of lard, and after that
was rubbed on three times, he was well.
And Pat Cahel that was deaf, he cured with the rib-mas-seala,
that herb in the potatoes that milk comes out of. His wife was against him
doing the cures, she thought that it would fall on herself. And anyway, she
died before him. But Connor at Oldtown gave up doing cures, and his stock
began to die, and he couldn't keep a pig, and all he had wasted away till he
began to do them again; and his son does cures now, but I think it's more
with charms than with herbs.
The bainne-bo-bliatain (wood anemone) is good for
the headache, if you put the leaves of it on your head. But as for the
lus-mor it's best not to have anything to do with that.
Dandelion is good for the heart, and when Father
Prendergast was curate here, he had it rooted up in all the fields about, to
drink it, and see what a fine man he is.
Garblus; how did you hear of that? That is the
herb for things that have to do with the faeries. And when you'd drink
it for anything of that sort, if it doesn't cure you, it will kill you then
and there. There was a fine young man I used to know and he got his death on
the head of a pig that came at himself and another man at the gate of
Ramore, and that never left them, but was at them all the time till they
came to a stream of water.
And when he got home, he took to his bed with a
headache, and at last he was brought a drink of the garblus and no
sooner did he drink it than he was dead. I remember him well. Biddy
Early didn't use herbs, but let people say what they like, she was a sure
woman. There is something in flax, for no priest would anoint you
without a bit of tow. And if a woman that was carrying was to put a
basket of green flax on her back, the child would go from her, and if a mare
that was in foal had a load of flax put on her, the foal would go the same
I don't believe in faeries myself, I really don't. But all
the people in Kildare believe in them, and I'll tell you what I saw there
one time myself. There was a man had a splendid big white horse, and he was
leading him along the road, and a woman, a next-door neighbour, got up on
the wall and looked at him. And the horse fell down on his knees and
began to shiver, and you'd think buckets of water were poured over him.
And they led him home, but he was fit for nothing, and
everyone was sorry for the poor man, and him being worth ninety pounds. And
they sent to the Curragh and to every place for vets, but not one could do
anything at all.
And at last they sent up in to the mountains for
a faery doctor, and he went into the stable and shut the door, and whatever
he did there no one knows, but when he came out he said that the horse would
get up on the ninth day, and be as well as ever.
And so he did sure enough, but whether he kept
well, I don't know, for the man that owned him sold him the first minute he
could. And they say that while the faery doctor was in the stable, the woman
came to ask what was he doing, and he called from inside, "Keep her
away, keep her away." And a priest had lodgings in the house at the
same time, and when the faery doctor saw him coming, "Let me out of
this," says he, and away with him as fast as he could. And all this I
saw happen, but whether the horse only got a chill or not I don't know.
My mother learned cures from an Ulster woman, for the
Ulster women are the best for cures; but I don't know the half of them, and
what I know I wouldn't like to be talking about or doing, unless it might be
for my own family.
There's a cure she had for the yellow jaundice; and
it's a long way from Ennistymon to Creevagh, but I saw a man come all that
way to her, and he fainted when he sat down in the chair, he was so far
But she gave him a drink of it, and he came in a second
time and she gave it again, and he didn't come a third time for he didn't
want it. But I don't mind if I tell you the cure and it is this: take a bit
of the dirt of a dog that has been eating bones and meat, and put it on top
of an oven till it's as fine as powder and as white as flour, and then pound
it up, and put it in a glass of whiskey, in a bottle, and if a man is not
too far gone with jaundice, that will cure him.
There was one Carthy at Imlough did great cures with
charms and his son can do them yet. He uses no herbs, but he'll go down on
his knees and he'll say some words into a bit of unsalted butter, and what
words he says, no one knows.
There was a big man I know had a sore on his leg
and the doctor couldn't cure him, and Doctor Moran said a bit of the bone
would have to come out. So at last he went to Jim Carthy and he told him to
bring him a bit of unsalted butter the next Monday, or Thursday, or
Saturday, for there's a difference in days. And he would have to come
three times, or if it was a bad case, he'd have to come nine times.
But I think it was after the third time that he got
well, and now he is one of the head men in Persse's Distillery in Galway.
A Slieve Echtge Woman:
The wild parsnip is good for gravel, and for heartbeat
there's nothing so good as dandelion. There was a woman I knew used to boil
it down, and she'd throw out what was left on the grass. And there was a
fleet of turkeys about the house and they used to be picking it up. And at
Christmas they killed one of them, and when it was cut open they found a new
heart growing in it with the dint of the dandelion.
My father went one time to a woman at Ennis, not Biddy
Early, but one of her sort, to ask her about three sheep he had lost.
And she told him the very place they were brought to, a
long path through the stones near Kinvara. And there he found the
skins, and he heard that the man that brought them away had them sold to a
butcher in Loughrea. So he followed him there, and brought the police, and
they found him - a poor looking little man, but he had £60 within in his
There was another man up near Ballylee could tell these
things too. When Jack Fahy lost his wool, he went to him, and next morning
there were the fleeces at his door.
Those that are away know these things. There was a
brother of my own took to it for seven years - and we at school. And
no one could beat him at the hurling and the games. But I wouldn't
like to be mixed with that myself.
There was one Moyra Colum was a great one for doing
cures. She was called one time to see some sick person, and the man that
came for her put her up behind him, on the horse.
And some youngsters began to be humbugging him,
and humbugging is always bad. And there was a young horse in the field where
the youngsters were and it began to gallop, and it fell over a stump and lay
on the ground kicking as if in a fit.
And then Moyra Colum said, "Let me get down, for I
have pity for the horse." And she got down and went into the field, and
she picked a blade of a herb and put it to the horse's mouth and in one
minute it got up well.
Another time a woman had a sick cow and she sent her
little boy to Moyra Colum, and she gave him a bottle and bade him put a drop
of what was in it in the cow's ear. And so he did and in a few minutes he
began to feel a great pain in his foot. So his mother went into the Street
and broke the bottle, and she said, "It's better to lose the cow than
to lose my son." And in the morning the cow was dead.
The herbs they cure with, there's some that's natural,
and you could pick them at all times of the day; there's a very good cure
for the yellow jaundice I have myself, and I offered it to a woman in
Ballygrah the other day, but some people are so taken up with pride and with
conceit they won't believe that to cure that sickness you must take what
comes from your own nature.
She's dead since of it, I hear. But I'll tell you
the cure, the way you'll know it. If you are attending a funeral, pick out a
few little worms from the earth that's thrown up out of the grave, few or
many, twenty or thirty if you like. And when you go home, boil them down in
a sup of new milk and let it get cold; and believe me, that will cure the
There's one woman I knew used to take a bit of tape
when you'd go to her, and she'd measure it over her thumb like this; and
when she had it measured she'd know what was the matter with you.
For some sicknesses they used herbs that have no
natural cure, and those must be gathered in the morning early. Before twelve
o'clock? No, but before sunrise.
And there's a different charm to be said over each one
of them. It is for any sort of pain these are good, such as a pain in the
side. There's the meena madar, a nice little planteen with a nice
little blue flowereen above on it, that's used for a running sore or an
And the charm to be said when you're picking it has in
it the name of some old curer or magician, and you can say that into a bit
of tow three times, and put it on the person to be cured. That is a good
charm. You might use that yourself if it was any one close to you was sick,
but for a stranger I'd recommend you not do it. They know all things and who
are using it, and where's the use of putting yourself in danger?
My mother learned to do a great many cures from a woman
from the North and some I could do myself, but I wouldn't like to be doing
them unless for those that are nearest me; I don't want to be putting myself
For a swelling in the throat it's an herb would be
used, or for the evil a poultice you'd make of herbs. But for a pain in the
ribs or in the head, it's a charm you should use, and to whisper it into a
bit of tow, and to put it on the mouth of whoever would have the pain, and
that would take it away. There's a herb called rif in your own garden is
good for cures. And this is a good charm to say in Irish:
A quiet woman.
A rough man.
The Son of God.
The husk of the flax.
The Old Man on the Beach:
In the old times all could do druith-like
freemasonry-and the ground was all covered with the likeness of the devil;
and with druith they could do anything, and could put the sea between
you and the road. There's only a few can do it now, but all that live in the
County Down can do it.
There was a girl in a house near this was pining away, and
a travelling woman came to the house and she told the mother to bring the
girl across to the graveyard that's near the house before sunrise and to
pick some of the grass that's growing over the remains. And so she
did, and the girl got well. But the mother told me that when the woman had
told her that, she vanished away, all in a minute, and was seen no more.
I have a charm myself for the headache, I cured many
with it. I used to put on a ribbon from the back of the head over the mouth,
and another from the top of the head under the chin and then to press my
hand on it, and I'd give them great relief and I'd say the charm.
But one time I read in the Scriptures that the use of
charms is forbidden, so I had it on my conscience, and the next time I went
to confession I asked the priest was it any harm for me to use it, and I
said it to him in Irish. And in English it means "Charm of St.
Peter, Charm of St Paul, an angel brought it from Rome. The similitude of
Christ, suffering death, and all suffering goes with Him and into the
flax." And the priest didn't say if I might use it or not, so I went on
with it, for I didn't like to turn away so many suffering people coming to
I know a charm a woman from the North gave to Tom
Mangan's mother, she used to cure ulcers with it and cancers. It was with
unsalted butter it was used, but I don't know what the words were.
If you cut a hazel rod and bring it with you, and turn it round
about now and again, no bad thing can hurt you. And a cure can be made
for bad eyes from the ivy that grows on a white-thorn bush. I know a boy had
an ulcer on his eye and it was cured by that.
There was Leary's son in Gort had bad eyes and no doctor
could cure him. And one night his mother had a dream that she got up and
took a half-blanket with her, and went away to a blessed well a little
outside Gort, and there she saw a woman dressed all in white, and she gave
her some of the water, and when she brought it to her son he got well. So
the next day she went there and got the water, and after putting it three
times on his eyes, he was as well as ever he was.
There was a woman here used to do cures with herbs - a
midwife she was. And if a man went for her in a hurry, and on a horse, and
he'd want her to get up behind him, she'd say, "No," that she was
never on horseback. But no matter how fast he'd go home, there she'd be
close after him.
There was a child was sick and it was known itself
wasn't in it. And a woman told the mother to go to a woman she told her of,
and not to say anything about the child but to say, "The calf is
sick" and to ask for a cure for it. So she did and the woman gave her
some herb, and she gave it to the child and it got well.
There was a man from Cuillean was telling me how two
women came from the County Down in his father's time, mother and daughter,
and they brought two spinning wheels with them, and they used to be in the
But the milk went from the cow and they watched and saw
it was through charms. And then all the people brought turf and made a big
fire outside, and stripped the witch and the daughter to burn them. And when
they were brought out to be burned the woman said, "Bring me out a bit
of flax and I'll show you a pishogue."
So they brought out a bit of flax and she made
two skeins of it, and twisted it some way like that (interlacing his
fingers) and she put the two skeins round herself and the daughter, and
began to twist it, and it went up in the air round and round and the two
women with it, and the people all saw them going up, but they couldn't stop
them. The man's own father saw that himself.
There was a woman from the County Down was living up on
that mountain beyond one time, and there was a boy in the house next to mine
that had a pain in his heart, and was crying out with the pain of it.
And she came down, and I was in the house myself and I saw her fill the bowl
with oatenmeal, and she tied a cloth over it, and put it on the hearth. And
when she took it off, all the meal was gone out of one side of the bowl, and
she made a cake out of what was left on the other side, and ate it. And the
boy got well.
There was a woman in Clifden did many cures and knew
everything. And I knew two boys were sent to her one time, and they
had a bottle of poteen to bring her, but on the road they drank the poteen.
But they got her another bottle before they got to the house, but for all
that she knew well, and told them what they had done.
There's some families have a charm in them, and a man
of those families can do cures, just like King's blood used to cure the
evil, but they couldn't teach it to you or to me or another.
There's a very good charm to stop bleeding; it will
stop it in a minute when nothing else can, and there's one to take bones
from the neck, and one against ulcers.
I went to Macklin near Loughrea myself one time, when I had an
ulcer here in my neck. But when I got to him and asked for the charm, he
answered me in Irish, "The Soggarth
said to me, any man that will use charms to do cures with will be
damned." I persuaded him to do it after, but I never felt that it did
me much good. Because he took no care to do it well after the priest saying
that of him. But there's some will only let it be said in an outhouse if
there's a cure to be done in the house.
A Woman in County Limerick:
It is twenty year ago I got a pain in my side, that I
could not stoop; and I tried Siegel's Syrup and a plaster and a black
blister from the doctor, and every sort of thing and they did me no good.
And there came in a man one day, a farmer I knew,
and he said, "It's a fool you are not to go to a woman living within
two miles of you that would cure you - a woman that does charms." So I
went to her nine times, three days I should go and three stop away, and she
would pass her hand over me, and would make me hold on to the branch of an
apple tree up high, that I would hang from it, and she would be swinging me
as you would swing a child.
And she laid me on the grass and passed her hands over
me, and what she said over me I don't know. And at the end of the nine
visits I was cured, and the pain left me. At the time she died I wanted to
go lay her out but my husband would not let me go.
He said if I was seen going in, the neighbours
would say she had left me her cures and would be calling me a witch.
She said it was from an old man she got the charm that used to be called a
wizard. My father knew him, and said he could bring away the wheat and
bring it back again, and that he could turn the four winds of heaven to blow
upon your house till they would knock it.
A Munster Midwife:
Is it true a part of the pain can be put on the man? It is
to be sure, but it would be the most pity in the world to do it; it is a
thing I never did, for the man would never be the better of it, and it would
not take any of the pain off the woman. And shouldn't we have pity upon men,
that have enough troubles of their own to go through?
Did I know the pain could be put on a man? Sure I seen my
own mother that was a midwife do it. He was such a Molly of an old man, and
he had no compassion at all on his wife.
He was as if making out she had no pain at
all. So my mother gave her a drink, and with that he was on the floor
and around the floor crying and roaring. "The devil take you,"
says he, and the pain upon him; but while he had it, it went away from his
wife. It did him no harm after, and my mother would not have done it
but for him being so covetous. He wanted to make out that she wasn't
At childbirth there are some of the old women are able to put a part
of the pain upon the man, or any man. There was a woman in labour near Oran,
and there were two policemen out walking that night, and one of them went
into the house to light his pipe.
There were two or three women in it, and the sick woman
stretched beyond them, and one of them offered him a drink of the tea she
had been using, and he didn't want it but he took a drink of it, and then he
took a coal off the hearth and put it on his pipe to light it and went out
to his comrade.
And no sooner was he there than he began to roar
and to catch hold of his belly and he fell down by the roadside roaring. But
the other knew something of what happened, and he took the pipe, and it
having a coal on it, and he put it on top of the wall and fired a shot of
the gun at it and broke it; and with that the man got well of the pain and
stood up again.
No woman that is carrying should go to the house where
another woman is in labour; if she does, that woman's pain will come on her
along with her own pain when her time comes.
A child to come with the spring tide, it will have