I know a man…
Irish history has been rough at times. Over the course of several centuries, Irish people often didn’t have the money to see proper medical professionals. Also, a lot of so-called “doctors” were simply quacks who took people’s money and left them sicker and even poorer than before.
However, traditional cures provided an alternative. When illness took hold, Irish people would seek out the person in their community with “the cure.” Even today, there are still people claiming to have “the cure.” And there are still ailing customers who see them. Many Irish people still believe in faith healing as well as other magical phenomenon – things that are considered to be “fairy tales” in some other cultures.
The sceptics among us might be tempted to believe that those who offer the “cure” do it just for money, but this is not the case. Many people who offer “the cure” do so as a community service, sometimes asking for just a donation to cover their costs and time (sometimes just €25, small in comparison to a €60 GP visit). And there are plenty of cases where sceptics see their own family member cured in front of their eyes and are then converted.
Where does “the cure” come from?
There are several ways healers are said to be struck with the power of the cure. You could be the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. You could be the seventh son of a seventh son. If your father died while you were in utero, you were likely to have the power of the cure. And if your parents had the same last name when they married, then you could be gifted with “the cure.”
One woman from Co Antrim came back from her honeymoon to find several people knocking at her door looking for the cure as she had married a man with the same family name. Other people have the ability to “cure” only when their father or mother who had it died, and it passes to them at the time of death. Or, you could learn cures from people who had been using the same cures for years, from basic ingredients found in nature around you.
These mysterious cures have been administered in secret for centuries. Mainly people would hear of the person with “the cure” from the pub, where information was passed quietly, especially in the days where Celtic and pagan culture was not welcome. Many times the person who could offer “the cure” felt it to be a blessing or a curse, both a gift and a burden. They loved helping people in their community, but sometimes if they possessed a cure to a common ailment then they wouldn’t get much peace.
How does “the cure” work?
Many people still talk of “the cure.” In fact one of the most popular cures I have heard in Ireland is that for “the burn.” There are many people in Ireland said to be able to cure “the burn” where mainstream medicine has failed after skin grafts and other treatments. A gentleman in the Wicklow hills is said to cure “the burn” by putting the burnt area in his mouth, while the relative says a prayer.
While in this day and age many people would say this was quackery, there are as many people who will say they have seen it. For these people faith healing is an answer and it provides a clear case of cure. Faith healing could be the placebo effect. It could trigger the body’s healing mechanism. But the laying of hands on someone by a “curer” has been shown through the centuries to end a lot of suffering.
And each curer is different in how they treat ailments. One renowned healer in Dublin was an O’Brien who married an O’Brien. She has the cure for asthma. She would bake bread and say prayers, then feed a slice of the bread to the person needing a cure.
A resident of Cavan says “I had never experienced ‘cures’ before I moved to the country. But our baby was suffering with eczema like I had never seen before, and I’m a nurse. He had weeping sores on his body, it was terrible. After worrying about the steroid-based cream I was putting on him, which was having a weak and lessening effect, I was advised to go see a lady with the ‘cure.’ We only visited once and within a week it was all gone. I was stumped. We made a subsequent donation to the lady. The eczema has never come back. The same lady also treats warts and other skin afflictions.”
Others have tales to tell about cures. A persistent problem for kids (especially farm kids) is ringworm. Many of these fungal infections will not budge, despite GP-prescribed creams and other medicines. And if they disappear, sometimes it will only be temporary and then they reappear with a vengeance.
A resident of Mayo writes, “We had tried many different creams for our daughter, and after being frustrated by the lack of improvement, my aunt suggested we seek ‘the cure.’ We were sent to see the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. We visited three times, in the same week, and on all three visits, the lady with the ‘cure’ blessed the problem areas and said prayers over them. After a year of ringworm misery, the affliction was finally gone.”
Another cure is for colic in babies. There’s nothing worse than a colicky baby crying all hours. It can be very distressing for both parents and babies. One father was so desperate he was prepared to try anything.
“Our little one started her colic journey at age three weeks. We tried everything, mainstream medical professionals, old wives tales, internet research. But our poor little girl just cried like she was burning from the inside out. This went on for about a month until our friend from Fermanagh came for a visit. She suggested taking our daughter to see a local Fermanagh woman who had the ‘cure’ for colic.
“Off we went, hoping against all common sense that our baby would find relief. The lady said prayers over our baby as she held it upside down. (Yes! Upside down!) She said to give the baby water with a tiny bit of brown sugar (that she gave us) dissolved in it, a few times a day. I swear on my mother’s life that we brought back a different baby altogether. We went from being so upset and distressed to having a normal family life!”
Loss of a Tradition
As many people quietly come out of the woodwork and share their experiences with local healers, there is a very pressing matter that comes to light. Healers are becoming harder to find. Hardly anyone has seven children anymore, least of all enough to produce seven daughters in a row or seven sons! And Irish people are intermarrying with other cultures, so Kelly-Kelly marriages and Murphy-Murphy marriages are on the out. And, the old Irish ways are finding less acceptance in a high-tech world. It would be a shame to lose this tradition even it is just folk mythology.
Healers with “the cure” are also available for animals. A Kerry resident wrote to say that he knows a lady who offers “the cure” for a sheep bacterial infection called “Orf.” It is wildly contagious and can spread quickly through an entire flock of sheep within days. “Everyone in our community had this lady’s number in their phone. She would come and say a prayer over the flock, and the Orf would be gone the next day. And she never charged anyone for her trouble.”
Often there is no charge for the services of a healer. But the tradition says that the done-thing is to “cross the palm with silver.” This comes from the days when a half-crown was used as a donation for the time of the healer.
Modern Day Healers
Scarce as they are, it’s still possible to find a modern-day healer. Meet Olga Breslin (olgascures.net) from the village of Frosses, seven miles from Donegal Town. Olga, who specialises in skin ailments, says “I first became aware of the cure when I was 8 years old but didn’t start to practice it until I was older. I have been told the reason I was given the ability to heal was because I was the first born child of parents that had the same surname.
“I’ve been practising for many years now and I see people individually in my own home. If this is not an option I can send the cure by post. The cure centres on a prayer, I need to include the person’s name in my prayer and pass on something that was present during the prayer, preferably something they can eat, I generally use simple sweets as most people will eat them especially children.”
Olga says the sweets are taken over the course of nine days at three-day intervals. “Most people experience a warm sensation as the energy is transferred. Regardless of how we try to explain it Christians have been given the ability to heal for two thousand years. Someone once told me for those who believe in such cures no explanation is necessary and for those who do not, no explanation is possible.
“I have healed all sorts of ailments and conditions; I have a strong effect on skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis and acne. The cure sometimes brings the condition to a head before it heals, it may get worse before it gets better, so I recommend having a second and third cure leaving no more than nine days between them.”
Olga charges a small donation of €35 per appointment.
Ireland’s ‘Miracle Healer’
Another easily-contactable healer is Danny Gallagher. Known as “Ireland’s Miracle Healer” he has been subject of many TV shows across the world, who have filmed him plying his trade. Danny hails from Maghera, County Derry, and is the seventh son of the seventh son. According to ancient Celtic Lore, the seventh son possesses the power to heal people by simply touching them.
When he was eight years old, Danny had a vivid dream communicating his strange power over illness. Danny made no use of his healing powers for many years after his visionary dream. When he finished school he bought himself an ice-cream van.
The familiar chimes did not ring long in Danny’s hometown before he performed his first cure. The patient was a tiny crippled girl for whom he always saved a free ice cream. The wonderful story of the cure was reported by the local newspaper and Danny’s life underwent a metamorphosis. He obtained an immediate following among the local inhabitants where the tradition of, if not necessarily the belief in, the powers of the seventh son is deep-rooted through generations.
As people began to claim more cures, the national media began to take notice – at first concentrating efforts on exposing him as a fraud, later supporting him with exclusive accounts. Hundreds of letters and telephone calls were now coming daily from England. He decided to travel there, but his ‘tour’ came to an abrupt halt in the industrial heartland around Birmingham, because of the great demand for his services. Here he went on to provide cures for everything from blindness to disability.
Danny stresses, however, that not every case is successful. “Our Lord, the greatest healer of all time, did not cure everyone.” Danny treats all illness. “But it is important a person visits their own GP first and follow his or her advice if they are ill.”
Danny says that healing doesn’t run in his family. But does being the seventh son of a seventh son make him tempted to have seven kids to carry on the gift? “I have five boys but no more! Ha ha!” Danny says there is a fee of £25 or €35 to cover hotels or travelling expenses, “However anyone who has no money is welcome.” You can contact him at [email protected].
Strange Old Traditional Cures
In times past, if you couldn’t see a healer, there were home remedies. Many people still swear by these and you can make them at home. Obviously, this is not medical advice. This is just a retelling of old cures that were thought to work in days gone by.
Poitín has always been seen as a “cure-all.” It was used as a cure for muscle problems and rheumatism: it was rubbed on the skin to warm the muscles in question. It is still used today on sick calves. Customs officers have been known in the past to turn a blind eye to poitín, saying “sure there would be a lot of sickness in Ireland if we took it away.”
Boil barley in water for a few hours. Strain the liquid and drink it. (It can be kept in the fridge).
Leave a coin in plain view somewhere that people will pass by. The coin will disappear. Within a couple of days of that the wart will also be gone. If you ever see a public place with many coins around it now you know why! Another cure is to rub a potato, cut in half, on the wart and then put the two halves back together and bury the potato in the garden.
It is said that you get the cure of the burn by licking a lizard backwards three times! So if you know someone with bad burns, then lick a lizard backwards three times, wait a day, then lick the burns of the victim.
Pass a child with whooping cough under and over a donkey seven times. The donkey must have a red string tied to its throat. Also you can get bread and milk from a woman whose married surname was the same as her maiden one, and eat it.
Make a poultice of wet white bread and place it on the rash, with a bandage tied around it overnight. By morning the rash will be gone.
Boil water and soak white bread in it. Wrap it over the infected area and secure it with a bandage. Change it three times a day. By the second day you will have relief.
Find a burr tree. Cut three small equally-sized bits off it and wrap them up in tissue and tape and carry them with you for a few days until the haemorrhoids are gone. A Sligo-based cure is to run around a holly bush three times and then spit on the holly bush.
For sore and cracked nipples, put a large cabbage leaf inside the bra and leave for a few hours…the skin will be cooled by the end of the day.
Eat warm stewed pears for three to four days for breakfast; it will break the worst of chesty phlegm going.
Make a poultice from wet white bread mashed up, plus baking soda and milk. Apply to the infected area and bandage it until morning.
Carry a wine bottle cork in your pocket all times and you will see relief within a month. A cork under your bed also is said to cure leg cramps.
Chest Ailments in Babies
If you have a “chesty” baby, then place brown paper smeared in butter on the baby’s chest.