‘The strange world of Irish folk cures, herbal remedies and faith healers’, is the headline on the RTE website
The reporter notes, ‘many used folk cures alongside the conventional medical treatments of the day for the treatment of the most common and non-serious ailments.’ Indeed they did, and sometimes the most unexpected of people went to a person who was reputed to have a ‘cure’ for a complaint.
A friend recalls growing up in a stern Ulster home in the 1950s, a no-nonsense place where rational and the scientific thought held sway. Until one day his mother decided it was necessary to do something about the warts that had appeared on both of his hands. His mother took him to an old countrywoman, who asked them their concern and then washed her own hands carefully before taking the boy’s hand in hers.
‘Do you know, it worked! The warts disappeared and never troubled me again. Now, perhaps they would have disappeared of their own accord. Perhaps the virus that had brought them had burned out’.
That’s the thing about cures, proof becomes a slippery concept.
I remember sitting in a car listening to a conversation among a group of Church of Ireland women.
‘Didn’t his mother have a cure for eczema?
‘She did, but I don’t think she passed it on.’
‘Didn’t your mother-in-law have a cure?’
‘Her cure was for burns.’
‘I remember a man who had the cure for shingles. I went to see him. He sprinkled water on and healed me. Some people just pray to heal someone.’
‘It’s a pity the cures were not passed on.’
‘I think the son or daughter need to want to have the cure for it to be passed on to them.’
I remember feeling a distinct sense of unease while listening to the exchange.
Perhaps it was that my English rationalism rebelled against any notion that physical healing could come from what would have been described as “quackery” by those in the community in which I grew up.
There had been momentary temptation that day to suggest that some conditions had a psychosomatic dimension and that the intervention of the ‘healer’ was no more than a placebo which had the effect of making people feel better in themselves, or perhaps to have suggested that some conditions were going to clear up, anyway, and that any cure that was offered was irrelevant. But there had been a sense that my words would have been heard and ignored.
The RTE report notes that some people still resort to the ‘cures.’ There are probably far more who do so than would ever admit to a reporter.