In renewing my interest in Lady Augusta Gregory’s works, and since I haven’t had the time to write up anything new, I’m going to include another chapter from her “Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland”. This chapter focuses on traditional remedies and charms used by healers in Ireland around the turn of the 20th century.
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 English”.
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 camomile), 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 sianlus (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.