'Honourable Lady Gregory,
'I, Bridget Ruane, wish to inform you that there is in the Oratory in London one of the Fathers, a Saint. I do not know his name; but there was a young woman of the name of Meara; she got two falls and could get no cure. She went to London and found this holy man; and he sent her back to Gort, here to me, and I cured her. If your honourable Ladyship could make him out, it would be a wonderful thing, and a great happiness to many a weary heart, and the great God would have it in store for you and your son. May you enjoy many happy days together is the prayer of your humble servant,
'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? May be it was God gave it to him, and may be it was the other people. He was a fine strong man; and he weighed fifteen stone; and he went to England, and there he cured all the world, so that the doctors had no way of living. So one time he got in 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 good many children home to the world, and never lost one, or one of the women that bore them.'
I asked her to teach me some of her fragments of Druids' wisdom, the healing power of herbs. So she came another day, and brought some herbs, and sorted them out on a table, and said: '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 threepenny 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 [tansy]; it s very good for the heart—boiled like the others.
'This is Athair-talav, the father of all herbs (wild camomile). This is very hard to pull; and when you go for it, you must have a black-handled knife. And whatever way the wind is when you begin to cut it, if it changes while you're cutting it, you'll lose your mind. And if you are 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 at one time, and a voice, an enchanted voice, called out: "Don't cut that if you are 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.
'And this is Camal buidhe (loose-strife), that will keep all bad things away.
'This is Cuineal Muire (mullein), the blessed candle of our Lady.
'This is the Fearaban (water-buttercup); and it's good for every bone of your body.
'This is Dub-cosac (trichomanes), 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 were 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 he 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 these 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 afternoon 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.'
A neighbour whom I asked about Bridget Ruane and her brother said:—'Some people call her "Biddy Early" (after a famous witch-doctor). She has done a good many cures. Her brother was away for a while, and it is from him she got her knowledge. I believe it's before sunrise she gathers the herbs; any way no one ever saw her gathering them. She has saved many a woman from being brought away when her child was born by whatever she does; and she told me herself that one night when she was going to the lodge gate to attend the woman there, three magpies came before her and began roaring into her mouth to try and drive her back.
Another neighbour, who has herself some reputation as an herb-doctor, says:—'Monday is a good day for pulling herbs, or Tuesday—not Sunday: a Sunday cure is no cure. The Cosac is good for the heart. There was Mahon in Gort—one time his heart was wore to a silk thread, and it cured him. And the Slanugad (ribgrass) is very good: it will take away lumps. You must go down where it is 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 in, and put it on the lump. The Lus-mor is the only one that's good to bring back children that are "away."'
Another authority says:—'Dandelion is good for the heart; and when Father Quinn was curate here, he had it rooted up in all the fields about to drink it; and see what a fine man he is. The wild parsnip (Meacan-buidhe) is good for the gravel; and for heart-beat 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. 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.'
But an old man says there are no such healers now as there were in his youth:—'The best herb-doctor I ever knew was Connolly up at Kilbecanty. He knew every herb that grew in the earth. It is said he was away with the fairies one time; and when I saw him he had the two thumbs turned in; and it was said it 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 place. 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, and had the skin scalded off him, and that Dr. Lynch could do nothing for, he cured. He boiled down herbs with a bit of lard, and after that was rubbed in three times, he was well.
'And Cahill that was deaf, he cured with the Riv mar seala, that herb in the potatoes that milk comes out of.'
Farrell says:—'The Bainne bo blathan (primrose) 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.' For the Lus-mor is good to bring back children that are 'away,' and belongs to the class of herbs consecrated to the uses of magic, apart from any natural healing power. The Druids are said to have taken their knowledge of these properties from the magical teachers of the Chaldeans; but anyhow the belief in them lives on in Ireland and in other Celtic countries to this day.
A man from East Galway says: 'To bring anyone back from being with the fairies, you should get the leaves of the Lus-mor, and give them to him to drink. And if he only got a little touch from them, and had some complaint in him at the same time, that makes him sick like, that will bring him back. But if he is altogether in the fairies, then it won't bring him back, for he'll know what it is, and he'll refuse to drink it.
'There was a man I know, Andy Hegarty, had a little chap—a little summach of four years—and one day Andy was away to sell a pig in the market at Mount Bellew, and the mother was away some place with the dinner for the men in the field; and the little chap was in the house with the grandmother, and he sitting by the fire. And he said to the grandmother: "Put down a skillet of potatoes for me, and an egg." And she said: "I will not; for what do you want with them? you're just after eating." And he said: "Take care but I'll throw you over the roof of that house." And then he said: "Andy"—that was his father—"is after selling the pig to a jobber, and the jobber has given it back to him again; and he'll be at no loss by that, for he'll get a half-a-crown more at the end." So when the grandmother heard that, she wouldn't stop in the house with him, but ran out—and he only four years old. When the mother came back, and was told about it, she went out and got some of the leaves of the Lus-mor, and she brought them in and put them on the child; and he went away, and their own child came back again. They didn't see him going, or the other coming; but they knew it by him.'
And a Galway woman, who has been in England says: 'I was delicate one time myself, and I lost my walk; and one of the neighbours told my mother it wasn't myself that was there. But my mother said she'd soon find that out; for she'd tell me she was going to get a herb that would cure me; and if it was myself, I'd want it; but if it was another, I'd be against it. So she came in and said she to me: "I'm going to Dangan to look for the Lus-mor, that will soon cure you." And from that day I gave her no peace till she'd go to Dangan and get it; so she knew I was all right. She told me all this afterwards.'
The man from East Galway says: 'The herbs they cure with, there's some that's natural, and you could pick them at all times of the day.'
'Sea-grass' is sometimes useful as a natural and sometimes as an occult cure. One who has tried it and other herbs, says: 'Indeed the porter did me good, and good that I'd hardly like to tell you, not to make a scandal. Did I drink too much of it? Not at all. But this long time I am feeling a worm in my side that is as big as an eel, and there's more of them in it than that. And I was told to put seagrass to it; and I put it to the side the other day; and whether it was that or the porter I don't know, but there's some of them gone out of it.
'Garblus—how did you hear of that? That is the herb for things that have to do with the fairies. And when you 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 with 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.
'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 on her, the foal would go the same way.'
And a neighbour of hers confirms this, and says: '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 fairies came in—she had no right to be sitting up so late: they don't like that—and he told her it was time 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 she was safe, for the cock is blessed.'
Old Bridget Ruane will not do any more cures by charms or by simples, or 'bring children home to the world' any more. For she 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.' 1900.
Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.
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