PULLOUGH, Ireland – For two hours on a Sunday morning, they come to the pub with everything that makes them sick. A little boy with a rash. Farmer suffering from ringworm. A man who has a throat infection.
They’re here to see Joe Gallagher, the owner of this Canary Yellow pub, nestled along a canal in the small Irish village of Pullo in County Offaly.
He believes he has a cure as the seventh son of his family.
“I’ve been on this my whole life,” said Mr. Gallagher, 75, as he took a deep pull at his cigarette. As he explained how he healed—by placing a hand on the affected area, signing the cross, and reciting a few prayers—he inhaled the ribbon of smoke that swirled around his face.
Mr Gallagher is one of hundreds of men and women across Ireland who have healers, or “cures”, an approach to health care that combines home remedies with a sprinkling of mysticism, superstition, religion and magic.
It is part of a belief in folk medicine, a belief in charms and healers that is still a way of life for many in Ireland, if a fading one.
Those who have the cure are believed to have a seventh son, such as Mr. Gallagher, a birth order that was long thought to confer special powers.
Others are the keepers of family customs that range from rituals, prayers and charms to herbal tinctures offered as remedies for everything from burns and sprains to rashes and coughs.
People have been looking for Mr. Gallagher since childhood. “I think you should have faith,” he said, acknowledging that the process doesn’t always work. “I wouldn’t say I can do miracles.”
For Mr. Gallagher, a former monk who said his religious order was accepting the cure, the practice is a deeply religious one.
“You have to put your heart and soul into this, and you’re asking God to help you with this thing,” he said.
For others, the cure relies less on a deeper Christian faith and more on mysteries handed down through centuries of oral tradition.
Bart Gibbons, 57, who owns a grocery store in the village of Drumshambo, County Leitrim, has a treatment for warts that were passed on to him from his father and his father’s father.
It involves taking a bundle of rhubarb and saying a combination of prayers over the affected area. Then, he suppresses plants like reeds. The belief is that when they decompose, the warts go away.
Mr. Gibbons did not plan to continue treatment after his father’s death, but a woman came to his door asking for treatment to clear his warts before the day of the wedding. He said he would try. It worked, he said, and people have been coming since, some from hundreds of miles away.
He said it would be wrong to receive payment for treatment, and the idea that payment is taboo, some experts say, is rooted in tradition. Mr Gibbons described the “vessel” of his cure. “I’m not holy,” he said. “And I don’t pretend to be.”
In Mr. Gibbons’ view, the cure is about faith rather than religion. “If people firmly believe that this happened, I think so does your body,” he said.
Attributing positive results to treatment with something like the placebo effect makes sense to Ronald Moore, an associate professor of public health at University College Dublin who has spent years researching folk remedies and who stresses the efficacy of these practices. There is little scientific evidence for this.
But that doesn’t mean the medical community completely dismisses the potential benefits some doctors have been known to send their patients for treatment, often for skin issues or other minor problems.
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Dr. Moore said, “On the one hand modern practices pooh-pooh it as reprehensible and degrading and reprehensible.” “But really, and in fact, they use it.”
While many treatises with a religious element have been developed in a country with an overwhelmingly Catholic majority, the tradition – the diversity of which still exists in many cultures around the world – is ancient.
“Cures and attractions go far beyond the established church, it predates Christianity,” said Dr. Moore. “It’s essentially a pagan system.”
But there are cases of priests who have a cure and others who send people for them, although the Catholic Church is “more ambitious than that”. Dr. Moore said.
The cure and charm themselves are often shrouded in secrecy, but community knowledge of who has the cure is widely known, and in modern Ireland, a global technology hub, it’s not hard to find someone when you need it. Is. Even in Dublin, a cure is not far from a phone call or text.
“It’s the whole community-based element of folk medicine that’s so important,” said Barbre née Floin, Associate Professor of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin.
“The overall interconnection of our physical health and our mental health and our emotional health and our spiritual health – it is something that is built into so many folk medicinal cures,” said Dr. née Floin, “which modern medicine again, all For its miracles, may be missed.”
Most of the doctors Dr. Ni Floin sees her treatment as a system that runs alongside traditional medicine, not against it, and she said she knows of skeptics who have turned to the cure.
“That we don’t believe in miracles doesn’t mean we don’t hope for them,” she said.
Yet, there are many instances when people fall prey to the sick and charge a hefty price for miracle cures. “Folk medicine can attract charlatans and chancers of all kinds,” Dr. Ni Floin said.
Sometimes, there are multiple treatments under one roof.
Patricia and Peter Quinn, who own a small farm in County Offaly, both have their own customs of treatment.
Mr. Quinn has a treatment for warts that his father passed on.
To treat ringworm, Mrs. Quinn dips cotton wool in holy water and applies the prayer to the affected area according to the prayer her grandmother taught her. After the third treatment, she throws cotton and water into the fire.
On a recent morning, Mrs. Quinn, a woman, treated her ringworm with a plate of cupcakes. “Everyone appreciates you doing this,” she said.
As Irish families became smaller, seventh sons became increasingly rare. But Andrew Keane, 37, who lives in County Mayo, is one. When he was a child, his parents were told by another seventh son that he had a cure for ringworm, and he showed the boy the ritual. His mother still has vivid memories of Andrew as a young boy reaching out to little hands and praying for a cure.
In their farming community, where ringworm is common in cattle and easily accessible to people, it was a popular treatment. Now, with her two kids, getting treated is a part of her everyday routine, and she never really guessed it.
“I’d feel bad if I stayed,” said Mr Keane, who after working as a builder deals with people in the evenings. “I feel like I was given this gift. And why wouldn’t I use it?”
Mr. Keane also treats animals. On this particular night, he visited neighbors, 54-year-old Ein McLaughlin, and her husband, 55-year-old Chris McLaughlin, who had two dogs with ringworm.
“I thought it was worth a shot because the dogs were not improving,” Mr McLaughlin said, adding that they had already gone to the vet.
Mr. Keane trotted the floor three times, made the sign of the cross, and put his hands on the backs of the Highland Westies, saying Hail Mary.
As soon as she saw him perform, Mrs. McLaughlin said she had grown up with a belief in the cure. But he worries that the values may be lost in the coming generation.
“It’s something,” said Mrs. McLaughlin. “You’ll never be able to Google.”