Friars and Priest Cures ~ Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland
Lady Gregory’s Work’s:
Friars and Priest Cures
An old woman begging at the door one day spoke of the cures done in her early days by the Friars at Esker to the north of our county. I asked if she had ever been there, and she burst into this praise of it:
“Esker is a grand place; this house and the house of Lough Cutra and your own house at Roxborough, to put the three together it wouldn’t be as big as it; it is as big as the whole town of Gort, in its own way; you wouldn’t have it walked in a month.
“To go there you would get cured of anything unless it might be the stroke of the Fool that does be going with them; it’s best not be talking of it. The clout he would give you, there is no cure for it.
“Three barrels there are with water, and to see the first barrel boiling it is certain you will get a cure. A big friar will come out to meet us that is as big as three. Fat they do be that they can’t hardly get through the door. Water there does be rushing down; you to stoop you would hear it talking; you would be afraid of the water.
“One well for the rich and one well for the common; blue blinds to the windows like little bars of timber without. You can see where the friars are buried down dead to the end of the world.
“They give out clothes to the poor, bedclothes and day clothes; it is the beautifullest place from heaven out; summer houses and pears; glass in the walls around.”
I have been told:
The Esker friars used to do great cures–Father Callaghan was the best of them. They used to do it by reading, but what it was they read no one knew, some secret thing.
There was a girl brought from Calre one time that had lost her wits, and she tied on a cart with ropes. And she was brought to Father Callaghan and he began reading over her, and then he made a second reading, and at the end of that, he bid them unloose the ropes, and when they did she got up quite quiet, but very shy looking and ashamed, and would not wait for the cart but walked away.
Father Callaghan was with a man near this one time, one Tully, and they were talking about the faeries and the man said he didn’t believe in them at all. And Father Callaghan called him to the door and put up his fingers and bade him look out through them, and there he saw hundreds and hundreds of the smallest little men he ever saw and they hurling and killing one another.
The friars are gone and there are missioners come in their place and all they would do for you is to bless holy water, and as long as you would keep it, it would never get bad.
My daughter, Mrs. Meehan, that lives there below, was very bad after her first baby being born, and she wasted away and the doctors could do nothing for her. My husband went to Biddy Early for her, but she said, “Mother for daughter, father for son” and she could do nothing for her because I didn’t go. But I had promised God and the priest I would never go to her, and so I kept to my word. But Mrs. Meehan was so bad she kept to the bed, and one day one of the neighbours said I had a right to bring her to the friars at Esker. And he said, “It’s today you should be in it, Monday, for a Monday gospel is the best, the gospel of the Holy Ghost.” So I got the cart after and put her in it, and she lying down, and we had to rest and to take out the horse at Lenane, and we got to Craughwell for the night. And the man of the house where we got lodging for the night said the priest that was doing cures now was Father Blake and he showed us the way to Esker. And when we got there he was in the chapel, and my daughter was brought in and laid on a form, and I went out and waited with the cart, and within half an hour the chapel door opened, and my daughter walked out that was carried in. And she got up on the cart herself. It was a gospel had been read over her. And I said, “I wish you had asked a gospel to bring with you home.” And after that we saw a priest on the other side of a dry stone wall, and he learning three children. And she asked a gospel of him, and he said, “what you had today will do you, and I haven’t one made up at this time.” So she came home well. She went another time there, when she had something and asked for a gospel, and Father Blake said, “We’re out of doing it now, but as you were with us before, I’ll do it for you.” And she wanted to give him £1 but he said, “If I took it I would do nothing for you.” So she said, “I’ll give it to the other man,” and so she did.
I often saw Father Callaghan in Esker and the people brought to him in carts. Many cures he did, but he was prevented often. And I knew another priest did many cures, but he was carried away himself after, to a lunatic asylum. And when he came back, he would do no more.
There was a little chap had but seven years, and he was doing no good, but whistling and twirling, and the father went to Father Callaghan, that was just after coming out of the gaol when he got there, for doing cures; it is a gaol of their own they had. The man asked him to do a cure on his son, and Father Callaghan said, “I wouldn’t like him to be brought here, but I will go some day to your house; I will go with my dog and my hound as if fowling, and I will bring no sign of a car or a carriage at all.” So he came one day to the house and knocked at the door. And when he came in he said to the father, “Go out and bring me in a bundle of sally rods that will be as thin as rushes, and divide them into six small parts,” he said, “and twist every one of the six parts together.” And when that was done, he took the little bundle of rods, and he beat the child on the head with them one after another till they were in flitters and the child roaring. Then he laid the child in the father’s arms, and no sooner there than it fell asleep, and Father Callaghan said to the father, “What you have now is your own, but it Wasn’t your own that was in it before.”
There used to be swarms of people going to Esker, and Father Callaghan would say in Irish. “Let the people in the Sheogue stand at one side,” and he would go over and read over them what he had to read.
There was an uncle of my own was working at Ballycluan the time the Quakers were making a place there, and it was the habit when the summer was hot to put the beds out into the barn. And one night he was sleeping in the barn, and something came and lay on him in the bed; he could not see what it was, but it was about the size of the foal of a horse. And the next night it came again and the next, and lay on him, and he put out his left hand to push it from him, and it went from him quite quiet, but if it did, when he rose in the morning, he was not able to stretch out his hand, and he was a long time like that and then his father brought him to the friars at Esker, and within twelve minutes one of them had him cured, reading over him, but I’m not sure was it Father Blake or Father Callaghan.
But it was not long after that till he fell off his cart as if he was knocked off it, and broke his leg. The coppinger had his leg cured, but he did not live long, for the third thing happened was, he threw up his heart’s blood and died.
For if you are cured of one thing that comes on you like that, another thing will come on you in its place, or if not on you, on some other person, maybe some one in your own family. It is very often I noticed that to happen.
The priests in old times used to have the power to cure strokes and madness and the like, but the Pope and the Bishops have that stopped; they said that the people will get out of witchcraft little by little.
Priests can do cures if they will, and it’s not out of the Gospel they do them, but out of a book specially for the purpose, so I believe. But something falls on them or on the things belonging to them, if they do it too often.
But Father Keeley for certain did cures. It was he cured Mike Madden’s neck, when everyone else had failed–so they had–though Mike has never confessed to it.
The priests can do cures surely, and surely they can put harm on you. But they wouldn’t do that unless they’d be sure a man would deserve it. One time at that house you see up there beyond, Roche’s, there was a wedding and there was some fighting came out of it, and bad blood. And Father Boyle was priest at that time, and he was vexed and he said he’d come and have stations at the house, and they should all be reconciled.
So he came on the day he appointed and the house was settled like a chapel and some of the people there was bad blood between came, but not all of them, and Roche himself was not there. And when the stations were over Father Boy]e got his book, and he read the names of those he had told to be there, and they answered, like a schoolmaster would call out the names of his scholars. And when Roche’s name was read and he not there to answer, with the dint of madness Father Boyle quenched the candles on the altar, and he said this house and all that be-long to it will go away to nothing, like the froth that’s going down the river.
And if you look at the house now you’ll see the way it is, not a stable or an outhouse left standing, and not one of the whole family left in it but Roche, and he paralysed. So they can do both harm and good.
There was a man out in the mountains used to do cures, and one day on a little road the priest met him, and stopped his car and began to abuse him for the cures he was doing.
And then the priest went on, and when he had gone a bit of the road his horse fell down. And he came back and called to the man and said, “Come help me now, for this is your doing, to make the horse fall.” And the man said, “It’s none of my doing, but it’s the doing of my master, for he was vexed with the way you spoke. But go back now and you’ll find the horse as he was before.” So he went back and the horse had got up and was standing, and nothing wrong with him at all. And the priest said no more against him from that day.
My son is lame this long time; a fine young man he was, about seventeen years–and a pain came in his knee all of a moment. I tried doctors with him and I brought him to the friars in Loughrea, and one of them read a gospel over him, and the pain went after that, but the knee grew out to be twisted like. The friar said it was surely he had been overheated. A little old maneen he was, very ancient. I knew well it was the drochuilthat did it; there by the side of the road he was sitting when he got the frost.
There was a needlewoman used to be sewing late on a Saturday night, and sometimes if there was a button or a thread wanting she would put it in, even if it was Sunday morning; and she lived in Loughrea that is near your own home. And one day she went to the loch to get a can of water, and it was in her hand. And in a minute a blast of wind came that rose all the dust and the straws and knocked herself. And more than that, her mouth was twisted around to her poll.
There were some people saw her, and they brought her home, and within a week her mother brought her to the priest. And when he saw her he said, “You are the best mother ever there for if you had left her nine days without bringing her to was me, all I could do would not have taken off her what is on her.” He asked then up to what time did she work on the Saturday night, and she said up to one or two o’clock, and sometimes on a Sunday morning. So he took off what was on her, and bade her do that no more, and she got well, but to the last there was a sort of a twisted turn in her mouth.
That woman now I am telling you of was an aunt of my own.
Father Nolan has a kind heart, and he’d do cures. But it’s hard to get them, unless it would be for some they had a great interest in. But Father McConaghy is so high in himself, he wouldn’t do anything of that sort. When Johnny Dunne was bad, two years ago, and all but given over, he begged and prayed Father McConaghy to do it for him. And he refused and said, “You must commit yourself to the mercy of Almighty God,” and Johnny Dunne, the poor man, said, “It’s a hard thing for a man that has a house full of children to be left to the mercy of Almighty God.”
But there’s some that can help. My father told me long ago that my sister was lying sick for a long time, and one night a beggarman came to the door and asked for shelter. And he said, “I can’t give you shelter, with my daughter lying sick in the room.” “Let me in, it’s best for you,” says he. And in the morning he went away, and the sick girl rose up, as well as ever she was before.
Father Flaherty, when he was a curate, could open the eyes that were all but closed in death, but he wouldn’t have such things spoken of now. Losses they may have, but that’s not all. whatever evil thing they raise, they may not have strength after to put it down again, and so they may be lost themselves in the end.
Surely they can do cures, and they can tell sometimes the hour you’d go. There was a girl I knew was sick, and when the priest came and saw her, he said, “Between the two Masses tomorrow she’ll be gone,” and so she was. And those that saw her after, said that it was the face of her mother that died before that was on the bed, and that it was her mother had taken her to where she was.
And Mike Barrett surely saw a man brought in a cart to Father Curley’s house when he lived in Cloon, and carried upstairs to him, and he walked down out of the house again, sound and well. But they must lose something when they do cures–either their health or something else, though many say no one did so many cures as Father Fitzgerald when he was a curate. Father Airlie one time was called in to Glover’s house where he was lying sick, and did a cure on him. And he had a cow at the time that was in calf. And soon after some man said to him “The cow will be apt soon to calve,” though it wasn’t very near the time. And Father Airlie said “She’ll never live to do that.” And sure enough in a couple of days after she was dead.