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Today, Ireland’s modernity – at least around the cities – is comparable to the rest of Europe. While the beautiful landscapes remain, the days of struggling by on farms and eight-hour, winding cross-country drives between major cities are, largely, a thing of the past. Old habits die hard, though, especially in a country where some traditions are truly revered. Others are seen with tongue firmly in cheek, most commonly referenced in an exaggerated accent, and with a nod to the exalted ‘Irish mammy’. Nevertheless, many still partake in these ‘cures’. Here are our favourites…
Obviously this particular remedy doesn’t date back all that long, but it has become strangely prevalent in Irish culture. Pop open a can of the branded fizzy pop, let it stand for a while, and then sup it down and allow it to cure any stomach ailment you care to mention. Apparently.
How about a lucky person? The Irish are infamous for their large families, something that’s only really lessened in the generation having children today. Ancient beliefs held that the seventh son of a seventh son (in each case with no women born in between) held special powers, including the ability to cure diseases.
Whiskey (the ‘E’ is important as it differentiates Irish toddy from the Scottish stuff), has long been used as an unlikely cure in Ireland, typically for the winter flu. While the name sounds like it’s simply heated up, hot whiskey is most commonly a shot or two of the spirit in the bottom of a glass, topped up with hot water, lemon and cloves. It probably clears the sinuses (we’re not sure it does any more than that), but it certainly tastes good and is a warming drink to enjoy in mid-winter.
A concept that’s spread at least as far as the UK, it’s a widely-held belief that dock leaves counteract stings received from nettles. Many argue the effect is to do with the contrasting pH of the leaves and nettles. Not so; studies show it has more to do with the moisture of the sap released by rubbing the leaves against the skin. But it works, and that’s all that matters, right?
Made in England but making most of its sales in Scotland and Ireland, Buckfast is a sugary, caffeine-laden fortified wine slopped back on particularly messy nights out, and guaranteed to give you a hangover so bad it might prompt some kind of reverse nostalgia. Oddly, many Irish pensioners also have a bottle tucked away in a cupboard somewhere, and swear a small glass of the cough-syrup like oddity – as was stated in the original advertising – is good for ‘health and blood’.
While many places argue for the benefits of honey when it comes to throat discomfort, in parts of Ireland it is used as an ancient cure for mouth ulcers, sometimes in combination with granular salt. There are also stories of honey being applied to boils and, in combination with buttermilk, to treat eczema in children.
Whether it’s garlic, onion or both, sticking potent vegetables around the feet is said to be one of the most potent ways of battling a cold, so much so that a national paper published instructions on how best to do so as recently as 2016. They recommend onion in the base of the foot, wrapped in cling film and left overnight, for what it’s worth. One for the singletons.
Long-standing tradition says that a cup if what’s known locally as tae gains extra healing power for those feeling a bit weak, especially when a huge amount of sugar is dumped in it. Which kind of makes sense when you think about it. That, and the national love of tea being extended in any way at all is usually embraced in Ireland.
Stop sniggering at the back. Yes, we’re well aware the world thinks the Irish live on nothing but potato, whiskey and Guinness (false, obviously, on all counts). But there is an old wives’ tale that suggests a burn can be soothed by cutting a raw potato in half and applying to the scolded area. So there it is.
Seriously, stop sniggering. Guinness has been shown to reduce the chance of blood clots in a study we swear we didn’t pay for. Traditionally, it’s long been believed to be good for pregnant women (in small quantities) due to a high quantity of iron. This is definitely a myth – Guinness doesn’t have a particularly high iron content – but one that’s still quite widely believed.