Tag Archives: Ireland

‘The Cholera Manuscript’: A collection of recipes and cures from Co Limerick

By Dorothy Cashman

Several years ago a manuscript collection of recipes came up for auction in Dublin. At the time, Ireland was in the throes of an IMF bailout and funding across all cultural institutions was grinding to a halt. This was the background to my suggestion to the National Library of Ireland that they should consider purchasing this manuscript to add to their collection.

Several things stood out about it, not least a nota bene attached to a recipe for White Current Wine, which for obvious reasons had particular resonance, and lent a touch of gallows humour to the initial reading of the contents (Fig. 1).[1] There was very little to grasp onto in terms of family history, other than an assertion that a block of the recipes were taken ‘from Lord Buckingham’s cook’, that reference to Mrs Hawksworth in the nota bene and the name ‘C. O’Carroll’ on the inside flyleaf. A trade label indicated that the slim book had been purchased from James Draper of Crampton Court in Dublin, bookbinders and paper merchants who coincidentally were appointed stationers to the Bank of Ireland in 1802.[2] The auctioneer verbally indicated that the manuscript was from Co Limerick.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105 .

The entries span twenty years, 1811 to 1831. The reference to Lord Buckingham’s cook, John Simpson, has added resonance for Irish readers, historically and in the present. Lord Buckingham, the first marquess, was twice lord lieutenant of Ireland, briefly in 1782/3 and subsequently from 1787 to 1789. In this latter period he created, by royal warrant, the Order of St Patrick.[3] The great ballroom of Dublin Castle was renamed St Patrick’s Hall at the time of the first investiture and is known as such to this day. It is the setting for the Irish State’s most significant ceremonial occasion, the inauguration of the President of Ireland, and where Ireland’s most honoured visitors are entertained.

Buckingham was also connected to Ireland through his marriage to Mary Nugent, daughter of the 1st Viscount Clare, and died two years after this manuscript was commenced, predeceased by a year by his wife. There is no reference to the fact that the recipes are from John Simpson’s published cookbook itself,[4] from which one could infer that the reflected glory from the provenance of these recipes arises as much from the fact of Lord Buckingham being the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as it does from being a marquess on a distant shore.

Mrs Hawksworth, the other name accorded some weight by the scribe (Fig. 2) may be traceable to John Hawksworth, agent to Lord Castlecoote. One of the estates held by a junior branch of the Coote family through to the early twentieth century was in the townland of Mountcoote, Co Limerick, lending some credence to the intimation that the manuscript was of Limerick origin.  Interesting and amusing as the interjections and references to John Simpson and the chief bookkeeper of the Bank of Ireland were, it was the unusual assembly of four remedies for cholera that caught the attention, to the extent that I mentally referenced the collection as ‘the cholera manuscript’ thereafter.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105

Anglophone Ireland was an avid consumer of household and childcare books produced in Britain. There was also a healthy Irish market in reprinting popular British books; the copyright laws did not extend until the turn of the nineteenth century. Information of a domestic nature contained in gazettes, magazines, circulars and other printed material was quickly absorbed into the narrative in Ireland and this collection is evidence of this, notably so in the entries regarding the deadly disease. Cholera morbus is recorded as arriving in Limerick in June 1832.[5]

Tellingly, the recording of the first cure for cholera is located between a cure dated April 1831 and another dated August of the same year. This predated the spread of the disease from Britain to Ireland, indicating a heightened awareness in Ireland of impending disaster. This first entry is a close unattributed transcription of one appearing in The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany of 1831.[6] By March 1832 the disease had struck Belfast and Dublin, and between April and June it was ‘wrecking destruction in Ennis, Limerick and Tullamore’.[7]

Subsequent entries concerning cholera are positioned some time after October 1831, indicating perhaps a growing sense of panic in the household. The first of these, an ‘effectual cure for the cholera’, is transcribed as published in both The Lancet and The Isis: A London Weekly Publication.[8] The second is a cure ‘sent by Dr Shanfer from Warsaw to the Prussian Government’, while the final one is via the ‘Hon. Mrs Knox’, attributed to the Asiatic Journal ‘published nearly two years ago’. The disease having progressed through the country, normal domestic life resumes with the next entry, to take out stains or spots upon silk.

The National Library purchased the manuscript at auction. It fits neatly into their collection as being representative of what appears to be the narrative of one of the ‘less grand’, if not minor households in Ireland. Although relatively anonymous, it is noteworthy with respect to all of its quirks and sotto voce commentary, and recording of the passage of the dreaded cholera through the medium of possible cures.  Sufficiently noteworthy that they decided that it (MS 42,105) would be the first of the household manuscripts to be digitized. [9]

[1] The Irish state stepped in to secure Bank of Ireland in the form of a state guarantee in 2009.

[2] Mary Pollard, A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800 (London: Bibliographical Society, 2000), 168.

[3] The highest chivalric order for Ireland, established February 1783. The last peer appointed was in 1922. Since the foundation of the Irish state the order is officially dormant, as it was never abolished.

[4] John Simpson, A Complete System of Cookery (London: W. Stewart, 1806)

[5]Historical Records of the Existence and Progress of Cholera in the City of Limerick During the Months of May and June (Limerick: Edward Deane, 1832).

[6] The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Vol. 5 New Series May-August 1831, (London, Parbury, Allen, and Co.)  The recipe appears to have been copied from Thomas J. Graham, M.D., Modern Domestic Medicine, A Popular Treatise, (London: published for the author, 1827).

[7] T. De Bhaldraithe, ed., Cín Lae Amhlaoibh  (Cork: Mercier Press, 1979), 135. Sligo town suffered the highest number of fatalities in Ireland or Britain, fifteen hundred in a six-week period.

[8] The Lancet, 1831-32 (London, Mills, Jowett, and Mills), 216; The Isis: A London Weekly Publication,[iv] ed. Eliza Sharples, 1832, No 5, Vol. I, 74.

[9] The manuscript is un-paginated, the first cure for cholera morbus may be found on page sixty-four of the digitized copy. In its collections the NLI has the most extensive collection of archival material relating to Irish culinary history in public ownership, and the author would like to record her gratitude for their unfailing support in this regard.


Nursing and Nutrition: Treating the Influenza in 1918-9

By Ida Milne

Monster representing the influenza virus. E. Noble, c. 1918. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This season’s higher than normal influenza cases has inevitably drawn comparisons with the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the worst in modern history.  It killed more than 40 million people, according  to the World Health Organisation.  It punctured medical doctors’ newfound confidence in the power of bacteriology to fight infectious disease. In Ireland, it killed at least 23,000 people (the number of certified deaths from influenza and excess pneumonia) and infected about 800,000 people, one fifth of the population. Entire communities fell silent as it passed through.

Laboratories churned out vaccines, but the general consensus was these vaccines, made from bacteria suspected to cause influenza like illness such as Pfeiffer’s bacillus (haemophilus influenza), were ineffective.   Physicians threw everything in their medical bag at it, trying desperately, and in vain,  to find a cure for a disease they found baffling. Ultimately, doctors came to realise that the most effective treatment was good nursing – which included nutritious food – and strong liquor.

From a school journal The Clongownian, 1919. By kind permission of the editor, Declan O’Keeffe.

There was little consensus amongst the medical profession on what medicine worked best. Some suggested quinine and grains of aspirin to reduce fever and grains of opium for sleeplessness.  Calomel (mercurous chloride)  was liberally prescribed, as doctors then were very keen on keeping the bowels open.  Strychnine, which we tend to view now as the villain’s poison of choice in James Bond movies, was injected as a stimulant.

D.W. McNamara, a young house doctor in Dublin’s Mater Hospital during the crisis, later wrote that one of the popular treatments in the hospital was an injection of camphor in olive oil, which he described as ‘the very nadir of therapeutic bolony’. Instructed by his seniors to use it, he felt guilty that he had inflicted further pain and suffering on the very ill.  Some doctors, especially his older colleagues, favoured brandy or whiskey ‘in heroic doses’.  Alcohol had, he considered, a good deal to recommend it, as it was ‘probably no less worthless than any of the other nostrums, and at least its customers had a merry spin to Paradise’.

The demand for whiskey was so strong that some flu-stricken communities wrote to the Chief Secretary’s office to see what could be done to improve supplies. Non-prescription medicines were in high demand. As well as compounding regular medicines, pharmacists worked long hours to prepare huge quantities of tonics, cough medicines and poultices. The poultices were usually a mixture of boiling water and ground linseed, reputed to aid decongestion, enclosed in cloth and placed on the chest or throat.[1]

Journalists passed on tips on cures to their readership. The Irish Independent related that Major R. T. Herron, Medical Officer, Armagh Union infirmary, had suggested gargling with a solution of permanganate of potash as a useful preventive measure. Sir R. Winfrey, MP, a qualified chemist, recommended a prescription of thirty drops pure creosote, half-ounce rectified spirit, three-quarter ounce liquid extract of liquorice, two drachms salicylate of soda and twelve ounces of water, with the recommended adult dosage of two tablespoonfuls three times daily.[2]

While good nursing with bed rest, plenty of liquids and nourishing food offered a better chance of survival than medication, this was not always possible when every member of the family was sick. In some areas, the Women’s National Health Association, the St Vincent de Paul and neighbours set up community nursing schemes and community kitchens to cook and deliver nourishing soups and stews to those too weak to care for themselves. Local farmers often donated vegetables and meat.

Sinn Féin’s Dr Kathleen Lynn, who opened a hospital to treat influenza sufferers and vaccinate people, suggested that sufferers should be given milk, barley water and egg flip, while those in good health ought to fortify themselves with butter, eggs, fresh meat, vegetables and porridge.

Many newspapers reported that people were carrying handkerchiefs doused in eucalyptus oil in front of their mouths as a preventive measure.  Macnamara considered this practice about as effective against influenza as ‘a black beetle would be to halt a steamroller.’

Advertisement in Abel Heywood and Son’s Influenza: Its cause, cure and prevention, 1902. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Beef extracts Bovril and Oxo were in heavy demand, and production was sometimes halted when they ran out of bottles when sales went up. Beef extract or tea was understood to strengthen the body as a defence against infection. Goodbody’s Flour Mills in Clara, Co Offaly supplied Bovril to their 300-strong workforce  during the pandemic.

Manufacturers changed their regular advertising to offer their product as a useful treatment. Readers of the Enniscorthy Guardian were urged to ‘pour a little Cousin’s lemonade into a saucepan and warm it, to provide the perfect drink for influenza sufferers.’ A pharmacist in Gorey, Co Wexford, advertised his cod liver oil emulsion as offering  protection from influenza.  Purveyors of snake oils – the cure-all nostrums – swiftly added curing influenza to their list. Such claims preyed on the general fears created by an untreatable mass disease.

The use of whiskey as a treatment crops up frequently in written records and oral histories I captured from survivors or families of sufferers. Raphael Sieve, whose family lived in south Dublin at the time, told me that his father kept his teenage brother constantly mildly drunk with whiskey at the time, until he pulled through. When I presented this idea in a paper, a medical doctor suggested that there might be good science behind it.  He said that the reason that young healthy adults may have suffered more than normally in this flu was because of cytokine storms, where the immune system overreacts. He thought that small regular doses of whiskey might help prevent this.

One survivor I interviewed, Tommy Christian, from Boston, Co Kildare, was administered gruel, a type of watery porridge, which he said ‘had an awful lot of responsibilities’, a hint perhaps that it was intended to open his bowels. His family put a poultice made of linseeds and hot water wrapped in cotton on his chest, another common treatment. Tommy had his first taste of whiskey, in a hot toddy – made from sugar, whiskey and hot water – as that five-year old flu sufferer, a taste he said he continued to enjoy for the rest of his life.  Despite being extremely ill in 1919, he lived to his 99th year. Proof that the old remedies can sometimes be best?

Editor’s Note: Ida Milne’s book on the influenza epidemic in Ireland comes out in May 2018 and can be ordered through Manchester University Press.

[1] Telephone communication with a family member of Phillip Brady, who worked as a pharmacist at Kelly’s Corner, Dublin, during the epidemic; further details with author.

[2] Irish Independent, 4 March 1919.

A Remedy for Witchcraft and Demonic Possession in Seventeenth-Century Ireland

By Andrew Sneddon

There were only a handful of witch trials in early modern Ireland, and only one witch-lynching, of an old woman by her neighbours in Antrim town, Co. Antrim in 1698. The ‘witch’ was accused of using witchcraft to demonically possess a young girl of Presbyterian gentry stock.

Sneddon Witch Warboys
An early eighteenth-century depiction of a witch conjuring up demons to do her evil work. From: Richard Boulton, A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft … (London, 2 vols, 1715-1722), vol. 1, frontispiece.

This case is detailed in Ireland’s only published witchcraft pamphlet by Daniel Higgs, The Wonderful and True Relation of the Bewitching of a Young Girle in Ireland, What Ways she was Tormented, and a Receipt of the Ointment that she was Cured with (Edinburgh [?], 1699). Higgs was a gentleman of considerable means who spoke Latin and French and was familiar with the contents of both English witchcraft pamphlets and learned, demonological works.

Higgs’ pamphlet is particularly important because he included (pp. 15-16), ‘for the good of others’ afflicted by witchcraft, a full description of the ‘receipt’ of the ointment he had used to cure the possessed girl with:

Take of dogs grease well dissolved and cleansed, four Ounces; Of bears Grease eight Ounce; Of Capons Grease, four and twenty Ounces; three trunks of the Misletoe of the Hazle while green, cut in pieces & pound it small[l], till it become moist; bruise together the wood, leaves and Berries, mix all in a vial, after you have exposed it to the sun for nine weeks; You shall extract a green Balsom, wherewith if you anoint the Bodies of the Bewitched, especially the parts most effected and the joynts, they will certainly be cured.

Higgs discovered his remedy in an obscure medical text by Bartholomew Carrichter, Practica Aus Den Furnemesten Secretis (Strassburg, 1579). Carrichter was physician to Emperor Maximillian II and a follower of early sixteenth-century Swiss physician, alchemist and astrologer, Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus). This did not mean that Higgs did not take full credit for the girl’s miraculous recovery.

He had, after all, rediscovered the ointment by researching, in his view, long forgotten books. Furthermore, he had manufactured and applied the remedy himself after apothecaries in Dublin refused to do it for him (for reasons unknown), and local physicians had been powerless to help the girl. Higgs suspected that in some cases physicians had refused to offer assistance because they did not believe in witchcraft. Disbelief in witchcraft shocked Higgs because he equated it with atheism.

Before Higgs had used Carrichter’s ointment, he had administered to the girl an ‘ex fuga Daemonum’ in the form of a drink concocted of ‘southeren wood, Mugwort, Vervene &c’ (Higgs, 16). This folkloric cure was similar to those used domestically in seventeenth-century Scotland to expel demons and counter witchcraft. Although we cannot be sure, Higgs was probably of Scots descent, he or his parents having come to Ulster in the later seventeenth century along with thousands of other Scottish Presbyterians. The Scottish ‘ex fuga Daemonum’, however, did not relieve the girl’s symptoms, prompting Higgs to search for a book-based remedy, which he duly found.

Higgs, in common with many educated men in early modern Europe, condemned the popular magic of cunning-folk as vulgar and “low-browed”, especially their anti-witch measures. Although he did not go as far as some who suggested that if the magic of cunning-folk had any efficacy at all, it was demonic in origin.

Ironically, HIggs did not regard the drink he gave the girl, nor the ointment he applied to her body, as magical, despite the fact that the ingredients of both held precisely that cultural connotation. He saw both remedies as alternative medicine, which the established medical profession had ignored to the peril of their patients and which he had finally brought to public attention.

Sneddon bookEditors’ note

Extra, extra! Read all about it!

Andrew discusses this case further in his brand-new book,  Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2015).  You can take a look at the very tempting table of contents on the publisher’s page. Congratulations, Andrew!