Reigning Cork Person of the Year, John Creedon, spoke to his fellow Corkman, Brendan O'Connor, about his new book, An Irish Folklore Treasury. And John – broadcaster, author, presenter – can speak. In fact, he could be captain of the Irish talking team, a fact of which he is not unaware:
"Not unlike my Dad, a few of my cousins and one or two of my siblings, I have the talking disease. I just can’t stop. Full stops, commas, don’t exist in my world."
The book is subtitled A Selection of Old Stories, Ways and Wisdom from the Schools’ Collection. The fledgling Irish state lost so many records when the Four Courts were shelled in 1922 and John explained how this was, after a fashion, remedied and what the schools’ collection was:
"In fairness to the founding fathers and founding mothers of the State, they were quite brilliant, I think, because in 1935 they set up the Folklore Commission and by '37 they had 50,000 children, with the help of the INTO and the Department of Education, all with brand new shiny copybooks collecting the folklore of Ireland."
And John’s own childhood and education in the 60s and 70s, didn’t seem very different to those kids who were given the job of saving Ireland’s folklore decades beforehand: there were still angry teachers, dusters being thrown, inkwells on the desks, but one of the things that's changed completely now – and it’s debatable whether it’s a good thing or not – is that there’s far less emphasis on learning things off by heart:
"I think, Brendan, that goes right back to the Bardic tradition, that whole notion of learning things off by heart and we did a lot of that and I used to say, ‘Brother, why are we learning it by heart when we have it in the book?’ ‘Twas good enough for your ancestors!’ So that’s a muscle that was exercised."
The conversation touched on medicine and how it’s changed – or not – in Ireland over a couple of generations and many people will remember parents or grandparents championing some folk cure or other for whatever ails a person. It was, as John put it, "a real heady mix":
"The history of folk medicine in Ireland, it’s like a real heady mix of everything from medals to doctors, to healers, folk cures, holy wells, miraculous medals, pilgrimages and if all else fails, Brendan, you know yourself, a rub of the relic and a flat 7-Up and you’re sorted, whatever the problem is."
And John came across plenty of pretty wild examples of the sort of remedies that people put their faith in back in the day and, indeed, some still to this day, when he was going through the schools’ collection, including this marvellous cure for warts:
"You take a black slug, you know the black snail that you’ll often see on a path? Take one of those, rub vigorously against wart, right? Then, when you’re finished, impale the snail on a large thorn and that’s it."
There’s no evidence, alas, that this remedy actually works, but it’s likely, as John suggested, that the patient will still feel better than the slug at the end of the procedure. Or what about this one from Cork:
"People used to – for a cold – they would boil a mouse in milk and drink the milk."
No doubt whoever came up with that one made the shortlist for Cork Person of the Year that year.
To hear Brendan’s full chat with John – including the possibility that we may have to reintroduce leprechauns to the wild, and how to say the Rosary with all the trimmings, among many other unexpected topics – go here.
An Irish Folklore Treasury by John Creedon is published by Gill Books.
And, of course, you can listen to John’s excellent choice of music weeknights from 8-10pm on RTÉ Radio 1.