Gender, Folklore and Magical Healing in Ireland, 1852-1922

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter argues that we are able to uncover the hidden history of Irish magical healers through the rich but overlooked primary source material of court reporting in newspapers, folklore, and objects of material culture. It is suggested that magical healing formed part of a rich, varied and vibrant magical culture in the period 1852–1922, and was especially prominent among the rural poor. Magical healing was often used in tandem with, but more likely instead of, the public health system and qualified medical practitioners. Magical healers can be separated into three broad categories: well-informed amateurs; charmers; and cunning-folk. Simple ‘home’ remedies, charms and rituals were used by amateurs to cure or prevent common complaints, illness and disease. This healing knowledge was transmitted culturally via oral tradition and local networks. Charming was provided free of charge by men and women either born with an innate gift to heal a specific naturally occurring illness or ailment, or who had inherited a charm from another practitioner. Cunning-folk were paid in goods or with money, and while they performed a range of magical services, they often specialised in diagnosing and curing the effects of fairy and witchcraft attack in humans and animals. The activities of magical healers were often frowned upon by the orthodox medical profession, and they were occasionally brought before the lower courts when their cures went wrong, or when clients became dissatisfied with the level of service provided.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender and History
Subtitle of host publication Ireland 1852-1922
EditorsJ Atwal, C Breathnach, S Buckley
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-16494-4
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-75972-8
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 17 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 selection and editorial matter, Jyoti Atwal, Ciara Breathnach and Sarah-Anne Buckley. All rights reserved.


  • Witchcraft
  • Charms
  • healing
  • magic
  • Modern Ireland
  • Charmers
  • cunning folk
  • cures
  • nineteenth century


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