Newport nonagenarian Bridget McNamara Ryan

Newport's Bridget reveals her secrets on old cures

Modern medicine has definitely contributed to the increase in life expectancy, but meet a 92-year-old Newport woman who is a firm believer that old cures have greatly enhanced her life, writes Peter Gleeson.

Bridget McNamara Ryan looks really sprightly for a women of over nine decades, attributing much of her longevity to traditional doses and natural remedies, some of which she makes up herself.

When the Nenagh Guardian meet her at her 200-year-old home on her farm near Newport, Bridget had just on the previous day visited a shop in Cahir to buy a few bottles of apple cider vinegar produced by on the renowned local Apple Farm.


“Apple cider vinegar has a number of great uses,” she says. “A few teaspoons mixed with hot water and honey is great for chest infections because it brings up the phlegm.”

And whenever she gets stung by a wasp it’s straight to her kitchen cupboard for the bottle of the same stuff. “I put apple cider vinegar on I when got a sting recently on the back of my head. When a nurse in the hospital took a look at it she told me I had killed the sting with the vinegar.”

Bridget said drinking apple cider vinegar with a little hot water and sugar is a wonderful blood purifier, and a few teaspoons were also very effective for cleaning the scalp and the hair.

She says she is also a firm believer in the curative powers of Epsom Salt. It’s not actually a salt at all, but a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate which has been added to bath water for hundreds of years to cure all sorts of aches and pains.

Bridget says that going back centuries people in her own native area of Toor, near Newport, believed that you could sweat out illnesses. Big stone flags were used to create a sweat room, the heat provided by lighting a fire of furze bushes within the chamber. “People used this to sweat out illnesses like pleurisy,” she says. “The old people would sweep out the ashes of the burned furze and the room would be good and hot and they would put the sick person into it.”

As for boils and other pus-filled skin eruptions, Bridget recalled that she and other people in her area found that the old carbolic pink coloured soap - sold under the ‘Lifebuoy’ brand - mixed with a bit of sugar a superb poultice to cure such infections.

Another method to bring out the “badness” from boils was a poultice made up of loaf bread soaked in hot water. When applied to the infected area you could say goodbye to your boil or pimple.

Bridget is also a firm believer in the powers of poitín, that alcohol rich beverage that was distilled illegally, especially in remote parts of Ireland like where she was born and raised. “A punch made with poitín is great to cure the flu,” she asserts.

She also recalls her late husband, Sean, using poitín to treat his sick livestock, including one particular animal that was on death’s door. “I remember one of our cows had fallen into a bog hole and was very weak and couldn’t even stand up. Sean brought her home on the tractor at night and gave her most of a bottle of poitín. When he went out to see her next morning she was standing up.”

Bridget said calves who failed to thrive in byegone days in the area were fed a “goodie” of bread soaked in milk to nourish them. She had heard from a nurse recently that apple cider vinegar was still being given to ailing calves by some farmers in the Nenagh area. An old treatment for redwater in cattle, a potentially fatal condition transmitted by the common tick, used to be a mixture of bottled stout mixed with powdered ginger, Bridget reveals.

As for nettles, yes, she says, the juice of a dock leaf is a great relief for a sting from the former. But nettles themselves are a great nutrient. “Fresh young nettles in the month of March also make a lovely meal,” she says.

Just like cabbage, she has simmered them in water with bacon, and sometimes a fist of oatmeal was added. “Three feeds of nettles in March was seen by the old people as a great cure for iron deficiency,” she says.

Bridget tells us that another local cure once made up by a woman in her locality was a mixture of sulpher and lard to tackle Ringworm, a red rash of the skin caused by exposure to infected livestock and other young animals.

She also told us of a man in the Killoscully area who uses his own blood to cure shingles in others. Apart from her ancient cures, she said the secret to her long life was to live what she called “a regular healthy life”.

“I have a good breakfast of porridge, brown bread and a boiled egg. My dinner for years was good old fashioned salty bacon and cabbage, and for supper I would have cold meat or two fried eggs and a tomato. I believe in having just three meals a day.”

One of the few very sad times was when, Sean, the man she loved and married on January 27th 1960 died of Alzheimer’s Disease on January 27th 2003, and she used to be “lonesome” about the fact that they could not have children together.

“But I have ended up with a lovely happy life,” Bridget says.