Mahons, The: The Mahons’ Healing Powers

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  • Teideal (Title): Mahons, The: The Mahons’ Healing Powers.
  • Uimhir Chatalóige Ollscoil Washington (University of Washington Catalogue Number): 840111.
  • Uimhir Chnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann (National Folklore of Ireland Number): none.
  • Uimhir Roud (Roud Number): none.
  • Uimhir Laws (Laws Number): none.
  • Uimhir Child (Child Number): none.
  • Cnuasach (Collection): Joe Heaney Collection, University of Washington, Seattle.
  • Teanga na Croímhíre (Core-Item Language): English.
  • Catagóir (Category): story.
  • Ainm an té a thug (Name of Informant): Joe Heaney.
  • Ainm an té a thóg (Name of Collector): James Cowdery.
  • Dáta an taifeadta (Recording Date): 15/11/1983.
  • Suíomh an taifeadta (Recording Location): Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America.
  • Ocáid an taifeadta (Recording Occasion): evening class.
  • Daoine eile a bhí i láthair (Others present): unavailable.
  • Stádas chóipcheart an taifeadta (Recording copyright status): unavailable.

How the Mahons became expert bonesetters

A man and his sons, out fishing, are caught in a fog; when the fog clears they find themselves next to a beautiful island. But when they are about to step ashore, an old man approaches and begs them not to come ashore, saying the island is Hy-Brasail – an enchanted island – and if they set foot on it the enchantment will be broken. To compensate them for not coming ashore, the old man gives them a book and tells them not to open it for a year and a day. The fog lifts and they go home. A week or so later, one of the sons tells the father, ‘Go on, open the book!’ There were 365 pages, but only the first seven had writing on them – full of cures for bone-setting. The family was known for bone-setting for generations afterwards.

On another tape (UW 850117), Joe tells Jim Cowdery about cures that this man effected, as well as additional cures; see here. Material relating to Hy-Brasail includes the song Hy-Brasail, the Isle of the Blest as well as an anecdote in which Joe relates the time he himself saw the enchanted island.


In his biography of Seosamh Ó hÉanai, Nár Fhágha Mé Bás Choíche, Liam Mac Con Iomaire gives the following account (p. 29–30):

Bhí seanchas cliste ag Seosamh ina óige freisin faoi mhuintir Laidhe, a bhíodh ina ndochtúirí… ag na Flathartaigh, an fhad is fhíodar sin i gceannas thiar… Nuair a chaill na Flathartaigh a gcumhacht, agus muintir Laidhe a ngairm, fuadaíodh Murcha Ó Laidhe (más fíor) go Beag-Árainn i 1668 agus fuair sé bua na dochtúireachta ar ais ansin nuair a bronnadh ‘Leabhar Mhuintir Laidhe’ air, ina raibh leigheas ar chuile ghalar beo, scríofa i nGaeilge agus i Laidin… De réir leagan eile den scéal céanna is san Aird Thoir, baile dúchais Sheosaimh, a bhí cónaí ar Mhurcha Ó Laidhe. Is é fírinne an scéil go bhfuil a leithéid de leabhar ann…

Joe heard lore in his youth regarding the Lees, who were doctors to the Flahertys at the time that the latter were chieftains in the west. When the Flahertys lost their power – and the Lees their calling – Murchadh O’Lee was chased (if it’s true) to Hy-Brasail in 1668, and his healing powers were restored to him when ‘The Book of the O’Lees’ was bestowed upon him, which contained a cure for every disease, written in Irish and in Latin… According to another version of the story, Murchadh O’Lee lived in Ardeast, Joe’s village. The truth of the matter is that there actually is such a book…

The book in question – ‘The Book of the O’Lees’ or ‘The Book of O’Brazil’ – is lodged in the Royal Irish Academy (23 P 10 ii; no. 453), and used to be linked to the one mentioned in the traditional accounts: Tomás Ó Concheanainn, ‘Seanchas ar Mhuintir Laidhe,’ Éigse 33 (2002), 211. For a story in Irish similar to the one Joe tells here, see Hartmann, Hans, Tomás de Bhaldraithe and Ruairí Ó hUiginn (eds.), Airneán: Ein Sammlung von Texten aus Carna, Co. na Gaillimhe, Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen (1996), vol 1, lines 3031-3102. This story relates how Mac Bhriain Uí Laoidhe obtained a cure for smallpox.

I have been unable to discover – and would be pleased to learn – why Joe calls the central figure of this story ‘Mahon’ rather than ‘Lee’. It could be that similar stories were connected with two different families; or that the two families were connected in some way, and that the lore associated with the Lees transferred to the Mahons through that connection; or that the Mahons were specifically bonesetters, whilst the Lees were able to cure a wider variety of ailments.

For more about Hy-Brasail (in Irish, ‘Beag-Árainn’ or ‘Lesser Aran’), see Daithí Ó hÓgáin, ‘The Mystical Island in Irish Folklore,’ in P. Lysaght, S. Ó Catháin and D. Ó hÓgáin (eds.), Islanders and Water-Dwellers: Proceedings of the Celtic-Nordic-Baltic Folklore Symposium held at University College Dublin 16-19 June 1996, DBA Publications Ltd. for the Department of Irish Folklore, UCD (1999), 247-60.