As the cases of Covid-19 began to mount in Ireland, so too did the number of fake "cures" spread through WhatsApp and other social media.
The coronavirus could apparently be staved off by drinking hot water with lemon and bread soda, by leaving half an onion in each room or by sipping warm water every 15 minutes so the virus could be killed by stomach acid. Indeed, the World Health Organisation has said that it is not only fighting an epidemic but also an "infodemic". Last month, Donald Trump even got in on the act, speculating in a televised press briefing that disinfectant could be used as a treatment for Covid-19.
During the epidemics that raged across Ireland over the centuries, quacks also preyed upon the public by flogging miracle-promising products, such as cholera remedies during the outbreak of 1832.
The same thing happened when the so-called Spanish flu swept across the country in three waves in 1918 and 1919, claiming some 23,000 lives. Hospitals and physicians struggled to treat the illness, often resorting to prescribing bottles of whiskey, brandy, mercury chloride, and even injecting strychnine, according to the historian Dr Ida Milne, author of Stacking the Coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918-19.
Unsurprisingly, households resorted to home remedies and cures, just as they had always done.
Tommy Christian, one survivor of the pandemic flu interviewed by Dr Milne, was five when he became extremely ill in 1919. His family put a poultice made of linseeds and hot water wrapped in cotton on his chest and gave him hot toddies, made from sugar, whiskey and hot water - a common flu "remedy" to this day.
Another measure was "dousing handkerchiefs or scarves in eucalyptus oil to wear when going out in public". The substance was also used to ease congestion. "The Dublin trams were said to always smell of eucalyptus oil," Milne says.
For most of human history, there were no vaccines or effective treatments against infectious diseases. The problem was often worsened by poverty, poor hygiene and overcrowded accommodation. Instead, our forebears turned to the folk cures and charms that had been passed down through the generations.
Cures were often based on plants from local fields, laneways and woods, or seaweed. These were then turned into ointments or salves, says Jonny Dillon, an archivist at the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin and the host of the collection's Bluiríní Béaloidis podcast.
"Some of the folk medicine was very practical," he says. "But there was also another type based on emotional reasoning - ideas around the body or an illness or infirmity that would seem unusual to us now. Some of the strictly speaking irrational practices would be called upon in times of crisis, such as making offerings."
Folk medicine flourished in the 18th century, with people becoming accustomed to managing their own health owing to a dearth of qualified medical practitioners, particularly in rural Ireland. Even the few doctors who were available did not inspire much confidence: without the knowledge that germs could spread disease, they practised bloodletting and prescribed poisonous substances such as mercury. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent, doctors were expensive.
"The practice of formal medicine in those times would look quite horrendous today, because it struggled with the nature of fevers and contagion," Dillon says.
By the early 19th century, traditional herbal recipes, home remedies, poultices and charms were common, often provided by "wise women". Among the most famous of these was Biddy Early from Co Clare, who was known for her herbal cures. Her neighbours and clients often offered tokens of poitín and whiskey in return for her efforts, much to the dismay of the Catholic Church, which denounced her from the pulpit.
During her lifetime, Early earned a fearsome reputation: not only could she cure diseases, she also had a glass bottle that she claimed to use to foretell death and disaster. She outlived four husbands, and was eventually accused of witchcraft by a Limerick doctor. Her case before an Ennis court in 1865 was dismissed because the prosecution could not find a witness to speak out against her.
In 1890, Lady Wilde - mother of Oscar - published a book called Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland: Contributions to Irish Lore, which outlined the use of herbs and charms as "cures" and described supposed supernatural influences in the art of healing.
She wrote that the Irish "peasants" were "still clinging to the old traditions with a fervour and faith that would make them, even now, suffer death rather than violate a superstition, or neglect those ancient usages of their fathers which have held them in bonds since the first dawn of history".
One of the cures for dysentery, she noted, involved "woodbine and maiden-hair [fern], pounded and boiled in new milk, with oatmeal and taken three times a day, the leaves to be burned afterwards".
"Cures" that supposedly transferred a disease on to an inanimate object, for example by passing under or through tight spots in stones, or on to an animal were common through the middle of the 20th century. When TB was rampant, carrying a potato in a pocket was believed in some parts of Ireland to ward off the "consumption". White horses and donkeys were the target for parents with children who suffered from whooping cough. The highly infectious bacterial disease, which spreads through coughs and sneezes, caused 5,000 deaths in 1948. A vaccine was introduced in Ireland in the 1950s.
"Cures for whooping cough included sending a child over and under a donkey three times or going on to the road and looking for a man passing on a white horse," says Dillon. "The man would be asked what the cure was and whatever he said, they would apply that cure. Hall's Ireland: Mr and Mrs Hall's Tour of 1840 says that doctors used to travel on a white horse, so, in the popular imagination, doctors might have been associated with white horses."
Whooping cough cures also feature strongly in the schools' folklore collection on Dúchas.ie, a project to digitise the National Folklore Collection. Cures were among the declining oral tradition and cultural heritage recorded by schoolchildren in the 1930s as part of a Folklore Commission initiative.
One account from Co Waterford says that "the food left behind by a ferret would cure a whooping-cough". The food should be "heated and taken," it adds. Another participant told how, "if you would tie a piece of red ribbon on a cow's tail on the May eve it would help keep away diseases for the year".
Some accounts also mention going on a pilgrimage to a holy well, praying and hanging rags nearby to cure diseases. This practice endures today, albeit to a lesser extent, Dillon says.
"The idea is that these cures might just provide a comfort and reassurance in the face of anxiety and shouldn't be scoffed at. If you visit holy wells today, you may still see soothers and rags left by people who are ill."