Father Sheehy’s Secret Potion

The mausoleum that Father Sheehy hid in.

The Irish are known for their whimsical stories that some even believe are historical truth. While researching the martyred priest, Nicholas Sheehy, I found my share of questionable “facts”. For instance, the landowner I based much of Aroon on, Sir Thomas Maude, wore a donkey’s tail, they say, indicating his high level of jackass-iveness. (If Shakespeare can invent over 1000 words, surely I can conjure up one.)

Another interesting account, told to me by local Clogheen historian John Tuohy, pertained to the time Father Sheehy was a fugitive from the law. Considered treasonous for his associations with the Levellers, Sheehy went into hiding. By day, he huddled in a mausoleum found in the Shanrahan Cemetery where he now lies. By night, he emerged, then crawled through a small window in the adjacent farmhouse to be fed and pampered by a Protestant couple, Mr. and Mrs. William Griffiths. There, he was permitted to secretly perform his priestly duties.


The farmhouse is still there.

 When Father Sheehy finally decided to give himself up, with the provision that he be tried in Dublin rather than locally, he had little to give his gracious hosts. So, as the story has it, he bestowed upon them a secret cure for eczema and various other ailments, with the condition that it be shared freely with the common people in need. Father Sheehy’s other stipulation was that the recipe be handed down through Mrs. Griffiths, whose maiden name was Baylor, to the women in the family.


While this is a very kind account of Father Sheehy’s love for the poor and gratitude to a generous family of another faith, I was skeptical of its truth. It sounded like the exaggerations I’ve read too many times on this journey with Father Sheehy.

Then, a most unexpected communication arrived. An American woman who’d read my accounts on this blog contacted me, hoping I had more information about Father Sheehy. But she enlightened me far more than I had her.

The woman is the descendant of the Griffiths couple who hid Father Sheehy. I was stunned when she informed me that two members of her family still hold the recipe of which I’d read, known by them as “the cures.”
Father Sheehy’s grave–a double tomb
holding him and another priest.

While she did not own the recipe herself, she wrote that as late as the 70s, one relative was “actively concocting and distributing the cures. They were known throughout the region and … people were coming to the door all day and all night to request various things” which her relative mixed for them, refusing any payment. Just as Father Sheehy had specified two hundred years previously.

The hairs on my arm raised as I read her email. The story was true and, quite possibly, Father Sheehy’s gratitude is still helping the common people all these decades later, to this very day.

My new friend wrote, “I can’t speak to whether they actually could be scientifically proven to work, but I certainly can confirm that they are real and that people believed that they work.” She went on to say, “We were always told that they were given to the family by a priest who the family concealed, but we hadn’t realized what a famous and interesting priest it was until recently.”

For me, this new knowledge brought Father Nicholas Sheehy out of the realm of legend and into the real, flesh-and-blood world. I felt closer to him. And more curious. If this was true, what else actually happened? (Surely not the ass’s tail.)

Thanks to another reader, I was able to learn more of the tangible existence of this fascinating man. Look for that in next week’s post.

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