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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Headache Cures

I went to Rahugh because of the Hugh part of its name (Rath Hugh).  I hadn’t known there was an Irish Saint Hugh, or Aed as he is known in Irish.

It is a hard place to find and the sign for ’St Hugh’s Well and Headache Stone’ is easy to miss. The man I met looking after the sheep there did not encourage exploration.  He explained that previous visitors did not respect his privacy or the welfare of his sheep. Like many land–owners of historical sites he had no insurance for claims by stumbling visitors.  

When I convinced him that I appreciated his concerns we had a long chat about Holy Wells and miracle stones.  He had theories about the water in the wells and under the stones.  He told me the cemetery around the remains of Hugh’s cell had been more extensive than the present walls might indicate and that the area around it was to be treated with consideration for those buried beneath, especially when it came to planting.   

However he seemed to know little about St Hugh himself. I had found a similar lack of enthusiasm at the small and isolated church of St Hugh, down the road. Inside there was no picture of its patron nor mention of his story.

Yet it turns out that Hugh was a significant figure in his time and his history was written up, in Latin, around the year 800. 

Aed Mac Brics (to give him his full name) spent his early days in Tipperary where his mother came from but when he heard his brothers back home were planning to deprive him of his inheritance he went back to claim it. His brothers refused to share so he seized the daughter of one of them and took her off as hostage.  

On his way he passed the cell of Illandus, a cousin, who persuaded Hugh this was the wrong approach. Hugh changed his mind and after sending the lady back home he joined Illandlus’ community as a novice. On completing his training he set out to share his new attitude to life in the area around Lough Ree. He eventually settled in Rahugh where his well and birth stone remain as testimonies to him.  

The short version of the stone’s story is that when Hugh was born his tiny head struck the stone his mother had been sitting on and formed a hollow depression. Water which collects in this hole can cure of all kinds of diseases, especially headaches. However, people are warned not to place their head on the stone if they did not actually have a headache. The effect would be disastrous.

Today few remember St Hugh who died in 589 though the Ache Stone still has its believers. A document discovered at the famous monastery of Reichenau on Lake Constance was entitled ‘Hymn of St Aed, or St Hugh’. Written about 750 by an Irish monk in that far away monastery it celebrates St Hugh’s power in curing headaches.

Now the headache for the landowner in Rahugh is the behaviour of some visitors.


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