Dirt From This Old Irish Church Really Does Have Healing Properties

This is the graveyard at Sacred Heart Church overlooking the Boho countryside. According to local belief, the soil from the church can cure infections. Youngbohemian [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

When residents of Northern Ireland's County Fermanagh have a health issue, particularly an infection, they turn to the church.

And the church gives them dirt. But the Sacred Heart Church in the town of Boho doesn't dole out just any dirt. The soil taken from its churchyard has long been known for its restorative properties — an uncanny ability to fight infection.

As the BBC reports, a person only has to wrap the soil in cloth and place it under the pillow. A prayer or two doesn't hurt. And by morning, that infection is in full retreat.

Just remember: The church, like a library, asks that its miracle soil be returned.

But is it really a miracle? Or is the soil steeped in the mysticism of the druids who occupied the land before the church was built?

Or is there a perfectly good scientific explanation for that potent Irish soil?

Growth of Streptomyces in a petri dish
Streptomyces are true bacteria and are the source of two-thirds of the various frontline antibiotics used in medicine. What you see here is growth of Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. G Quinn/Swansea University

Back in 2018, microbiologist Gerry Smith and other researchers from Swansea University Medical School suspected the latter. And sure enough, after a thorough lab analysis, they identified not so much the hand of God at work, but rather the hand of sod.

They found the ground surrounding the church teeming with a new strain of bacterium — a powerful inhibitor of infection belonging to the family Streptomycetaceae.

That's the same bacteria strain used to produce antibiotics. Indeed, in test results published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the church's "healing soil" managed to kill several disease-causing organisms, including some that antibiotics couldn't control.

As the BBC notes, it was effective against pathogens identified by the World Health Organization as major threats to human health.

"When we brought the soil back to the laboratory we found a new species of streptomyces that had never been discovered before and it contained many antibiotics and some of these antibiotics actually killed some multi-resistant pathogens," Smith told the news organization. "Originally I was surprised as it was a folk remedy and there seemed to be a lot of superstition around it, but in the back of my head I realized that there's always something behind these traditions or they wouldn't be going on so long."

In fact, it's likely the churchyard soil has been clearing up potentially deadly infections — and saving lives — since the time of the druids. After all, centuries before the advent of antibiotics, simple infections killed countless people.

And with more and more people becoming resistant to antibiotics, superbugs are taking an increasingly deadly toll.

Which is why scientists are heeding the wisdom of the saints. Or druids. Or farmers. And looking more closely at the Earth as a source of healing.

"Our results show that folklore and traditional medicines are worth investigating in the search for new antibiotics," notes molecular biologist and study-co-author Paul Dyson in a press release.

"Scientists, historians and archaeologists can all have something to contribute to this task."