Mary Dean’s Cough Medicine

For as far back as I can remember my Mum had the ‘cure of all cures’ for colds, flu, bronchitis etc. This was referred to as a ‘wee cough bottle’.

There may have been a lot of Newry Mums who acquired this pharmaceutical knowledge but there was none other that I personally can recall. 

Often enough came the request from neighbours, family and friends,

 ‘Mary could you make me up a wee cough bottle, for I’m dying on my feet’.  

As the saying goes, ‘It’ll either kill or cure you.’   Thankfully it was mainly the latter!

The formula consisted of chlorodine, a black treacle like substance which she obtained from the chemist  D.L. McArdles (then Liam O’Hare’s in John Mitchell Place). The amount purchased was either sixpence or a shilling’s worth in a wee bottle. This was mixed with sugar, lemon or orange juice and whatever else Mum would add, and then topped up with boiling water, shaken very rigorously and left to cool.

After a few days dosage of the medicine you’d be fighting fit again and quite often the patient would remark,

‘God,  Mary, that tonic did me a power of good’.

This brings me to Mum and my brother Liam’s first Christmas visit to my sister Irene’s home in East London. At that particular time my wife Diana, my sister Olwen and Mum all had heavy colds.

 ‘Jim, go to the nearest chemist and get some chlorodine to make up some cough mixture’.

After several protests I was made to go but in no time I returned empty handed. My reason was that the chemist would not sell the stuff over the counter. Mum put her coat on and marched me back to the chemist in Bethnal Green and approached the young man in the white coat behind the counter. With that ‘put on’ posh Newry accent of hers she enquired,

‘Are you the proprietor, sir?’

‘No madam! My father is,’ came the reply.

 ‘But I am a qualified pharmacist,’ he added, significantly.

Asked his reason for refusing to sell chlorodine, he explained that it was illegal to sell poisonous drugs to the public over the counter.

By this time, Mary is riled!

 ‘Excuse me, sir, but my family comes from a long line of both the medical and pharmaceutical profession in Northern Ireland, and I have it on good authority that the sale of this linctus is indeed legal’.

Surprisingly he replied,

‘Okay Madam, but how should I measure the dosage?’

‘Sixpence worth comes in a wee bottle about this size (indicating with her forefinger and thumb) but I will need a shilling’s worth please’.

With that the Chemist disappears to the back and later returned with a bottle.

‘I haven’t any wee bottles and this is the smallest I can find but I will have to charge you two shillings,’ he said, a bargain to which Mary agreed.

Not only did she get what she wanted but the pharmacist asked her for the recipe which she gave and he quickly scribbled it down. The young man thanked her and wished us both a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

Later that evening I heard laughter from my sister’s back kitchen and went to investigate. Sitting at the table was Mum, Diana and Olwen all looking half-sozzled.

‘What’s the craic?’ I asked. It was Diana who replied,

‘We’ve all had a few swigs of your Mum’s medicine followed with a couple of hot brandy toddies’.

‘Are you feeling any better?’ says I.

Diana answered,

‘We’ve still got the cold but we are certainly enjoying it more ‘.


               A Tribute to our Wonderful Mammie – Mary Dean





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