Saturday, 3 October 2015

Rag Trees

Rag trees beguile us.
They speak of our pagan heritage albeit thinly disguised by Christianity. 

The original rag tree at Fore, Co. Westmeath which appears to emerge from the Otherworld.

They can offer a moments' stillness, a glimpse into the lives of others 
and a connection to nature and the Otherworld.

Many of these trees, often whitethorns, stand beside holy wells dedicated to specific saints.

The present tree at the well, Tobernacogany, Fore.
The tree & well were visited by pilgrims on St. Feichin's Day, 2nd January, Imbolc 
& on St. John's & St. Peter's Days, around Midsummer.

Folklore tells of specific coloured cloths hung on trees at certain wells, some favoured white,
others red, whilst a few were offered multi-coloured cloths.

Traditionally a rag was tied to a special tree in times of ill health in the belief that as 
the cloth disintegrated the complaint would disappear. 

Some Rag Trees stand in woodland...

St Brendan's tree at Clonfert, Co. Galway.

Along with rags there are statues, holy medals, coins and symbols of afflictions, 
each telling a story.

Although there are predominately Christian icons as well as the Virgin Mary
this tree also shelters Ganesh and Buddha.

... others remain in fields though their wells are long dry.

This thorn tree stands in a field next to St. Manman's church, Co. Laois. 
The well is disused and the tree no longer visited.

Where once only natural fibre rags were left to decay, nowadays all sorts of items are deposited.
Many trees are cared for and cleared regularly by locals, whilst others sadly are ignored,
their limbs damaged by too many offerings or poisoned by copper coins hammered into the bark.

Along with Rag Trees near to holy wells there are also trees which hold cures within water,
these are the Well Trees.
One such, an old ash, stands in a ditch at the edge of a field near to my home.

The trunk divides into two, forming a cleft in which water gathers. 
It is this water which holds the cure for warts. 

My neighbour, Jim, was taken to the Well Tree by his mother as a young lad to rid him of warts
on his fingers. The ritual to obtain the cure involved visiting the well and dabbing the water on the warts on three separate occasions.
The cure, he assured me, had worked for the warts left him and never returned.


  1. Interesting post - I have seen these in various parts and always felt they might symbolise the end of a pilgrimage or life journey of some kind. Each rag or item left must have a story to tell - would be so interesting to learn what.

  2. Thank you for your comment Grace.
    Yes, they are fascinating and many of the offerings symbolise the illness so you find inhalers, walking sticks & photos of loved ones etc. Would love to know if the people found healing.

  3. I think that the people who place items or tie strips of cloth to the trees at these sites are relying on the premise of energy transference. Coming from the site to heal a sick person.
    In much the same way that the gloves of Padre Pio were passed around Ireland's sick people in the hope that they would be healed.

  4. Interesting idea Heron - thank you!

  5. Have you ever been to the cross bones graveyard near Borough High St in London? An urban setting with a "rag gate" that quite clearly reflects an underlying desire to mark the presence of the forgotten residents of the graves.

    Link to pic below.

  6. How interesting Paul, thanks! Not been in London since I lived there in 80's though so it was after my time.

  7. I so enjoyed this, Jane. I remember reading about a rag tree in a novel once. It was set in Ireland, but I can't remember who wrote it. I didn't know there were so many of them though. It's a bit sad to see some being neglected, but I like Mel's idea of energy transference.

  8. I think I know the book you mean Valleypee but my memory is awful for names & titles :) There are countless rag trees here & I'm not sure anyone knows how many. I think people are slowly starting to care for them which is great. Yes, the energy transference idea is really interesting.


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