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Emain Macha



I spotted this in 'The Age of the Saints' by William Copeland Borlase (1893).
Between Armagh and the Navan Fort (the ancient Emain of the romances), beside an ancient paved track, is a famous rag-well sacred to St. Patrick. When we visited it a few years since the thorns which spread over it were literally covered with strips of cloth of all colours and of all ages, from a rotten tatter to one affixed that very day. In Ireland the idea present to the mind in offering rags seems to be that the particular disease should be left behind with the shred. Mr Windle* has preserved the following ritual words: 'Air impide an Tiarna mo cuid teinis do fhagaint air an ait so,' meaning 'By the intercession of the Lord I leave my portion of illness on this place.' The original idea of votive offerings became inseparable from the sequel that with the presentation of the sacrifice the object for which it was made was gained [sic].

*MSS. R.I. Acad. 15. Cork East and West, p. 852. Again, he says, 'Rags are not offerings or votive. They are riddances. Thus, you have a headache: you take a shred and place it on the tree, and with it you place the headache there.' Ibid. 16. Topography of Desmond, p. 802.
The well is indeed about half-way between Armagh and the fort, on a direct and old road. Today it's amidst a housing estate called St Patrick's Park and the view on Google Maps makes it look very neglected. But when the houses were built it was excavated. There's a photo on the NISMR that shows a digger going round it- the archaeological report from the time says 'the builders showed the utmost respect for the well and particularly its 'fairy thorn'. It also says that it was traditionally visited on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, the 29th June. So that's interesting, that it's not about St Patrick himself. And so the report tentatively suggests a pre-christian connection, what with the day being close to the solstice. But who knows.

Anyway I post this in the hope that someone might like to visit it if they were at Navan Fort - they have an interpretation centre there with a roundhouse, and who can resist a real life roundhouse.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
5th March 2014ce

Comments (2)

Hi Rhiannon. Your post reminded me of this:
There's much more to see at Eamain Mhaca than the main site.

Reading over 4winds notes in turn reminded me of my visit to another ritual pond: and now I remember where I got my more morbid imaginings from.

I'm heading to Kilkenny at the weekend and intend visiting a rag tree that's near a standing stone. They may be mainly venerated by christians, but the tradition must be way older, imho.
ryaner Posted by ryaner
6th March 2014ce
Morbid imaginings :)

I'm not surprised though, those sound like just the sort of weird places for conjuring such stuff up. It's the sort of idea that takes root in the mind. Thank you for the links.

Good luck with your visit, I do hope you'll be reporting back.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
6th March 2014ce
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