At many of the Holy Wells that I have visited, there has been a Rag Tree, upon which visitors would tie a piece of cloth. As I understand the practice, the visitor rubs the cloth on that part of the body with an affliction prior to fixing the cloth to the Rag Tree hoping to transfer the affliction to the cloth/rag and to leave the affliction behind at the Rag Tree when the visitor departs for home.
Among the items tied to the tree were, not just one, but two face masks – one was disposal-type of the medical sky-blue colour; the other was a reuseable-type of a bright purple colour with what appeared to be the initials ‘S.Q.’.
A used face-mask is a perfect example of ‘only of value as homage’ and proof of the continuation of tradition.
‘Yet, a large part of the business of visiting a holy well is to come for a cure. Many wells are named specifically for the particular body part or illness they reputedly cured, such as eye wells or wart wells, though many were relatively panaceal (Logan 1980). Linked to this a range of healing rituals emerged, the most prominent of which was the leaving of offerings on rag bushes or trees. This ritual was (and is) a mix of the embodied, symbolic and performative wherein an object that should have touched the body (such as a strip of cloth from a petticoat), was dipped in the well water, rubbed on the affected part and left on the tree to let nature take the now disembodied illness away.’
‘At a number of wells the tree (or occasionally a bush) is used to secure a cloth placed there by a pilgrim. The range of trees varies greatly. A.T. Lucas took a closer look at holy well trees. He visited 210 holy wells in Cork in the 1960’s and found whitethorns (103) predominated, with ash (75), oak (7) and a mixture of other species making up the remaining 25.’
‘Early in the nineteenth century, a hostile witness wrote a description of a pilgrimage to Devenish Island, Co. Fermanagh. In it he mentioned the holy well dedicated to St. Molaisse
‘It is right, on visiting a well, to make offerings of small objects, only as value as homage. Rag offerings are naturally most frequent where there is a ‘blessed bush’ at the well, but they are frequently hung on a bramble, or even, on the Atlantic coast, kept in place by stones. Rags abounded, with other offerings, at Gleninagh, at least till 1899, being tied to the twigs of an elder bush. They were hung in quantities on the stunted old hawthorn at Oughtmama well, and were found at Tobersraheen, at Aglish graveyard at Ogonello, and on the fallen hawthorn near the basin at Kiltinanlea. They were often accompanied by rosaries, religious medals, necklaces and ribbons, broken or whole plaster and china figures and vessels, and glass, buttons, pins, and nails.’