Rag trees in the Rose Garden


When you visit the Rose Garden in Trinity College you will see that a few of the trees have many ribbons and scraps of fabric tied to the branches. See images above.   I haven’t been able to find out who initiated this tradition or the reasons behind them. I can only presume though that they follow the traditions of the Rag Trees that are scattered around the country on the roadsides.

A ‘ragtree’ or ‘raggedy bush’ can be completely covered in rags or scraps of clothing. Usually, though not always, the trees are close to Holy Wells, and they are almost invariably Hawthorn trees.

The custom of hanging rags on trees is particularly strong among Ireland’s Traveller community, an indigenous minority of nomadic people whose culture is very old and who still maintain many ancient customs which have largely died out among the rest of the population.

Usually the rags are placed there by people who believe that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree the problem or illness will disappear as the rag rots away. Sometimes the rag represents a wish or aspiration which will come to pass as the rag rots.


When I encounter a tree where someone has left a token behind for whatever reason it always makes me wonder about the person or the intention tied to the token. I think these Rag Trees are an important conduit, allowing for a private intention to be expressed in a public sphere.