Emerald Isle

The Tree of Wishes

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

Wishes are usually only granted in fairy tales

One of the many ancient Irish traditions whose origin has been lost to the ever-deepening mists of time is that of the wishing tree. They were also called rag trees, raggedy bushes, or clooty or cloughtie trees, and they can often be found growing next to or near holy wells and springs.

When people gathered around the old turf fires in Ireland, they would tell one another that if you were sick, or you had a relation that was sick, you could take a piece of cloth from their sickbed, dip it in the water of the sacred well and tie it to the tree, and as the cloth rotted, so did the disease fade away. Other intentions could also be tied with the cloth, and they would hopefully manifest in the same way.

In some places, people would wash the afflicted body part with the wet rag before hanging it, and in others prayers were to be said as you circled the well several times. In others, wool or locks of human hair were hung instead.

The hawthorn was the most common sort of wishing tree, along with the oak and ash which were also widely known as wishing trees. Although wishing trees were almost always to be found beside holy wells, often these springs have since dried up, leaving only the tree behind as a silent memorial.

Nowadays people will also hang rosaries and holy medals from these trees, although the practice probably goes back to the pagan Gaelic habit of leaving offerings and sacrifices in pits and wells. Using brightly coloured ribbons is a relatively modern practice, and should be avoided if the material of the ribbon isn't likely to decompose in a timely manner.

Traditionally cloth was only hung from the trees at the start of May, but for the more popular locations, strips can be found at any time of year. The belief in the power of wishing trees can be found in Scotland and England as well, where these ancient customs have survived in such festivals as the dance around the May pole.

St. Bridgid’s Well can be found on the map below.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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