Anger after holy well tree is stripped of hundreds of prayer rags
A rag tree beside a holy well at Dungiven Priory in Derry, which could date to early Christian or even pagan times, has been mysteriously stripped bare, leaving locals bewildered and angry.
Holy wells and rag trees are common in many parts of Ireland, where people traditionally come to pray for a special intention and tie a rag to the tree symbolising that they have left their problem behind.
Over the years, the well and rag tree at Dungiven have become a special place for people looking for a cure for warts, but it is not exclusively for this reason.
Local archaeologist Nick Brannon went to visit the well and rag tree on New Year's Day to show an American colleague, but he was horrified to find that the hundreds of rags that were once there had been removed. Mr Brannon said: "I was so angry when I saw the tree bare because I thought of all of the people over decades and decades who would have come to this special place and prayed and tied a rag to the tree.
"I am not religious myself, but this is living history, it is such a disrespectful thing to do.
"I do know this wasn't an act of random vandalism because the rags were taken from the tree, they weren't left scattered around, so a lot of time and effort went into this."
Aidan Farren said he had visited the well and rag tree many times and explained how he found a cure there.
He said: "This started out as a place where people came to pray for all kinds of things, but in my time I have just known it to be for warts and I have to say that it worked for me.
"I cannot understand why anyone would take offence at the rag tree and I am actually really annoyed that this has been done.
"I know the tradition of these wells and rag trees pre-dates the church so maybe it was someone who though it was un-Christian.
"Whoever it was went out of their way to be offended, but I wish they had put their time to better use.
"There are plenty of other genuine things that people could be offended at, but a rag tree in Dungiven shouldn't be among them."