'Rag tree' at Ardclinis will not be touched

MOYLE Council has agreed to cut back ivy and trees in an historic graveyard in the Glens but it is understood what is regarded as a 'rag tree' will not be touched.

The work is to be carried out at the old Ardclinis church and graveyard near Waterfoot and local people say the trimming operation at the historic site is well overdue.

However, a tree in the grounds which has several pieces of clothing attached - and is believed to be regarded by some as a 'rag tree' - will be avoided.

'Rag trees' can be found in various parts of Ireland and those who believe in them say that if a strip of clothing from someone who is ill is hung from the tree and a saint, goddess or local nature spirit is petitioned for improved health, the illness will disappear as the rag rots away.m

One internet site said: 'Sometimes a clean piece of cloth or ribbon representing a wish or aspiration is placed on the tree and as the ribbon or rag disintegrates as the desire comes true. Occasionally these trees are so loaded with rags that the leaves are pretty much invisible and the odd tree has even been killed by a particularly heavy load.

'Usually though not always, the trees are close to Holy Wells. The sacred trees are usually Whitethorn, Hawthorn, Apple and Ash trees,' it was stated.

Waterfoot man Charlie McAllister said he believed the 'rag tree' at Ardclinis was only started up within the last decade.

He said: "That is only a recent thing, within the last eight or nine years. There is no significance to it locally. It is just one or two passers-by but it is definitely not locals.

"It is good that the overall improvement work is to take place at the site but there are no local believers in this tree and it has no significance here in the Glens at all."

One theory is that around eight or nine years ago an interpretive panel was put up at the site which made reference to a 'rag tree' and the tradition then re-started, perhaps in response to the sign.

A Moyle Council spokesperson said: "There are no plans to touch this particular tree as part of this contract."

In a letter to Moyle Council, Lorraine Bourke, an inspector with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: 'Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Heritage is keen to consider entering into a removal of vegetation from Ardclinis Church and its enclosing graveyard wall with a view to an eventual conservation scheme at this monument.

'As you are aware Ardclinis Church is heavily covered in vegetation, mostly ivy, which is causing severe structural damage to the remains of this medieval building. The graveyard wall has partially collapsed and it is likely to deteriorate further because of pressure from several mature trees.

'The church is readily accessible and is located in a stunning rural location. The Council, in conjunction with Glenariff Development Group, has already provided a small car park and interpretive panel at the site to encourage visitors.

'As well as safeguarding the future structural stability of the church and graveyard wall the vegetation removal scheme would have the additional benefit of allowing visitors to more fully appreciate the site.

'In view of the fact that the church is in danger of further deterioration and the Council does not have the funds to undertake the necessary vegetation clearance, NIEA: Built Heritage is willing to consider defraying the costs of this work."

Moyle Council has agreed to do the work and supply three quotations at no cost to the Council.