Tobar Ghobnatan Rag Trees (Wishing Tree)
* Tobar Ghobnatan * Ballyvourney (a.k.a. Baile Bhuirne), County Cork, Ireland *
A grand example of a large wishing tree (or rag tree) can be found at Tobar Ghobnatan in County Cork Ireland. It is a magical space of charm and tradition, with holy wells, shrines, mythology, and magical spots. As you drive up to the Tobar Ghobnatan Statue, Well, Hut, Grave, Church ruins, and yard, you will see on your right a wrought-iron archway with the letters spelling “HOLY WELL” along its top.
When I walked through this archway, I immediately spied a 3/4 large ring of mushrooms known as a Fairy Ring. A short walk down the path you will find the well at the base of a wishing tree. The tree is covered with rags or clouties as well as many other trinkets placed there or tied to the branches as offerings and prayers. These are often cleaned up and removed by the church. The well has steps down into it, but can often be difficult without crawling on your knees to get at the magical waters. There are two taps nearby where one can retrieve the water. All over this tree are paper and cloth rags, fabric clooties (cloughties), and plastic remnants tied to the branches. Sometimes these can be found in the hundreds of individual offerings and prayer petitions.
However, according to gossip, the local Church cleans up the tree on occasion, removing the rags and tokens. Whether or not this is true is unknown, but not many items here look really old so it might be true. The concept is to leave behind something of yourself or someone that you love who is in need of prayers, healing, or petitions. The concept with the rags is that when it decays so will the illness that it represents. This is a kind of sympathetic magical rite.
Unfortunately, some pilgrims to the sites don’t realize how the spell or magic works. You can see this when they tie a piece of a plastic bag on the tree. Plastic will take forever to decay, and so will the illness it is to represent. If only they knew! In addition to the rags, others leave coins, jewelry, rings, prayer cards, figurines, toys, personal effects, and clothing items such as belts, shoes, garments, and trinkets. The cloutie and Wish trees found at Tobar Ghobnatan are considered to be dedicated to the Matron Saint of Ballyvourney and sacred Bee-Keeping mistress, Saint Ghobnatan holy pilgrimage site and monastic settlement known as “Tobar Ghobnatan”. This is the legendary home of St. Gobnait/Ghobnatan. It is located a kilometer south of the village of Ballyvourney where her church Móin Mór (a.k.a. Bairnech) was built.
How to get here: Drive West from Macroom to Kerry on the N22. As you pass through Ballymakerry (Baile Mhic Ire), you will pass a church on your right-hand side and will take the first left-hand turn after the church that has a signpost. Follow the road 400 meters and you will see the first (and main) holy well on the right. You’ll need to go up the hill a bit for parking as it is a very narrow road. Take the next right-hand road (near where you can park by a graveyard) up the hill to see the other holy well, statue, hut, church ruins, and main graveyard. There is also a modernized porta-toilet in this parking lot so you don’t have to use the bushes. The GPS coordinates are 79: W 1967 7688. Longitude: 9° 10′ 5″ W, Latitude: 51° 56′ 18″ N.
Photos from visit in 2023:
Photos from visit in 2013:
Article by Thomas Baurley, Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Productions, and Research Services: technogypsie.net. © 2013: All rights reserved. Updated 2024.
Bibliography and recommended reading:
- Inchigeelagh “Ballyvourney”. Website referenced and reviewed by Thomas Baurley on 12/21/13 at http://2009.inchigeelagh.net/inchigeelagh/ballyvourney.php.
- Megalithic Ireland “St. Gobnait’s House and Holy Well” website referenced and reviewed by Thomas Baurley at http://www.megalithicireland.com/St%20Gobnait%27s%20House%20and%20Holy%20Well,%20Ballyvourney.html
- Pilgrimage Medieval Ireland February 18, 2013 “Pilgrimage to St. Gobnait at Ballyvourney, County Cork”. Web site referenced and reviewed on 12/21/2013 by Thomas Baurley at http://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/2013/02/18/pilgrimage-to-st-gobnait-at-ballyvourney-co-cork/.