The Rag Well is a small well located in the townland of Knocklucas, on the southern outskirts of the town of Clonmel. The well gives its name to the surrounding area which is generally referred to as the ‘ragwell’. This is not a holy well it is more of a wishing well and there is a long tradition of people coming here and tying rags to a white thorn tree beside the well to make a wish .
While writing my last post on St Patricks well at Marlfield I came across some old photos of the Rag Well in the National Library of Ireland online photographic database. I became very curious about the well, its history, if it had changed or had been refurbished.
So last weekend I paid a visit to the site with my uncle Eddie who grew up in the Old Bridge area of Clonmel town and as a child visited the site.
The landscape of the site at the end of the 19th- early 20th century
In 1841 John O’Donovan records that the well as being known as Tobar na Gréine / the well of the sun. Although he refers to it as a holy well, he makes no mention of pilgrimage or an association with a saint. By the early 20th century the well was known as the Rag Well and continues to be known by this name to this day.
The well is an underground stream which flows into a stone lined channel. At the time the photo below was taken in the early 1900’s the well was surrounded by a low circular wall. The enclosing wall was in poor condition and it looks like only the footings of the wall were visible when the photo was taken.
In the photo the white thorn tree beside the well is covered in rags. The well looks directly across at Slievenamon mountain and the mountain is was clearly visible in the photo above. The modern tree coverage is alot more dense and the view is not as clear but its still pretty impressive.
A later photo, of unknown date, shows that the wall around the well had been rebuilt and the well has remained unchanged to this day.
The Rag well today
To get to the Rag Well you head out of Clonmel along the mountain road and at the first junction, on a sharp bend you take the smaller road (see map above). A short distance up this road you will see a small green gate that opens on to an old grassy laneway.
Go through the gate and the path to the well is on the right hand side above the lane. It is easy to miss the path and you have to climb up to it. The path consist of stone steps which are now covered in leaves and dirt. The steps are very slippy so do take care climbing and if you are anyway unsteady on your feet id give it a miss, I stumbled a few times on the way up and down.
The path is a little bit over grown in places but it will lead you to the well. Like the path the well is neglected and over grown. In the older photos the well was surrounded by pasture but today the field is covered in bracken and gorse.
The well is still surrounded by the circular stone wall. The wall is in a reasonable state of preservation but there are patches in need of repair. The well can be entered through a small opening in the south. The interior is now very over grown, although it is clear the interior hasn’t change since French photographed the well in the 1900’s see photo below. The water flows out from the ground into the stone channel which in turn flows out of the enclosure and heads down hill.
The rag tree which is a white thorn tree is covered in ivy. It looks like the ivy is choking the tree which is really sad given its history. There are still some rags on the tree which suggests some adventurous people still come here.
As I said before this is not a not a holy well but a wishing well. O’Connell in 1956 noted
There until recently the young ladies used to tie a bit of a rag around a branch of a tree, perhaps adding a prayer like ” Dear St Anne, send me a man….”
As a child my uncle was told the well was associated with the fairies and he and his friends would tie rags to the tree to make wishes before heading off to the near by reservoir to go for a swim.
French, R., & Lawrence, W. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary . http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319096
French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Slievenamon from Roguell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000331355
French, R., & Lawrence, W. (. M.. (18651914). Holy Well, Ragwell Glen, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000319095
O’Connell, P 1956. ‘St Patrick’s well Clonmel, Co. Tipperary: an early Christian sanctuary of the decies. Phamplet . Clonmel: St Patrick’s Day Society.
O’ Flanagan, Rev. M. (Complier) 1929. Letters containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Waterford collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1841. Bray: Typescript.