In Northern Ireland there are many contexts in which to situate public display, and many histories to examine. On June 2, 1995, I drove with Michael McCaughan to Dungiven, County Derry. We were visiting a rag well, a holy well with healing properties. This one was surrounded, indeed almost obscured, by trees and bushes on which were tied rags, strings, ropes, and other pieces of cloth left by previous visitors as votive offerings. The well is located close to the ruins of the medieval priory of St. Mary, overlooking a spectacular view of the valley below. The well is easily missed as one walks onto the grounds, but once seen, it is unforgettable. The branches are thick, twisted, gnarled, and dense, made all the denser by the great many rags tied on them. It is both a wall made of rags and branches, and an environment, a space into which one must enter to get to the small rock basin with its holy water. Most of the rags are faded and in various stages of disintegration. Perhaps people leave these in the belief that as the rags disintegrate, the illness to which they correspond will also fade. However, Michael and I found the site both striking and moving, and we each left a token of our presence—I tore my handkerchief in two pieces that we tied to branches of the hawthornes, which are said to have supernatural associations of their own. Broadly speaking, the rags are at least in part, memorials—tokens of our having visited.
KeywordsGang Member Wall Painting Public Display Holy Water Republican Movement
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