Rushes In Folklore

  By Eugene Daly

Search County Kerry

RUSHES were traditionally used for thatching and for strewing on the floor to keep rooms fresh, which made them a symbol of hospitality, shelter and protection.

There are several types of rushes:

(a) Soft Rush — Geataire (also called in Irish Luachair Ghallda (Foreign Rush);

(b) Hard Rush -Luachair Chrua ;

(c)Compact rush (Luachair Dhlüth;

(d) Sharp-flowered rush — Fiastalach;

(e) Common Club rush —Bogshifin.

There was, and still is to a lesser degree, a custom of making Cros Brlde (St.Brigid’s Cross) out of rushes or straw on February 1st, her feast day. 

The crosses were hung up in the home and often in byre and stable, to honour the saint and to gain her protection for family and farm animals.  

It was adopted by Radio Teleifis Eireann as its logo for many years. 

St. Brigid’s crosses were believed to have great powers of protection against fire, storm, lightning and against illness. In parts of Donegal, fishermen made a little ribbon which they wore at sea to gain the saint’s protection. It was considered lucky to find a green-tipped rush. 

There was also a widespread custom of welcoming St. Brigid into the household on St. Brigid’s Eve by spreading a bundle of fresh rushes on the threshold so that the saint might kneel to bless the house, or else wipe her feet before entering.

In the Isle of Man there was a similar custom; a bunch of green rushes were gathered and the gatherer stood with them on the threshold of the house. 

He or she said a short verse to invite St. Brigid to come and lodge in the house that night; the rushes were then strewn on the floor as a welcome. 

Also in the Isle of Man an offering of fresh rushes was made to Mannanán Mac Lir, the Celtic god of the sea. 

Green rushes were commonly strewn on the floor of the house to keep down dirt. In ancient Ireland, garments were strewn under the feet of kings but rushes under those of a lower order. Rushes were similarly used in the houses of nobles in England. 

The English stage was strewed with rushes in Shakespeare’s time and the Globe Theatre was roofed with rushes. 

In the Irish speaking parts of Ireland, an unexpected or infrequent caller was often greeted with the welcome: ‘Dd mbeadh soipin luachraagain, chuirimis faoi do chosa é’ (if we had a handful of rushes we would strew them under your feet).

In Irish mythology in the boy-hood tales of Cucliulain n. When King Conchubhar enters the house of the smith Culainn. he is welcomed and fresh rushes laid clown. In the Fianna tales when Diarmuid eloped with Gráinne. he made a bed of soft rushes for Gráinne to sleep on.

Since they grow in watery places it is hardly surprising that rushes appear in association with holy and healing wells in many tales. 

The earliest Irish candles were made with rushs. Rushilight candles were made by peeling the rushes when green and then soaking them in some inflammable substance, traditionally tallow, lard or ‘train oil’, which was obtained by crushing oily fish like pilchards. Corn stacks and hay ricks were covered with rushes. 

RUSHES hardly feature at all in folk medicine, but it was used in parts of Ulster for curing jaundice. In some parts of the country they were burnt and the ashes used to cure ringworm.  In parts of England the rush is used in a charm for thrush as follows:

“Take three rushes from any running stream, and pass them separately through the mouth of the patient, then plunge the rushes again into the stream, and as the current bears them away, so will the thrush depart the child.” 

A legend recorded in Co. Galway explained why the tips of rushes became brown and withered. One night, as St. Patrick went to bed, he warned his servant boy that if he talked in his sleep he might be impolite. The servant was warned to listen to all the saint said. 

After sleeping for a while the saint shouted ‘Bad luck to Ireland’. The listening boy responded: ‘If so, let it be on the tips of the rushes`s. 

After sleeping a little longer the saint shouted again: “Bad luck to Ireland”. The boy replied “If so let it be on the highest part of the white cows”.

After another short sleep the saint shouted again: “Bad luck to Ireland”. The boy answered: “If so let it be on the bottom of the Furze”. 

On waking; Patrick asked the boy if he had spoked while asleep. The boy told him that he had said “Bad luck to Ireland” three times. 

“And what did you say?” asked the saint. The boy explained what he had said and ever since the tips of the rushes have been withered. The tips of the horns of the white cow have been black and the lower parts of the gorse bush have been withered. 

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