BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Continuing the story of the Raggedy Bush that stands on the Kells Road outside Kilkenny: Another man I spoke to back in 2001 was Billy Reenahan, who confessed to having a soft spot for the bush.
He cited the tradition of attaching rags to it to guarantee a safe journey. Colliers transporting coal from Castlecomer in the 50s never passed it without leaving a rag or two. They would halt their mule trains and pay their respects to the bush before resuming the journey.
Billy drew my attention to some ancient writings inscribed on a stone beneath the bush. These, however, are indecipherable and give no clue as to the bush’s history. As well as writing, there are harps, shamrocks, and elaborate Celtic designs on the stone.
Billy was fond of the hand blasted water pump that is situated close to the bush. This was installed in 1906 and Billy wished to see it restored to its former glory.
He explained: “It goes 80 feet into the earth and provides an everlasting supply of water. It aids the cause of the Raggedy Bush, because anyone coming here to collect water can see it and tell their friends about this part of our heritage”.
Jim Kirby, who ran his Leinster Stone business from Kilkenny’s Industrial estate, had the honour of being asked to carve the lettering on the Raggedy Bush plaque. He did the inscription on a slab of high quality shale mined in the Paulstown area. As a Kells Road resident, he has taken an interest in the bush and its colourful reputation.
He commented “One of the traditions I like best is the practise of tying a ribbon to it when you emigrate, and another one if, and when, you return to your homeland”.
Patsy Daly from Loughboy was a regular visitor to the bush. “I’ve been tying rags on it for over 35 years”, he boasted, “It all began one evening after I had a little row with the wife. I was telling her about the Raggedy Bush and she started making a skit of it. I tried to be serious, but she just laughed.
“Go away, she said, and put a sock in it. So I did. I tied my two socks to a sprig on the bush and drove home bare footed to the missus. We both had a good laugh but she respected me for it all the same.”
Patsy felt that the Tourist Board ought to be “flogging the bush for everything it’s worth”. No guidebook on Kilkenny, he insisted, could be complete if it didn’t include at least a passing reference to the Raggedy Bush.
He was critical of tour operators, local Councillors and Dail Deputies for failing to highlight the historical and religious significance of the bush and its place in Kilkenny’s heritage.
“If the bush was promoted properly, the tourist trade could benefit to the tune of
millions”, he opined. Patsy believed that “ideally, the Chamber of Commerce, the tourism people, and the Enterprise Board should be hyping it up and taking full advantage of what it has to offer.”
He added: “I would see this as one of Kilkenny’s biggest lost opportunities. Turin has the shroud, Knock has the shrine, and Cork has the Blarney Stone. We have the Raggedy Bush and it’s about time we stopped taking it for granted.”
While respecting the traditions and reverence associated with the cultural icon, he insisted that the bush could take Kilkenny to new heights of economic performance… “from rags to riches!”