Green grow the rushes o

Eanna Ní Lamhna tells us why we honour St. Brigid with Rush Crosses.

rushes“Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen. We daren't go a hunting for fear
of little men”

So wrote the custom's officer in Carrick in south-west Donegal in 1850 as he gazed up at Slieve League mountain. William Allingham, the poet who wrote those lines, may well have considered rushy glens as unwelcome places because of the possibility of meeting fairies. They are no more popular today among many land-owners indicating as they do, poorly drained land not ideal for farming. But rushes were not always held in such low esteem in Ireland. In Brehon law, useful trees and bushes were allocated titles according to their worth. It is a measure of the importance and usefulness of the rush that it was given honorary status as a bush and classified among the bushes of the woods.

Rushes seem to have been an early forerunner of carpet because they were traditionally laid down on floors to keep rooms fresh and to provide a welcoming atmosphere for guests. This is recounted in the early sagas – for example when Queen Maebh sent her envoy to Cooley to buy the brown bull, he was made very welcome initially and fresh rushes were laid in the hall before him. It was the loose talk caused by drink after the banquet that led to the later unpleasantness, not any deficiencies in the rushes.  

Why are rushes particularly associated with St. Brigid? Well the story is that one day Brigid was passing a decrepit building when she heard moaning noises emanating from it. Upon entry she discovered an old man who was dying. She immediately tried to speak to him about the passion of our Lord but he wasn't able to follow what she was saying. So she went out, gathered some rushes, quickly wove them into a cross and came back to him. He then understood, repented of his past sins and died and went straight to Heaven. And the cross of rushes has been associated with St. Brigid to this very day.