Now in folklore corner… the story of Washing Bay
At the southwest corner of Lough Neagh there is a semicircular bay called Washing Bay. The creek that flows in to the lough at that point is called the Holy River. I used to wonder what was up with those names, and I ran across it in a book a while back. The story doesn’t seem to be on the web so I figured today was a good day to post it, as you will see.
I had always figured that the ‘washing’ in Washing Bay came from the fact that the local populace used to come wash their laundry there. But the actual reason ties in with the Holy River. From time immemorial the Holy River has been held to have healing powers. The story is that every year on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist you could be healed of what ailed you by the waters of the Holy River and the Washing Bay. If you washed your afflicted body part in the river or bay on the appropriate day (June 23 as the feast of St. John the Baptist is on June 24) and tied a red rag in the branches of a tree overlooking the river or bay, by the time the rag rotted and fell off you’d be cured.
At it’s height just before the famine in the mid-1800’s, there would be hundreds or thousands of bathers from all around Ulster washing in the bay on June 23. I would be interested to know if anybody is down there today, but I know the custom still lives on a little bit. There is a nature trail that runs along the bay and along the Holy River and along the river you can see a few red rags tied in the branches of the trees. Now those may be ‘props’ to enhance the Washing Bay Experience but they may be a bit of old folklore hanging on in a corner of rural Ireland.