Using common Soft-rush for making St. Brigid's crosses
Next Sunday, February 1st, is Lá Fhéile Bhríde, Saint Brigid's feast day and one of the traditions associated with Brigid, patroness of Ireland, is to make a Saint Brigid's Cross.
The cross is a simple design that can easily be created from the image above. Some years ago a stylised version of the cross was used by Telefís Éireann to represent RTÉ One. The design is also popular in jewellery making.
Versions of the cross are a common sight in tourist shops where they are sold both as souvenirs of symbols of Ireland and in the belief that they have the power to protect the purchaser's home from evil, fire, hunger and disease.
To make a cross 16 lengths of fresh Soft-rush are needed each about 30cm long. One length is folded in half over another length, and rotating clockwise, the pattern is repeated to weave a square. The loose ends radiating from the corners of the central square are tied off and trimmed to complete the structure.
Soaking the rushes in water beforehand make them more pliable, less likely to break when folded and easier to work with.
Anyone can make a Saint Brigid's cross, but like all craft work, it requires skill and practice to make a really good one. Failing a convenient supply of our native Soft-rush, 16 drinking straws or pipe cleaners and four small rubber bands serve the purpose.
Soft-rush is a very common wild plant and a supply of cross-making materials can be easily cut from any poorly-drained field or low-lying wet ground near ditches, rivers, ponds or lakes. The species shuns lime-rich areas and grows particularly well in sandy and peaty ground.
While Soft-rush can grow waist high it is more usual to see it about knee high. Its round stems are dark green in colour, are completely hairless and are glossy. Its leaves are reduced to scales on the stem. The cylindrical stems are brittle and if one breaks the break reveals that the interior is filled with a soft, continuous pith. It flowers in July and August and its brown flowers are pollinated by the wind.
Eighteen species of wild rush have been recorded growing in Ireland and Soft-rush is by far the most widespread and the most common. The plants grow in tufts and can be troublesome weeds in wet fields. Sometimes they may be seen growing in lines where they follow the paths of choked field drains.