Tree Lore in Ireland

up the tree.

Photo by row4food

It’s difficult to imagine today, but Ireland was once an island of forests. Pre-Christian Ireland had no temples for worship, but they did have plenty of trees so they specified certain trees as holy and worshiped under them. Some tribes had a specific tree associated with them, and homes were erected around one of these trees. Trees were so important to the ancient Irish people that they even made laws pertaining to them. The Brehon Laws classify the trees into four classes, spelling out the penalties for felling each type unlawfully.



  • Chieftans: oak, hazel, holly, yew, ash, pine, and apple.
  • Peasant trees: alder, willow, hawthorn, rowan, birch, and elm.
  • Shrub trees: blackthorn, elder, juniper, and reed, which was included because of its usefulness.
  • Brambles: dog-rose, bramble, fern, and spindle.

They aren’t all trees, but they were classified as such.

The Tree of Life

The Celtic symbolism of the Tree of Life signifies the connection between the earth and the sky. It reminds us that we are connected both to heaven and earth. (I’m sure there are other symbolisms as is the case with all Celtic symbols, which are open to interpretation.)


One such interpretation comes from St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.

From my book, Celtic Wisdom:

“Once, when he visited St. Enda on Aran, he had a vision of a great tree growing in the middle of Ireland with branches spreading to all four corners of the land. Enda believed that this meant that Ciaran would be that tree of great influence, and he was, in a matter of speaking, by founding Clonmacnoise.”


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Trees were very important in ancient Ireland, so it’s no wonder this symbolic vision involved a tree. Ancient Christian monasteries were usually surrounded by a sacred grove of yews, and this may have been left over from pagan times when the oak and the yew were considered the most sacred of trees. Some of the yews still growing in Ireland and Britain might actually predate the coming of Christianity.


I like to think my own love of trees comes from my heritage. Trees are constant reminders of the cycle of life.


Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.

Author: Cindy

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  1. LOVE this! GREAT article! I love trees too & also attribute that to my Irish heritage. I totally get it! 🙂

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  2. I am always learning something really cool on this website! Interesting article.

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  3. Cindy,

    Very nice article. The Irish today still greatly revere their trees – even though they are now few and far between. There are the rag trees, money trees and fairy trees still existing in Ireland now. Many times people ask me “What’s with the tree covered in trinkets and strips of cloth?” There is a rag tree at Glendalough near a holy well and one on the road from Kilkenny to Cashel. Many such trees are associated with water or wells (also dating back into the mists of time). The past is always present in Ireland.


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  4. As a tree it must of been great when we were so numerous and central to life. Seems we are a bit peripheral / a nusiance/ a licence to print money for most humans. Liked the role of trees in Lord of the Rings though ! Those were the times!!

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