Ireland’s Natural Royalty: the Heritage Trees of Ireland
There was a time when a mythical squirrel could travel from one end of the country to the other without leaving the oak canopy.
The Ireland of today is better known for its rolling green hillside and dramatic coasts than dense oak forest, but details like this from Aubrey Fennell’s “Heritage Trees of Ireland“ crown the arboriculture as the Emerald Isles “other” natural wonder. This book is not a field guide filled with botanical overviews; it is more of a destination guide that confirms that in Ireland even the trees have stories.
Some of the trees harken back to families with grand estates, others have a more mythical past, still others tell tales of romance or treachery, and then there are those that earn their place simply because of their size or longevity. Each tree tells us something different from Ireland’s past.
Surprisingly, this book doubles as a beautiful, interesting addition to the coffee table AND a travel planning tool. Many of the trees are located at or near a major tourist site in Ireland and can offer an unexpected addition to one’s travels. In fact, I’ve walked by several of the trees on visits without truly understanding their significance or history. In this book, the photos trigger my interest, and the text reels me in with local history rather than science.
While the history of these trees add to their wonder, I also experience a feeling of melancholy as I read the book. Many of the trees are old and irreplaceable, which adds a sense of urgency for anyone wanting to see them… they may or may not be standing for future generations. This was made clear this winter when a strong storm knocked down some of the trees listed in the book, namely the 200-year-old Grey Poplar at Birr Castle in County Offaly.
I’m not always drawn to the largest, widest, oldest, longest. In fact, my favorites are usually quite small and land in the “Sacred Tree” category where Hawthorns have been covered with prayer rags or a solitary bush belongs to the fairies or the water flowing from near a tree’s roots have been deemed holy or branches with coins pressed into the bark answer a wish. They remind me how humans cannot help but find magic in trees.