March 3rd 2009
This is National Tree Week. I meant to draw this to your attention some time ago. But things are so busy it’s hard to keep up with all the issues I want to blog about. I’m writing now in the back of the car. Again. This time hurtling from Laois and Offaly towards the M50, the Mad Cow Roundabout and the road to Béal Feirste.
I love trees very much. I grow quite a lot of them. Well that’s an exaggeration. Every Autumn I gather up seeds and pot them up. When they get to a decent height I plant them out or give them away. Trees are a lovely way to mark the death of a friend, or a birthday or as a little token of friendship. I also collect my seeds in some of the places I get to visit. So I have Rowans from seeds gathered at Chequers. Holly from Hillsborough. I have a solitary little Redwood from the big Redwood forest outside San Francisco. Seeds from the White House didn’t take, though the ones from 10 Downing Street are struggling on.
My most successful trees are Chestnuts from the Falls Park, Rowans from everywhere and Oak. Anyone could grow chestnuts. They come originally from Baltic countries where the soil is fairly cold. So they prosper in warmer Irish soil. Oak grow very slowly but I have three which are thriving. Ash are also easy to grow and as all Gaels will know the Camán or hurling stick is made from Ash.
Twenty years ago I wrote to Belfast hurling clubs and encouraged the ones with little patches of spare ground to plant stands of Ash for their hurls. To my knowledge none of them did so. No surprise then that Ash is imported, mostly from Eastern Europe to make the vast majority of hurls in Ireland today.
There are over 100 hurley manufacturers and about 20 commercial producers making between 10,000 and 20,000 hurleys every year. That’s a lot of Ash. But about one and a half acres of trees can produce about 4000 sticks. So there you are. Grow your own Camán. Plant one now.
That would be in keeping with the theme of this years National Tree Week; ‘Our Trees – Our Culture’.
In passing, let me congratulate the Antrim hurlers for a magnificent victory over a valiant Wexford side. Last Sunday’s game in Casement Park was a wonderful advertisement for the best game in the world and a great credit to the victors.
By the by, Antrim is one six Irish counties associated with trees. Aon Trim or Elder. The others are Derry or Doire – Oak; Monaghan or Muineachan - place of thicket; Kildare or Cill Dara - church of the oaks; Mayo or Maigh Eo - plain of the yews; Roscommon or Ros Comain - Saint Comain’s Wood.
Trees also feature in the names of towns, villages and townlands throughout the island. The most common are Oak -Durrow, Coolderry, Derrylin, Edenderry and so on. Or Yew - Terenure, Newry, Youghal. Alder incidentally gives us Ferns down I the sunny south east.
Some trees or woods are sacred and these were known as bile. They feature in names like Rathvilly or Moville.
Only 10 percent of Ireland is wooded, compared to the EU average of 36 percent. So we have a lot of planting before us.
But plant only native species. They will encourage native insects which in turn will encourage native birds, including some which are under threat
And that’s what makes the world go around. Touch wood.
And just in case you didn’t know it, that expression comes from the time of the druids when we worshipped trees and warded off evil spirits by touching a piece of wood.
Or why not branch out? Hug a tree. Go on. It will do you good. And the tree will be pleased.
Pictured in Redwood Forest outside San Francisco: Joseph Smyth, Rita O Hare, myself and Richard McAuley