Donal Hickey: Aren’t the trees just terrific?

Donal Hickey: Aren’t the trees just terrific?
Picture: Denis Minihane.

MAYBE it’s just because there’s more time to stand back and observe during the coronavirus crisis, but am I the only person who thinks our trees never looked better than they do this year? You can use all the superlatives — awesome, breath-taking or even stupendous — to describe them and there wouldn’t be any exaggeration.

The words of the late, lamented Dick Warner, whose work graced this page for many years, come to mind. About trees, he said: ‘We are looking at a living thing that’s far, far older than we are and that creates respect’.

Trees also inspired some of Seamus Heaney’s poetry and he found uncanny likenesses between them and people. Nothing is closer to us at the beginning and the end of life, with wood from trees providing the frame for both cradle and coffin, he suggested.

The sheer beauty of the lime avenue running along the banks of the Lee at the Marina, in Cork, surpasses most other avenues. Dating back to the 1870’s, it continues to be a favourite walk for people lucky enough to be living in that side of the city.

Many associate the Marina with crowded match days in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but to really appreciate this gem it’s obviously best to walk there at quiet times.

In his well-researched book, Heritage Trees of Ireland, Aubrey Fennell wrote glowingly about the Marina lime trees: ‘If you believe as I do that heaven is in the here and now, then this must be Cork’s own roadway to heaven’. Couldn’t put it better than that.

If you are travelling between Skibbereen and Ballydehob in West Cork, you cannot miss a golden Monterey cypress tree at Church Cross. This variety have become the largest trees in Ireland since being introduced here two centuries ago. Spreading outwards, the specimen in West Cork dominates the landscape and provides a useful nesting space and shelter for many birds.

Some of the finest old trees in Ireland are in Killarney National Park and one of the most celebrated is the ancient yew standing in the middle of Muckross Abbey. Some experts believe it has been there for almost 400 years.

Eighteenth century visitors to the area left accounts of this yew and there’s a huge bank of folklore and superstition surrounding it, including a belief that anyone who damaged it would die within a year. In folk tradition, there’s a story about a soldier who suffered exactly that fate for so doing.

In the area immediately around Muckross Abbey, some oak, lime and horse chestnut trees are now looking majestic. And, if you wish to see one of the pure yew woodlands remaining in Europe nearby Reenadinna Wood is well worth a look.

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