Ireland goes for royal tree glory with King Oak

If China can have a Year of the Snake, Ireland might yet be celebrating the Year of the Tree.

Voting for European Tree of the Year 2013 starts today and Ireland is in with a real chance with a giant oak nominated for its special branches — and even more special memories.

Known as King Oak, it is a majestic work of nature that has dominated the demesne of Charleville Estate in Tullamore, Co Offaly, for more than 400 years. It has been accepted as Ireland’s entry in the 2013 European Tree of the Year Contest.

Since Ireland is hosting the presidency of the EU during the first half of 2013, the organisers, the Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation, thought Ireland should have a candidate in this year’s contest. Nominations were open to all environmental, non-governmental organisations in Ireland.

“I am really delighted that my favourite tree in the world has been selected as Ireland’s entry,” says Tom Roche, founder and co-ordinator of Just Forests, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to proper forest management. It was he who proposed the popular Tullamore tree. It is a prime example of Pendunculate Oak (quercus robar) and is believed to be descended from Ireland’s original oak forests which once dominated the landscape.

“As a young boy growing up in Tullamore my fascination with the King Oak was tinged with fear,” says Tom.

“As children we were told that if a branch fell from the tree a member of the Hutton-Bury family — the owners of Charleville Estate — would die. In 1963, a bolt of lightning did strike the tree and, true to legend, Colonel Charles Hutton-Bury died some weeks later.”

Most Tullamore inhabitants have interacted with the King Oak at some time in their lives, adds Tom.

“To climb its majestic lower branches — that now touch the ground and stretch to 50 metres — was a sign of great courage. Teenage romances started and ended at this mysterious giant tree.”

*To vote for King Oak, go online to Voting ends on Feb 28.

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