Graphite may end clash of the ash

HARD to believe, but the day may soon come when the clash of the ash, and the unmistakeable thud of wood whacking a sliotair, will no longer be heard in the playing fields of Ireland.

For as long as anyone can remember — maybe even since the time of fabled Setanta — hurleys have been crafted from ash. But, an Offaly company, Cultec, is now making a graphite camán from synthetic materials.

Cultec sees a market opening, as there is a serious shortage of ash for the 500,000 new hurleys that are needed every year. To meet demand, 60% of ash used in the manufacture of hurleys is imported, despite the fact that the ash is among our more widespread trees.

Large supplies of ash are shipped from England, even from some of the Queen’s own estates, as well as ash from mainland European countries and eastern Europe, for hurley making.

The only surprise is that more enterprising farmers and business people here have not seen the potential for growing ash trees to service the hurley-making industry.

An Fuinseog is the title of a book by forester Dr Jack Durand, published earlier this year with the backing of the Tree Council of Ireland. As well as highlighting the shortage of ash, the book gives information about the planting, protection and maintenance of the ash tree.

It also points to the obvious economic benefits for growers and urges farmers to plant ash, our most common and tallest native tree which thrives on fertile soils.

According to the book, one and a half acres of ash can produce 3,800 hurleys. There are more than 100 manufacturers in the country and about 20 commercial producers. Experts say an ash tree needs to be 25 to 30 years old to produce top quality hurleys.

Science and technology may soon take over from wood in hurley production. As well as being scarce, ash has also become expensive and traditional hurleys, which often break in the heat of battle, need to be replaced.

By all accounts, the Cultec hurleys are being used by up-and-coming young players in Dublin and they rarely break. However, a verdict is awaited from the country’s top hurlers.

Still on sylvan matters, there’s probably no better time to enjoy the grandeur and majesty of our trees and woodlands, now drooping under the weight of summer coats of various colours.

The Killarney Oakwoods and Muckross Estate, the heartland of Killarney National Park, are truly a sight to behold at present and well worth a visit lasting hours, if possible.

More than a million people visit Muckross each year and little wonder, for this is a truly special place that crystallises the essence of Killarney and its natural beauty.

Muckross Gardens date to the 1840’s when work on their layout was started by the Herbert family, the landlord owners of Muckross House and estate.

Many of the trees close to the house were planted at the time, including Scots pine, oaks, silver fir and birches. The work was accelerated in the six years leading up to the 1861 visit of Queen Victoria to Killarney.

During the years of the later Vincent ownership, between 1911 and 1932, most of the development of the gardens took place, with the involvement of leading English garden architects.

Features are still much the same and, at this time of year, the sunken garden is transformed into a sea of colour, with an array of flowers and bedding plants. From the sunken gardens rises a cast iron staircase leading to the window of the ladies’ boudoir, in Muckross House.

It was to the boudoir that the head gardener would deliver freshly-cut flowers to the lady of the house, who supervised their arrangement in the old ‘upstairs, downstairs’ way. The room was used as Queen Victoria’s sitting room, in 1861.

The stately Scots pines that tower over the rhododendron and heather-fringed lawns at Muckross were planted by the Herberts, around 1845. Scots pines can survive for 250 years, but new groves and individual trees are added to give a more varied age profile and guarantees for the future.

Something else not to be missed in Muckross is the rock garden, developed on a natural outcrop of fissured limestone. Several pathways lead you through the rock garden, which has a prolific range of conifers, shrubs, perennials and spring bulbs.

All areas of Killarney National Park are looking their best at present. The Walk Killarney programme of organised treks was well supported during the June bank holiday weekend, but countless casual strollers and ramblers were also out enjoying the full bloom of summer.


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