And, yet, we usually know very little about the trees that command our affection, their age, who planted them, when and why. Some trees, especially oaks and yews, can live for centuries and be witnesses to wars, pestilences and notable world events.
This time of year, people take special note of trees as they shed their summer coats and provide us with a rich tapestry of fading colour. This bank holiday, many of us will be out walking in forests, in city parks and along country roads where we can admire the trees with which Ireland is abundantly endowed.
Thomas Pakenham, chairman of the Irish Tree Society, says our knowledge of trees is ‘’lost in a mysterious fog’’, suggesting it’s about time someone set about highlighting some of our most glorious trees and telling us all about them.
That’s what he says in his foreword to a new book by Aubrey Fennell which, in words and pictures, relates the stories of 150 stand-out trees, including rag trees, hanging trees, trees at holy wells and ghost trees.
And we learn some local history, too. The lime avenue at The Marina, in Cork, was planted around 1870 by the city corporation and has been a favourite walk ever since. Fennell, described as a daredevil tree surgeon, says The Marina surpasses avenues in Dublin and Belfast with its ‘’shimmering beauty’’.
On the cover of the Kerry Group-sponsored book is a picture of the Muckross Abbey yew tree, in Killarney National Park. The abbey dates to medieval times and legend has it that the yew was taken as a sapling from Innisfallen Island and planted at the time of its foundation, 500 to 600 years ago.
St Benin’s Tree, Kilbannon, Co Galway, is described as one of the most remarkable trees in the country. The tree wraps itself around St Benin’s Well and the story goes that, in the early 20th century, local clergy put a stop to shenanigans that occurred during the annual Garland Sunday. But, the tree still welcomes courting couples without moral judgement.
Nor are we short of quirky, exotic trees, including an Indian bean tree in Fitzgerald Park, Cork. Fennell says this specimen bursts to life in mid-summer, shooting out tropical, over-sized leaves. It has been an aristocrat all the time waiting for the other trees to look tired and worn and, then, like a preening dandy, covers itself in voluptuous white flowers.
* Heritage Trees of Ireland is published by The Collins Press. €29.99.