A squirrel could travel from Cork to Killarney without touching the ground, ancient Ireland was so densely forested, writer and folklorist Niall Mac Coitir has pointed out.
nd the mythology and folklore of trees were once part of everyday life. An ash branch tied to a cow’s tail kept the fairies away from the milk. And then malevolent spirits lurked over elder, hawthorn, and aspen, bearing tales of innumerable inconveniences.
There is sadness even under trees: poplars weep golden tears because they are sisters of Phaeton, who misled the horses of the sun and are burned. Willows have a standby role on the rivers of Babylon, where there was weeping for Zion, and “there on the willows we hung our harps.”
A major WWI poet, Edward Thomas, heard aspen whispering. “All day and all night/…over the inn, the smithy, and the shop/The aspens at the crossroads talk to each other of the rain until their last leaves fall from the top.”
The hawthorn is treated with unique respect. Sceach Gheal, Hawthorn or Maybush with thorns and flowers is a symbol of May. In some places red flowers can be seen as if a color was poured into the wind whistling through the lanes in rural areas. A plaque from a family I know bears the symbol.
The hawthorn stood alone amid fields with grazing animals and the bushes were skirted by well-trodden paths; Even a public road, it was claimed, would change direction to avoid uprooting it.
Sometimes tradition is supplanted by necessity. One winter I was cutting thorns for firewood with a chainsaw in scrubland. Luck would eventually desert me at this place.
A landowner once pointed me to an ancient thorn that had been uprooted in a storm while touring his gardens to see his ‘wild bird program’ of nesting boxes.
He planned to have a craftsman turn it into a small table or wall object, which was a better plan than using it for fuel. Despite these good intentions for the tree, it suffered a spectacular fall from grace that still reverberates many years later.
Niall Mac Coitir mentions the Tree of Power or Bile Buadha as the “archetypal otherworldly tree of magic and power…a stately tree amidst fertile greenery, from whose branches beautiful birds of many-hued plumage sing”. We have to guess the whole story.
These last few days have been declared National Tree Week by the Tree Council of Ireland, encouraging planting and drawing attention to many beautiful and unusual trees.
I remembered an unusual hawthorn in Mayo, where I spent summer days in years past, at Rosserk, near Killala, growing on a stone roof over a holy well, St. Mary’s, near an abbey which Founded in 1440 by Franciscans for an unusual community of married people who wanted to embrace monastic life.
This tree has neither internal nor external roots connecting it to the ground. I’ve never heard of any legends other than the obvious miracle of survival.
It’s still thriving, one reader reported last week, and will soon be beautiful when decked out in the May bloom, as writer Aubrey Fennell points out in his monumental work Heritage Trees of Ireland (Collins Press).
https://www.independent.ie/life/country-matters-a-magic-hawthorn-that-thrives-without-roots-41491045.html Country Matters: A magical hawthorn that thrives without roots