Ireland is well known for its patch-work quilt of tiny fields, rolling hills and towering cliffs. When I am guiding people around Ireland's beautiful countryside, I always make sure to point out the little patches of ancient forest that hug the hillsides and blanket the valley floor, along our route. Many people over-look the importance of these last bastions of native trees on the island. Ireland was once one big forest from north to south, east to west. It was said that a squirrel could hop from branch to branch across the island without ever touching the forest floor. The forest was the home of wolves, bears, wild boar and the noble red deer. It was also the home and hunting ground of the first human inhabitants, who were nomadic hunter gatherers. These pagan people had a huge respect for nature and held the trees in high regard. Certain trees were protected under Brehon law (The ancient Irish law system). Under this law the damage or cutting down of noble trees resulted in heavy penalties from the confiscation of milking cows to execution.
The forest provided the Celts with food, building material, fuel and each tree had huge spiritual significance.
When the Celts arrived in Ireland they were using a unique calendar. It broke the year into 13 lunar months using a different tree for each month.
They understood that each tree had its own spirit and influence in their own lives. Here are three of those trees to keep a look out for!
Hawthorn - 18th April-15th May
The hawthorn is a symbol of psychic protection and were planted around churches, land and dwellings and it is believed that fairies spirits live among the hawthorns. Being a hawthorn is what makes you an old fashioned, deep rooted cautious person with an affectionate nature. You are natural performers protect your family and those around you using your thorns! The power of Hawthorns cannot be underestimated, in Co.Clare the completion of a motorway was delayed by years as the original plan had the road running right through a hawthorn fairy tree so it had to be moved as not to disturb the fairies and avoid tragedy If you encounter one of these trees, what ever you do, do not damage the tree or break a branch!
Holly - 11th July -7th August.
Being a Holly suggests that you have a deep understanding of the dark, hidden side of humanity.
The holly is ever green and fruits in winter, the dark side of the year, when all other flora have lost their blush and gone dormant. It was often planted around homes for protection against lightening and for this reason is viewed as a symbol for protection. Celtic warriors carried clubs made of holly wood as holly was thought to repel evil. Successors of Celtic chieftains were crowned with a holly wreath.
Apple - 5th September - 2nd October
The apples tree is slight of build and is appealing and attractive. Its brilliant flowers burst forth in the spring, these flowers have a delicate aroma that lifts the spirit of all who pass them by. The ancient Celts would decorate bed chambers with the apple blossoms as a fertility gesture. Apples were highly valued by the ancient Celts because of their ability to keep over a long period of time. The formation of the trunk was said to have a female form and was considered a beacon of fertility. Apple orchards were traditionally protected as sacred ground.
A long history of farming, population growth, ship building and need for fuel during the industrial revolution, led to the mass deforestation of Ireland. The good news is that a new respect for these native trees has emerged and the native trees are being replanted around the island.
On our tour route we do some great walks in ancient woodland and you can have lots of fun searching for your own calendar tree to hug!