Thursday, March 5, 2009

National Tree Week...1st-7th March 2009

National Tree Week March 1-7...'Our Trees Our Culture’

In 2009 we celebrate 25 years of National Tree Week and we have chosen as the theme ‘Our trees Our Culture’
Although Ireland experienced a decline in tree cover for more than a millennium the memory of our ancient forests is still there. When we look at our history, our literature and poetry, our music and art we find trees and what they represent to us embedded into our identity and expression.
Trees have always been part of the world’s mythology and Ireland has its own symbols and legends. To the ancient Irish and into recent history certain trees, for example, oak and hazel were associated with knowledge and others, the ash and rowan with protection. Fairy trees and raths can evoke respect to this day.
Have you ever wondered why people say ‘touch wood’ to ward off bad luck? The Celts touched trees as they believed it warded off evil spirits. Our Celtic ancestors worshiped trees, they had sacred groves and single trees, these sacred trees have survived today at Holy wells.
The earliest form of writing in Ireland was Ogham, a tree alphabet, which can be found carved on standing stones. This had twenty letters, each corresponding to one of our native species. The protection of trees also formed a core part of our ancient legal system, the Brehon Laws.
Our sense of place finds expression in our place names, which today identify towns, villages and town lands, many of which come from trees and woods. We are all familiar with Kildare (Church of the Oak) and of course Co. Derry itself. In fact of the 62,000 place names on the island of Ireland 1,200 are associated with oak. Co. Mayo is ‘the plain of the yew trees’. Co. Roscommon is the ‘St. Comáin’s Wood’ and Co. Monaghan the ‘place of the thicket’. Original names and translated derivatives can be found on all our signposts, maps and almanacs. Indeed they can still be a source of cultural dispute.
Another imprint made by trees on our cultural identity is the use of trees for surnames. Names in Irish such as Cullen or Cullinane come from Cuillen – holly, Darragh or Mc Darragh from Dair (oak), Quill from Coill (wood) as well as Irish names in the English language, Ashe and, Woods.
Trees feature in our poetry in both languages. Cill Cais is the most often quoted poem in both in Irish and English:
‘Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár’’What will we do for timber; the last of the woods are gone’.
Yeats praises the hazel wood and Kavanagh the beech tree. Trees also have a place in the works our major prose writers and playwrights, for example George Moore, Flan O’Brien, Brian Friel and James Joyce, the latter personalising virtually all species known here in his description in Ulysses of the marriage of the Chief Ranger of the Irish National Foresters to Miss Fir Conifer.
Our traditional, popular and classical music pieces often have trees as a motif, for example Percy Frenches ever popular Gortnamona and compositions by Joan Trimble such as the Green Bough.
Wood features in our historical and contemporary architecture art and craftwork. Ancient homes and fortifications were wood based and although little of the original remains today, excellent reconstruction brings these features back to life. Tree planting for aesthetic reasons and to create formal landscapes resulted in the great 18th Century Estates. The engravers and pleine air (open air) artists of the 18th and 19th Centuries saw in trees and woods a focus for dramatic landscapes and studies in light and shade. Today, trees are the focus of numerous works of photography, painting and print. There has been an explosion of wood sculpture and craft and wood use in structural building and finishing has greatly increased.
The ash is of course inextricably linked with our National Sport - Hurling and is annually celebrated in the All Ireland finals. Up to 500,000 hurleys are used each year and the ash is one of our most prized trees. Hurley making is one of the last of our cottage industries.
Tree in cities, gardens, parks and woodlands make our increasingly urban life more bearable and they feature in all major developments. Tree Week 2009 will invite you to focus on the harmony and pleasure that trees and wood bring to our life experience and contribute to creative projects in whatever way you can.
National Tree Week is sponsored by
Coillte and O2.