Millennium Forests: Events

Trees were very important to the survival and daily lives of people long ago. They provided food, firewood for heat and cooking, wood for spears and fish traps, dye for cloth and poles for fencing and building dwellings.

People valued trees and laid down rules to protect them. Under the ancient Brehon Laws trees were divided into four groups in order of importance and usefulness. Even heather, gorse, bracken and brambles were protected. If you damaged or cut a tree or branch without permission, you would be punished severely.

Later, tree names were associated with letters in Ogham, the first Irish writing, and as a memory aid when teaching the Roman alphabet, when the first letter of the tree's name stood for an alphabet letter, for example, Sail (willow) for S.

In very early times, trees were associated with religion and the gods. It was believed that Nine Hazels of Wisdom grew at the source of the river Boyne. Five magical trees were believed to protect Ireland; three ash, an oak and a yew. Sacred trees guarded important tribal sites or wells. Christians adapted these old beliefs and trees were sometimes linked with saints.

Old beliefs about trees survived in folklore. St. Patrick was said to have banished the snakes with an ash stick. Trees beside holy wells were often decorated with rags or other offerings. Rowan was once thought to frighten off witches and bring good luck.

The rules to protect trees survived in some beliefs, for example, that cutting down a hawthorn brought bad luck because the fairies used it.

The names of trees are seen in placenames all around the country. Derry and Kildare are called after Dair, the word for oak; Glenbeigh in Kerry is named after Beith, the word for birch; Drumkeeran in Leitrim is named after the Caorthann or rowan tree. If you know a boy or man called Dara, he is named after the oak tree also.