The Oldest Tree in Ireland

Regular readers of this blog – both of them – will know that I’ve developed a habit during the current lockdown of talking walks around the South Campus of Maynooth University in order to get a bit of exercise.

I’ve noticed a bit of a side effect of strolling around the environs of the old College, though, which is that I always return home sneezing. I’ve never really been susceptible to hay-fever before, but I reckon this is a reaction to tree pollen. It’s the right season for that, and there are many trees about.

Last night I was idly googling around in an attempt to identify the types of tree I would encounter on my wanderings and during the course of that I accidentally came across something fascinating.

This Yew tree stands near the main entrance to Maynooth University campus.

It’s not a particularly tall specimen and I’ve walked past it hundreds of times without paying attention to it. It is however generally believed to be the oldest tree in the Republic of Ireland (there is one tree, another Yew, possibly older, in County Fermanagh.) The tree in Maynooth germinated (or was planted) around the year 1267 ± 50, which makes it around 753 ± 50 years old.

The timing is interesting because it means that the tree is roughly the same age as Maynooth Castle and the old church. In this picture you can see the Yew tree on the left, with the church on the right and the remains of the Castle in the background:

Here’s a better picture of the Castle from another direction. Only a few bits of wall, the gatehouse and solar tower remain. The Castle was damaged and subsequently surrendered after a siege in 1535 (see below) then reoccupied only to be largely dismantled in 1647, whereafter it fell into ruin.

The tree is often called the “Silken Thomas Tree” after Thomas Fitzgerald, the 10th Earl of Kildare, who led a rebellion against the English authorities during the time of Henry VIII. He acquired the nickname “Silken Thomas” because of the ribbons of silk worn by his supporters. Needless to say, the rebellion failed and his family castle was destroyed. Thomas surrendered, throwing himself on the mercy of the King. That went exactly as well as you might have expected: Thomas was executed, along with several members of his family, in 1537.

The tree, of course, pre-dates Silken Thomas by three centuries, but legend has it that he played a lute under the boughs of the tree the night before he surrendered to King Henry VIII.

All that is quite interesting but doesn’t answer the question of which trees make me sneeze…

7 Responses to “The Oldest Tree in Ireland”

  1. This time of year it’s probably birch or ash pollen.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’m by no means an expert on trees but I haven’t identified any birch trees, so the prime suspect is ash.

  2. contested indeed! Three contenders it turns out. But lots of other interesting Irish trees to be found here: https://www.dailyedge.ie/irelands-best-trees-1291235-Feb2014/

  3. Hello! I’m Sue Romero, and I write a blog and newsletter for the Irish Cultural Center in Utica, NY. I was googling this evening to find a fun fact for our newsletter. I wanted to find the oldest tree in Ireland and a good photo of it. Would you like to grant me permission to publish your photo on our blog? I’ll link it back to your post here.

  4. […] week. This is another thing I’ve just found out and thought I’d share. This is a view I took last spring of Maynooth Castle (or the ruins […]

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