Farm Ireland

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Opinion: Why I am on a mission to tell the story of our notable trees

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
John B Keane
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Help me, please!

Almost as soon as A Year on our Farm was published, nearly five years ago, people started asking me about my next book.

I would never have thought that I could do a book but, once it was done, doing another became a possibility.

But, like a musician faced with difficult second album syndrome, I couldn't decide what it would be about.

Among the ideas I discounted, because I felt it wouldn't be practical, was the kind offer of a local farmer to do A Year on a (his) Dairy Farm.

All sort of things have been going around my head, and finally I have settled on an idea.

But first, a little story.

Growing up in West Limerick, I can vividly remember coming home from boarding school at the weekend, looking at the local broadsheet paper, the Limerick Leader, on which almost the entire cover of section two was taken over by the musings of John B Keane.

Also Read

I thought he was a total bogman. I used to ask, why is he writing about all these small things, why does he not write about big stuff, like wars, or politics?

Ah, the arrogant innocence.

I now recognise that John B is one of Ireland's finest. I have learned that writing is about making a connection with the reader. Smaller commonplace things take up most of our lives, they are what resonate.

John B was once accosted as he walked down the street by a man who wanted to know why he had never written about bucket handles. He had often written about buckets but never explicitly about their handles.

I would never put myself in the same league as John B but that doesn't mean that I can't try to create something of value.

OK, OK, I know I can't put it off much longer.

So … tin can (not drum) roll please … I'm going to do a book about farm trees.

I love trees. Like people and animals, they have character. I believe there is nothing than humans can create that is more amazing than nature can, and many of the best examples of this are trees.

A couple of years ago, at a market in Bantry, we found these amazing hazel walking poles around which honeysuckle had grown up, creating a stunning spiral pattern in the bark.

I first thought they must be artificial but they had been carved by nature.

We got one, and named it Gandalf, after the wise wizard in The Hobbit who journeyed about on foot with a staff.

For current purposes, I'm not interested in monumental trees. Much wonderful work has been done on them by Thomas Packenham, whose Remarkable Trees of the World I am devouring at the minute, along with The Company of Trees, which covers a year at his home in Tullynally, Co Westmeath.

Rather, I'm interested in trees that are a part of the everyday working landscape but are still notable in some way. There must be many of them that are rarely seen by the public, as they are on private land.

Perhaps there are other treasures like Armagh's Dark Hedges, which have been immortalised in the TV series, Game of Thrones.

So, say, small trees, or with an unusual shape - due to the elements or otherwise, perched on a cliff or other precarious or other unusual location, a genetic variant or with a burr, or one that's been put to an interesting use, in a farming context or not.

It could be a pair of trees or even a bigger number; or damaged, or fallen. Or a shrub. Native species of not.

I want to record their stories, or at least a snapshot of them, in words and photos.

That is where my cry for help comes in. I need people to tell me where they are! This sounds a bit like a personal ad but I have my camera, and am willing to travel and listen.

So, if you have an interesting tree on your farm or know of a one that might fit the bill, please contact me on or 087 2207327.

For Stories Like This and More
Download the FarmIreland App

Indo Farming

More in Comment