Lay of the Land
Open trucks of felled trees routinely pass through this country town, reflecting how commercial forestry has become another branch of intensive farming, blanketing hills, former wilderness and farmland as investors avail of grants and tax relief.
Yet many question whether the Sitka spruce that dominates Ireland's afforestation programme really solves our carbon crisis, given these non-native trees are felled after a few decades to become supply wood, much of it exported. Not to mention their impact on biodiversity and the environment - or the communities who live in their literal shadow.
Certainly, planted forests are a far cry from the late folklorist Kevin Danaher's view that "trees which were a familiar part of our great-grandfather's landscape are still part of ours, familiar neighbours, almost friends, and there are few of us who have not been saddened when one of these friends is blown down by a storm or felled for its timber".
The formation of the Free State sounded the death knell for our native forests, which dwindled over the centuries from around 80pc to 1pc in the 1920s. Their destruction started back when 'the virgin queen' cleared miles of Ireland's virgin forests to stop them sheltering her enemies, especially as they were fond of 'plashing', or intertwining, the branches of growing trees and bushes, sharpening the ends to make formidable obstacles.
The peace that followed the Elizabethan wars brought further devastation, as many landowners exploited a growing shortage of timber in Europe; most of the oil and wine exported from France and Spain over the next century was said to be in casks made of Irish oak. Irish timber was also popular for house building and furniture, as it was thought to be immune from insect attack and serpents, the latter perhaps connected to St Patrick's prejudice. Hundreds more acres went up in smoke to fuel the furnaces that worked the small deposits of good iron still to be found in parts of the country.
And so, as Danaher notes, "the woods were wasted, until the day came when the poet lamented: what shall we do henceforth? The last of the woods are down".
Thankfully, pockets of wooded paradise remained, while the tree planting that began several decades ago has gathered pace in these climate-changed times, as members of the public take action to address the dire fact that Ireland has the lowest forest cover of all European countries.
Fellow tree-huggers should check out Tree Preservation Ireland, which welcomes folk from all walks of life who are united by a desire to protect our native trees in both city and country.
Or lovetrees.ie, which hopes to launch a co-op to fund the planting and growing of new native woodland forests that would never be cut down, a forestry management technique known as continuous cover forestry.
For it's time that treating trees with due reverence took firm root.