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Blarney Witch's Yew in the running for Tree of the Year crown

It has captured the minds and imaginations of generations of locals and visitors from across the globe, who have wandered through the spectacular gardens in the grounds of Blarney Castle.

Now, having last August won the 2019 Irish Tree of the Year title, the ancient and imposing 'Witch's Yew' in the Mythical Rock Close on the Castle grounds is now vying to become the first from Ireland to win the prestigious European Tree of the Year crown. 

The Yew Tree, which has been estimated by experts to be more than 600 years old, sits on top of a natural limestone outcrop that houses the Witch's Kitchen. A folly, the Witch's Kitchen was built by the Jeffreyes family under the Yew in the 1750s as part of the famous Rock Close gardens. 

According to legend, the area is the home of the Blarney Witch, who first told mortals about the Blarney's Stone's magical powers - the gift of eloquence.

Imprisoned by day in the 'Witch Stone', the witch is said to be released after nightfall only to be banished back to the stone again at dawn. Over the years some early-morning visitors have even claimed to have seen the dying embers of a fire in her stone. 

Established in 2011 The European Tree of the Year Competition was inspired by a national competition that has been running in Czech Republic for many years. Its aim is to shine a spotlight on trees that have made a significant contribution to a country's national, cultural and environmental heritage. 

The Blarney Witch's Yew is going up against trees from 15 other countries, including the UK, Russia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia for the European title. 

The public has been invited to cast their vote online at until Saturday, February 29. 

In what may be considered a lucky omen for Ireland, the winner will be announced at a ceremony in the European Parliament on St Patrick's Day. 

The president of the Irish Tree Council, Joe McConville, said that while planting trees was an important part of climate-change migration, it was "equally important to recognise tress that have a personal connection for people.

"You can get behind your local tree or you can rally for one you really believe in - like you would a football team. I think Ireland has a really good chance of winning," he added.

As does Adam Whitbourn, head gardener at Blarney Castle, who has more than 15 years of experience under his belt as a professional gardener. 

He waxed lyrical about the Blarney Yew tree, saying it had a certain mystical quality about it that has spawned many stories and myths. Perhaps the best known of these is that of the Witch, and how she spoke about the secrets of the Blarney Stone.

"You can feel the centuries of history unfolding around you when you visit the tree. That is what this competition is all about. We are only temporary custodians of these trees, and their lives last much longer than ours," he said.