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Known as the king of the forest, the oak tree once reigned throughout Ireland, which was formerly a land much more resplendent in plant and animal life, and dominated by oaks and elms. Although it has been claimed there are no truly ancient oaks remaining in Ireland, we nevertheless have some of the oldest in Europe.
Ancient trees have also been discovered in recent years in Belvoir Park Forest in Co Down, Northern Ireland, including an oak tree with a girth of over eight metres. Indeed, the oldest oak tree in Ireland, which dates back to 1642, is now thought to grow here. Capable of reaching lofty heights of up to 40m, oak trees can also live for more than 1,000 years.
While oaks flourished in Ireland up until 7,000BC, by the time the 19th century arrived, much of the country’s forests had been eradicated by farming, leaving just 1% remaining. In more recent years however, EU grants have encouraged farmers and private landowners to plant more trees to help restore Ireland’s woodland.
Oak trees are also intertwined with Ireland’s myths and folklore, with the Eo Mugna one of five legendary trees of Ireland, and said to have borne not only acorns but also apples and hazelnuts. According to legend, it was a son of the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden, though it fell sometime before 600AD…
Traditionally a symbol of strength, kingship, endurance and fertility, the oak tree is also associated with ‘Brehon law’, an early Irish law created to protect the oak and the other five ‘chieftain trees. Meanwhile, many place names in Ireland come from tree names, including Cill Dara (Kildare) meaning ‘Church of the Oak’ and Derry or Doire, which is named after an oak grove.