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While Ireland may once have enjoyed a landscape where oak trees and forests flourished, today, we still have a rich botanical heritage in our orchards. Armagh in Northern Ireland is known as ‘The Orchard County’, or the ‘Orchard of Ireland’ and is fresh with the scent of apple blossom every May. Harvesting time is usually in the autumn, around mid‐September.
With around 260 orchards scattered across Ireland however, Armagh is not the only county still in the apple trade, with Tyrone, Dublin, Tipperary, Meath, Waterford and Kilkenny all still in production.
Armagh is perhaps best associated with the Bramley apple, which was introduced to Northern Ireland in the late 19th century, when a Bramley seedling was brought over from Nottingham, England. By 1921, the Bramley apple was the principal variety in Armagh and remains as popular as ever to this day, with a yield of around 40,000 tonnes.
Records suggest however, that apples were grown in Armagh as far back as the 12th century. Indeed, St Patrick is said to have planted an apple tree at Ceangoba, an ancient settlement east of Armagh City. Meanwhile, William of Orange reputedly drank cider from the Orchard County before the Battle of the Boyne, and the Brehon Laws record severe fines for anyone caught tampering with the apple trees.
Ireland’s apple heritage is also linked to various old customs. At Hallowe’en apples were roasted for dumplings, while toasts were drunk to apple trees under the best yielding tree. A wet St Swithin’s Day indicated a bumper crop of large apples and on January 31, people used to save their apples to make griddle apple cake for a St Brigid’s tea.