Late last year, I was in hillwalking on Ratharsair (Raasey) an island between Sgitheanach (Skye) and the Scottish mainland.

The scenery on Raasey, birthplace of the great Gaelic poet, Somhairle Mac Gill-Eain, is absolutely stunning as are the views of the neighbouring island and of Argyle on the mainland.

One of the things I noticed most about Raasey was the amount of woodland that had been cut down to be make way for wind turbines, as can be seen in the home page picture.

I thought of Ireland and how we all learned at school that the whole country was once covered in vegetation, whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, only 0.5% of land was covered with woodland and there is very little ancient woodland left.

In a keynote address to speech to Woodlands of Ireland/Coillearnacha Dúchasacha in 2004, woodlands expert Dr Oliver Rackham said the disappearance of Ireland’s ancient woodland was due to “Neolithic and later people creating farmland: not through felling trees because they wanted wood and timber, but through digging up trees because they wanted grassland and cropland.

“By the Iron Age, Ireland, perhaps even more than England,was a land of farmland and moorland, with little room for extensive forests.

Ireland's National Tree - Dair neamhghasáanach/quercus petraea/sessile oak

This was the case until the late 19th century when, inspired by the work of Julius Sterling Morton who had established an Arbor Day, a feast dedicated to tree planting in the United States, the Irish Forestry Society recommended a National Arbor Day for Ireland.

In a fascinating article in the Journal of the Irish Garden Plant Society. Kildare-man John Joe Costin says “the Society’s founders were passionate tree enthusiasts buoyed up on ideas of Gaelic revivalism.”

“They were influential opinionated farmers, had access to government and are credited as the first group to make it take forestry seriously.”

The first Irish Arbor Day was on November 29, 1919 and the Dair Neamhghasánach/Sessile Oak/Quercus Pertaea was named as Ireland’s National Tree.

In keeping with the national spirt of the time, a song was composed by W. O’Leary to be sung to the tune of A Nation Once Again. It was called Plantation Once Again.

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood,
And all my joints were limber,
I roamed through many a noble wood
Of Irish timber.
But scarce a tree today I see,
The stumps are all remain,
And that is why we ought to try
Plantation once again.

CHORUS
Plantation once again,
On wasted hill and plain;
The time is nigh when we must try
Plantation once again.

The timber in each Irish house
Norwegian is or Russian;
The trap we buy to catch a mouse
Is either French or Prussian.
The wood to make a three-legged stool
At home we can’t obtain,
And that is why we ought to try
Plantation once again.

CHORUS

While we prefer to send our cash
To make the stranger wealthy.
Our splendid woods of pine and ash
Have changed to swamps unhealthy;
Consumptive chills and all the ills
From damp and cold and rain
We might defy if we but try
Plantation once again.

CHORUS

We might with ease plant useful trees
On hill and waste and mireland
Our people might not cross the seas
But work and live in Ireland;
If only sticks. not politics,
Possessed the Irish brain.
And that is why we ought to try
Plantation once again.

CHORUS

With thanks to Maurice Parkinson

Sources: http://www.woodlandsofireland.com/docs/NWCAbstracts(final-Aug05).pdf

www.irishgardenplantsociety.com

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