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Niall Mac Coitir: Irish Trees - Myths, Legends and Folklore (A Review)

Updated on November 2, 2014

My Review

Druids, Saints and Common Folk

Special Irish trees await our discovery in Irish Trees: Myths, Legends & Folklore. Author Niall Mac Coitir assembles folklore of native Irish trees in this book. According to publicity from Mac Coitir 's publisher The Collins Press, West Link Park, Doughcloyne, Wilton, Cork County, "The author grew up in a bilingual environment in Dublin with a love of Irish history, culture and nature instilled into him. After graduating from University College Dublin, he worked for Dublin County Council and now works for Fingal County."

Mac Coitir presents two main themes in his writing about trees. These are:

1) as markers of important community places such as royal sites and holy wells; and

2) as sources of magic power. These symbols of power and strength persist in Irish folk customs.

Irish Poetry

Irish poetry also celebrates important pre-Christian places and trees. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), is called "the druid's tree" because of its flame-red berries. It symbolizes protection and magic.

In the ancient tale of Lubhdan, Leprechaun King and King Fergus, Lubhdan recites an ode that include the characteristics of familiar trees from apples to yew. The Metrical Dindshenchas or Lore of Places contains a poem that describes the traits and destinies of trees.

Meanings of Trees

Here are some of the ancient meanings of three common trees:

  • Ash trees have strong and flexible wood, delicate leaves and new growth; they are symbols of healthy land, fertility and healing.
  • Oaks supply strong timber, and acorns for animal food; their stately presence and long life symbolize fertility, strength, endurance and kingship.
  • Yew trees provide outstanding timber for bows and furniture; they are symbols of death, eternity, and the afterlife.

Aril or Fruit of Yew Tree (Taxus)


Irish Tree Stamps


Smitten by Druids, Saints and Trees? This book helps you to loiter in and understand their world.

Irish Forest


Ogham Tree Alphabet

The Druids used this ancient alphabet o work magic and honor the dead, surrounding each letter with medicinal and spiritual lore. Poets and bards created a secret sign language to describe the letters, each of which is named for a tree or a plant. For centuries this language was transmitted by mouth

Holly Leaves and Berries


Ancient Traditions Observed in Modern Times

Suzanne Stempek Shea in her novel Becoming Finola gives readers a modern example of the use of a holy tree. She describes such a tree, but does not name it, at a modern holy well "Flat stones surrounding the well hold bits and pieces of offerings like gold coins and chains, and smooth pebbles. Petitions and offerings -prayers and pictures sealed in plastic bags, rosaries, medals, packs of cigarettes and a cell phone - festoon the tough shrubby tree growing about three yards from the well."

The best line ever:

St. Colmcille (Columba) allegedly said he "dreaded more the sound of an axe in the oak grove of Derry than all the fears of death and hell."

Berries from Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia)


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Modern Sprite Guarding a Well


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Poulnabrone Dolmen - County Clare, Ireland



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