I will display different photographs here at fairly regular intervals.


Hawthorn flower being visited by a fly. (essential for its pollination)

Uploaded with the kind permission of the psychiatric staff at our national hospital for the mildly bewildered.

This is the name that I knew the Hawthorn tree by when I was growing up. It is still commonly referred to as a "skeock". I am unsure of where the name comes from, but is is most likely Irish (Gaelic). There are still some old Irish words surviving amongst our everyday English usage.

The Hawthorn was a sacred tree in pre-Christian times in Ireland and amazingly it has remained a tree shrouded in superstition, even to the present day. It is considered very unlucky to cut down certain Hawthorns and because of this they are sometimes seen in the most inconvenient of places. I, myself can remember an incident where people suffered misfortune after chopping down one of these skeocks.   Besides their widespread distribution along the hedgerows, really old specimens are often found beside blessed wells (a topic for a future page) adorned in pieces of cloth and holy medals. As an illustration of this practice, a common phrase is often used to describe someone who is over-dressed; "looking like a skeock at a blessed well".

Photo2.jpg (28467 bytes)

Here is a fine example of a Hawthorn growing in a hedgerow. This photo was taken on a misty evening in late May. Incidentally the Hawthorn tree is sometimes called the May, probably because of its spectacular display of flowers during this month. This tree was widely planted  as hedgerows in Britain following the land enclosure acts of  the 16th to 18th centuries. It wasn't used as widely for this purpose in Ireland where most of the hedgerows are either stone or stone and clay. We call these ditches, probably because a shallow ditch was dug in order to find clay to bind the stone. It (Hawthorn) is nonetheless very widespread throughout Ireland.

Unlike the Blackthorn, this tree does not flower until the tree is in full leaf. Its flowers are also much more fragrant than the Blackthorn. I particularly like the scent of these flowers wafting on the air along the narrow roads and lane-ways that I like to walk. These beautifully scented flowers go on to produce lovely red berries, which provide winter food for the thrush and other song-birds. The tree is also widely used by smaller birds to build their nests. Because of the tree's dense growth and vicious thorns, it offers especially good protection to these nests.

Some of these trees have flowers with varying degrees of pink and make the tree look pink from a distance.

Photo3.jpg (15755 bytes)

Photo4.jpg (12892 bytes)
This is a cultivated variety of Hawthorn growing in my garden. It has scarlet flowers and very little thorns. I assume that it was cultivated from the pink variety found naturally in the countryside.

Photo5.jpg (10685 bytes)

Hawthorn tree growing in middle of a sugar-beet field; an example of the superstitious way that these trees are still treated. The reason usually given for avoiding damage to these trees is that "lights were seen in it". What these lights were was never explained to me but I know that it was not UFO's that were being considered. If I were to make a guess at what people thought these lights were, I would guess fairies.

When I was a very young a lot of old people, while not exactly admitting to believing in fairies, would not have done anything that would have been considered harmful to them. At that time also there were numerous stories of fairies and of the do's and don'ts in regard to fairies. There were also people who were considered to be fairy-men or fairy-women. These people were usually eccentric either in appearance or behavior. These people were never discriminated against, because of the fear of the "magic" power that they supposedly had. For example, buttermilk which could not be turned into butter in spite of continuous churning was considered to be caused by some insult given to the fairies. There are very few people nowadays who believe in fairies, but some people still prefer to leave well enough alone and -as illustrated by the Hawthorn above- not take any chance on bringing bad luck upon themselves.

As I wrote the above about fairies, I was amazed at the fact that it is only a period of a little over 30 years that I am writing about. It would seem more like a period from the middle ages. People living here in Ireland at the present time, who are younger than me would laugh at the idea that all this superstition was alive such a short time ago. It is sad in a way that we have lost all of this richness in our traditions. While discussing all of this with my friends, the main reason we all agreed on for the decline in these beliefs, was the coming of electric light and battery powered flashlights. These penetrated the darkness and left the shadows no longer a place where the imagination ran riot.

It is only between 30 and 40 years ago since most of rural Ireland was supplied with electricity. This does see to coincide with the decline of this superstition. As an aside; Leprechauns were never mentioned when I was growing up and must have been a part of tradition in other parts of the country.