Christine Zucchelli’s infectious fascination with Ireland’s natural history is apparent from the first page. Sacred Trees of Ireland is a book that, on the face of it, may have a limited audience, but simply reading a snippet here and there should be enough to draw anyone in. It is an important piece of work, well crafted by a passionate hand.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect is just how eager the reader becomes to see and feel the various trees for themselves, especially given the abundance of significant elements of nature scattered across the island. Most striking examples include the magnificent ‘King Oak’ in Tullamore, and the ‘Adam and Eve’ yew tree pairing in Killarney – said to be among the oldest yews in Ireland. In fact, such is the readiness and plentiful bounty of trees discussed in Zucchelli’s work, one would almost be forgiven for keeping it on hand at all times.
Throughout, there is a strong belief that Irish people, taken by tales of old, are still intricately linked to their spiritual and mythical past. In a chapter detailing fairy trees for example, the author is keen to remind us how hesitant we are to tamper with bushes or trees said to be home to otherworldly spirits. Farmers are still loathe to cut down anything that may result in a curse, or possibly even death. It is no wonder these fairy bushes are still held in sacred standing today.
The pagan and spiritual significance in Ireland’s history can not be understated, in terms of both religion and culture. Given that trees can be seen a symbol of life – both everlasting and otherwise – it is not surprising that many druids and bards were simply in awe at the strength and beauty of mighty oaks. Poems stretching back hundreds of years are liberally sprinkled throughout, giving the reader a lesson in ancient literature as well as ancient flora. These inclusions give the book a mystical quality, and express how sacred these trees were to people at the time, much more so than any historian can do.
What is most apparent after reading Sacred Trees of Ireland, is just how easily and enjoyably Zucchelli transports you back in time. Whether discussing the arrival of Christianity to Ireland over a thousand years ago, or a short segment on Wolfe Tone’s rebellion in 1798, her comforting style paints a fabulous picture of historic Ireland.
Zuchelli’s compendium of sacred Irish trees is a joy to read. Aided by a plentiful supply of vibrant images, pictures and drawings, the Sacred Trees of Ireland is a book that could have become very weighed down by facts and figures, but instead remains accessible and enjoyable to the end. A must read for anyone interested not only in how important trees are to Irish history, but even those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Irish culture itself. Modern Ireland may be forgetting its past at a terrifying rate, but reading this book reminds us that the past is all around – watching dutifully as the years go by.