Northern Ireland's Tree of the Year 2017
These six trees were the finalists in Northern Ireland's Tree of the Year, an annual search for the nation's best loved tree. The 2017 winner was the Erskine House Tree.
Read the incredible stories behind our shortlisted trees.
The Erskine House Tree, Belfast City Hospital / Queen’s University Belfast
The Erskine House Tree is a descendent of the famous ‘Plane Tree of Kos’, Greece, under whose shade Hippocrates, the father of medicine, reputedly taught in 500 BC. In 1966 a Greek doctor, Dimitrios Oreopoulos, undertook kidney research at Queen’s University Belfast/Belfast City Hospital with the world-renowned Dr Mollie McGeown. He later moved to Canada gaining international fame for developing a new form of kidney dialysis. In appreciation, Dimitrios presented seeds from the Plane Tree of Kos, which were planted in the hospital grounds. Only one of these precious trees survives, the Erskine House Tree.
Surrounded by high-rise buildings the tree acts as an oasis of calm for staff, patients and students. A beacon from nature, it represents humanity and hope in our changing world. Northern Ireland should be proud of this tree and its rich heritage.
Weeping Ash, Main Street, Bangor, County Down
This tree was planted outside Bangor First Presbyterian Church in 1840. Almost two centuries old, the magnificent ash is steeped in both history and love. It is said that the Rev. J. C. McCullagh used the tree as a hitching post for his horse when he came to the church in the mid-1800s.
In the 1920s when a motion proposed the tree be removed to make way for a war memorial, the congregation rebelled en masse, with the Mayor of Bangor exclaiming “God forbid”. The furore led to a change in thinking and the plan for the memorial had to be rethought. The big tree survived. Fondness for this tree remains to this day: around the year 2000 a church youth group named itself The Big Tree Collective and now a Sunday school group plans to take the name Tree House.
The Armada Tree, St Patrick's Church of Ireland, Cairncastle, near Larne, County Antrim
The story goes that when the Spanish Armada was passing these shores in 1588 a sailor was washed up at Ballygally, no doubt from one of the fine ships blown off course by gales. Some locals took the body and duly buried it in the graveyard of the very picturesque St Patrick’s Church. After some time a sapling emerged from this unmarked grave and, despite the coastal winds, has grown into a remarkable specimen. It’s believed that today’s fabulous ancient tree, twisted and gnarled, grew from one of the chestnut seeds that the sailor had in his pocket when he was buried. The tree has been analysed and found to date back to the sixteenth century, adding credence to the local legend.
The Weeping Tree, Paupers’ Graveyard, Newry, County Down
This veteran weeping ash stands in the corner of Newry’s Paupers’ Graveyard. Its glorious canopy hides a centuries-old hollowed trunk, full of character, stories and wildlife. How fitting that this is the weeping variety, because this ash has certainly witnessed and withstood its share of poignant and turbulent times.
The tree stands on sacred grounds – the final resting place of over 2,000 hapless local souls who perished in the workhouse. These were victims of destitution, disease and injustice from around 1860 to 1946. And in 1953 the remains of those who died during The Great Hunger (1845-1851) were reinterred. On seeing this tree please pause and reflect on the lives of those who share this little graveyard.
The College Tree, Foyle College/Londonderry High School, Derry-Londonderry
During the 1850s, Scottish manufacturers Tillie and Henderson developed a booming shirt enterprise in Derry. Spurred on by their success, Tillie built a local gentleman’s residence in 1870 called ‘Duncreggan House’. The house was completed with impressive landscaped grounds boasting a variety of fine, now mature, trees including this beautiful cut leaved hornbeam. Tested over some 150 years by the harshness of the elements, this astonishing tree has served as a great inspiration for students.
Londonderry High School moved to Duncreggan House in 1928, and – with an amalgamation – Foyle College followed in 1976. The tree and grounds are closely associated with the talented ‘green fingers’ of Hazel Cathcart – an esteemed and fondly remembered vice principal and talented gardener who passed away in tragic circumstances. Likewise no Tillie survived to inherit Duncreggan since all three sons died in WWI. The College plans to move to a new campus in 2018, and it is hoped that the new owner will treasure the historic grounds.
The Bicycle Tree, Lisnarick, County Fermanagh
At the heart of Lisnarick village, County Fermanagh, is a wonderful community green populated by century-spanning chestnut trees. Beloved by locals as a place for communication and recreation, the village green is home to the locally famous ‘Bicycle Tree’- standing proud among a family of chestnuts.
The local landmark tree is linked with a fantastic piece of folklore. The story goes that in the autumn of 1954 a Lisnarick lad noticed a stranger’s bike leaning against the tree outside the cottage of a young lady; the target of his romantic aspirations. Shocked by this sign of competition, using a horse shoe the young man nailed the bicycle high in the tree it was laid against. Comically fixed there for weeks, the bike was eventually extracted by its owner in the dead of night. Needless to say, the bike-owner retreated from Lisnarick, leaving behind The Bicycle Tree's story.