For the Celts, trees were considered to be gods, the ancient ancestors of mankind and elder beings of wisdom. They were a connection to the world of the spirits and a doorway into the ‘Otherworld’. They gave shelter and protection, provided sustenance and were a source of healing and medicine.
The tree represented the soul of the community, their spiritual focus and source of well-being. Each community had their own sacred tree usually located near a well or a stream where assemblies and ceremonies were held. (ref: http://www.celticquill.com/irish-culture/59-celtic-sacred-trees)
Trees were held in such high regard in ancient Ireland that according to Brehon Law, unlawful felling of a “Chieftan Tree” carried the same sentence as the killing of a Human Chief!
The reason the ancient Irish legal system held trees in such high regard was due to their enormous value to Irish society. Trees served as a multi-layered ecosystem which provided for every aspect of traditional life. They served as monuments, created sacred spaces & ceremonial centre points. They gave food, fodor, medicines,shelter, tools, weapons and even formed the ancient Irish alphabet (Ogham). They featured heavily in Irish myths and legends, such was their importance that to this day 13,000 Irish towns have trees within their names!
Under Brehon Law there were four classifications for trees, Nobles of the Wood, Commoners of the Wood, Lower divisions of the Wood and Bushes of the Wood.
Airig Fedo – ‘Nobles of the Wood’ (Cheiftain Trees):
Daur – Oak
Coll – Hazel
Cuilenn – Holly
Ibar – Yew
Uinnius – Ash
Ochtach – Scots Pine
Aball – Wild Apple
Aithig Fedo – ‘Commoners of the Wood’ (Peasant Trees):
Fern – Alder
Sail – Willow
Scé – Hawthorn (Whitethorn)
Cáerthann – Rowan (Mountain Ash)
Beithe – Birch
Lem – Elm
Idath – Wild Cherry
Fodla Fedo – ‘Lower Divisions of the Wood’ (Shrub Trees):
Draigen – Blackthorn
Trom – Elder (Bore Tree)
Féorus – Spindle-Tree
Crithach – Aspen
Crann Fir – Juniper
Findcholl – Whitebeam
Caithne – Arbitus (Strawberry Tree)
Iosa Fedo – ‘Bushes of the Wood’ (Bramble Trees):
Raith – Bracken
Rait – Bog-Myrtle
Aiten – Gorse (Furze)
Dris – Bramble (Blackberry)
Fróech – Heather
Gilcach – Broom
Spín – Wild Rose (Dog Rose)
Traditional uses of Trees
- Food: Fruits (apples, cherries, blackberries, sloes, rowan-berry jam), nuts and seeds (hazelnuts, pickled ash keys, ground acorn meal), leaves (hawthorn, bramble), flowers (hawthorn, gorse) and sweet birch sap.
- Fodder: Acorns and other seeds were given to herd animals such as pigs, while rowan leaves were used as winter fodder for cattle.
- Hedging: Hawthorn, blackthorn, and holly were used to fence in stock,
- Habitat: woodlands were a habitat for deer and other wild animals which were hunted and trapped.
- Medicine: hawthorn, alder, elder, brambles, birch, oak and willow providedmedicine from their flowers, berries, and bark.
- Shelter, Building & tools: The wood from trees was also very valuable, both for building tools and structures. Alder wood resists rot in water and was used as the foundation for building bridges, crannógs, bog roads, and houses. Ashwood made furniture, tool handles, coach axles, building timber, and hurley sticks. Hawthorn gave wood for carving and its roots gave wood to make boxes. Yew wood made bows, holly yielded spears and blackthorn furnished cudgels. Birch gave wood for cradles, gates, and branches for besom brooms. Hazel and willow were coppiced and their rods were used to weave baskets and framework. Reeds provided the thatching for roofs, as well as flooring and bedding for animals
(Copyright Image by Cari Buziak http://www.aon celtic.com/gallery/galleryfiles/gallery7.html)
About the Author
YVETTE SHERIDAN BHSC (NAT), B. COMM