Culture - Myths and Magical Places

Trees have always been part of the worlds mythology. And Ireland has its own symbols and legends. To the ancient Irish and into recent history certain trees for example oak and hazel were associated with knowledge and others, the ash and rowan with protection. Fairy trees and raths can evoke respect to this day.

Have you ever wondered why people say touch wood to ward off bad luck? The Celts touched trees, as they believed it warded of evil spirits. Our Celtic ancestors worshipped trees, they had sacred groves and single trees. These trees have survived today at holy wells.

Here are some of the traditions associated with our native species:


An oak was reputed to be one of 5 legendary Irish trees, the son of the tree of knowledge, bearing fruits and nuts. There were negative connotations in other countries associated with the crucifixion the hanging or Judas tree.

This was also associated with wisdom. The nine hazels of wisdom grew at the source of the Boyne. Hazel was also a cure for rheumatism and used as water divining rods. Hazel branches were worn as a wishing cap.

Three of the 5 legendary trees were ash e.g. BileTortan is reputed to have sheltered the men of Torthu and St Patrick is supposed to have established a church nearby. Ash marked sites of religious significance - a giant ash stood near St. Brigids Cathedral in Kildare; also associated with weather forecasting and in England for catching husbands.

Good luck if its on your land Bad luck follows if you cut it down; also a fairy meeting place. Hawthorns became holy trees associated with saints, and also as rag trees beside holy wells. Its blossoms are a sign that winter is over. In England a variety is connected to the crown of thorns and is supposed to have been brought from Palestine by Joseph of Aramethea blooming only on Christmas day.

Said to be the dwelling of the fairy host of Sligo also had power to stop the dead from rising (not too difficult) while eating its berries induced longevity and brought back youth and happiness. It also warded off evil and frightened witches. Placing a branch in the house on Good Friday kept negative forces at bay. Its old Irish name is Fid na nDruad tree of the druids.

A tree generally associated with trouble. It was often considered evil and burning elder wood brought out the devil in flames, and sleeping under one brought on nightmares. Using it in boat or cradle building was unlucky. O n a more positive note St Patrick was thought to have used elder to get rid of snakes and it was a medicine, protecting against evil forces in Germany.

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