14 November 2010

National Botanic Gardens, Dublin: “As the Rowan tree watches and nods in approval and keeps us both safe from the dark witchee wood”*

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Himself recently spotted free Sunday tours of the Botanic Gardens, advertised at 12 and 2.30pm. It sounded great, but apparently, only to us, as we were the only 2 to show interest in today’s tours. 

But luckily, despite a preferred minimum number of 5, they were good enough to indulge us and we spent a happy hour or so being informed and entertained by our tour guide, Maura. Founded in 1795 by the Royal Dublin Society, the gardens initially had an agricultural focus which shifted towards botanical knowledge with the fashions of the day.

 Currently overseen by the Office of Public Works, the gardens today include a visitor centre, café and restaurant, several glass houses (including The Palm House, Flowering House, Orchid House and Alpine house), a research library and, of course, a massive collection of plants, trees and other assorted flora and fauna.

The river Tolka flows through the grounds, which are bordered on several sides by Glasnevin cemetery, described somewhat disconcertingly by our guide as “a lovely day out”.

What really captured my imagination though -- aside from the avenue of ancient yew trees from 1704, which actually pre-date the gardens –- were the rowan trees.

Rowan tree with no leaves, but lots of berries
Between the ages of 1 to 9 I lived on an estate called Rowan Close in Celbridge. My dad claimed to have named the estate, which may or may not have been true, but I know one thing for sure: our family was never as happy as we were on that peaceful, quiet little cul-de-sac, with its support network of young parents and gaggle of kids, constantly knocking in for each other to play in interchangeable gardens or go adventuring on the grounds of the neighbouring Castletown House estate.

I was an odd little thing, with an overdeveloped interest in folklore and mythology – ranging from Celtic to Greek, Roman and Egyptian. At one stage, I took myself off to the library every day after school to teach myself hieroglyphics, which I then attempted to impart on my secret society, the Monkees, who met weekly in my friend Niamh’s shed.

Red rowan berries
But I digress: the rowan. Ah yes, the rowan. Not only was the estate named after the tree, but there were several trees, which I believed to be rowan, planted all around the cul-de-sac. And I don’t remember how or when I first learned of the folklore that surrounds it, of its protective qualities, or of the myths and magic that are attributed to the tree in so many different cultures:  as a child, I seem to have always had that knowledge. And under the branches of so many trees of the Goddess, well, who wouldn’t feel happy and safe?

It was hard to move, to a different country, away from our friends and our adventures and our home.  We got used to things eventually, but it would never really be the same again.

Looking back now, I know those halcyon days are coloured by nostalgia. We were happy, yes, but those eternal summers, those endless days of exploration and easy camaraderie, those memories simply can’t be trusted.

My wee Rowan twiglet
And I know that the reasons we were happy had absolutely nothing to do with those trees, which may or may not have been rowan.

But I still brought a tiny fallen twig home in my pocket today.

*Post title: Lyric from "The Rowan Tree”, a folk song by Andy Roberts (click to watch the video!)

Check out the rest of the photos from the day on the new fluff and fripperies facebook page – 
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