– a story for Sarah – or other four year olds – of any age

The zig zag angles of the branches of the formidable sinuous yew at the south western end of the Monks’ Wood are extraordinary.

It looks like a grotesque giant stretching after sleep. But the zig sag stretching is not just in the arms but also in the legs. The trunk is straight. But it has no head. A figure not to come across unexpectedly especially in the half light of dusk.

In the mild moistness of last Sunday the glistening branches appeared to be bulging with muscles, particularly at the hairpin angles. This was somebody to have in your corner if there was a fight.

Maybe this was a human giant turned into a tree by some magical power.  Maybe he had cycled here on the ghost bicycle we had come across in 2016.  A year ago this looked like a bizarre piece of nature intertwining with the undergrowth. Others have disturbed it since then.  Like the ‘cyclist’ we saw last Sunday.

Maybe in a final rage, being transformed from man to tree, the giant twisted some of the other yew trees into the corkscrew/spiral shape that we see today – and that includes the great yew in Muckross Abbey.

What did the monks from the nearby abbey make of this unique yew, on their meditations, or when they tended their fruit and vegetables gardens in the fertile hollows here?

How did the yew grow like this?

The severed trunk and zig zag branches are around an open space.  Might the tree have grown around a huge boulder?  One of the great rocks dropped thousands of years ago by a melting glacier.  These huge stones are a common feature of Killarney woodlands.

But there is no huge boulder nearby that might have fallen out of the tree. And that does not explain the zig zag shapes.

Was the tree shaped in this way?  There appears to be some evidence of pruning, but that appears to be much more recent.  Nearby – but not, I think, in view of this tree – the Herbert’s had built a platform from which to admire Mr Herbert’s exotic trees from many lands.  Did they fashion the tree as a further ‘curiosity’ to entertain their visitors?

“I can’t explain the amazing shapes of the tree,” the person most familiar with these woods, horticulturist Cormac Foley, said on one of our visits here a year ago.

Then he wondered “might the yew have been twisted in this way by radiation from a falling meteor?” Like human bodies were grotesquely damaged by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster or the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan.

Might this great yew be a relic of an ancient meteor shower? There is archaeological evidence that such things did happen with devastating consequences. It is a theory worth examining.

Frank Lewis

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