– a natural place of endless wonder

In Rinnadinna I felt I was in a great natural cathedral … all 0.25 square kilometres (62 acres) … that is the largest yew wood in Europe, sited on the eastern half of the Muckross Peninsula, between the Middle and Lower Lakes.

The quiet and subdued light created by the evergreen cover, the occasional shaft of sunshine coming through a break in the trees …the kind of light effect sometimes created by early morning sun shining through stained glass.Catriona O’Connor’s painting of the yew woods shows the rich colours of the trees in a way that could never be captured in a photograph.

The thick carpets of mosses – at their most luxuriant at the moment – complete the cathedral-intention that only the best is good enough for God.  The carefully crafted, extensive stone walls are a mystery.

Here there are many spaces, self-contained, alone, quite cut off. Side altars.

A very occasional huge tree with a chest-height circumference of up to fourteen feet (4.25 metres) and a diameter of four feet (1.2 metres).

It is estimated that these woods first established 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

This is not to suggest that any of the trees here are of that age. The great yew in nearby Muckross Abbey could be up to 550 years old and is clearly in the prime of life.

It is said of yew that ‘it grows for a thousand years, matures for a thousand years and is a thousand years dying’. After that it regenerates from its roots so in a sense it is everlasting. It was this that prompted the planting of yew in graveyards.

As well, perhaps, because it is poisonous, so the graveyard was less likely to be disturbed by straying animals.

There are several extensive badger’s dens in the yew woods.

Another side altar. The only fallen dead trees I found in Rinnadinna were deciduous. Had they reached a natural end or had they been poisoned by the yew – as Guido Mino de Sospiro suggests in his book ‘The Story of Yew’ which tells of a great battle between oak and yew woods here in Muckross.

Occasionally throughout the woods there are huge boulders that were dropped here at the end of the last ice age some 14,000 years ago or earlier.

The northern edge of Rinnadinna is a high shoreline on the Lower Lake looking down on a great expanse of water, islands, and the backdrop north west of the Tomies/Purple/Glena mountain ridge. Immediately underneath limestone rock worn into wonderfully sculpted shapes.

These woods are growing on creviced limestone pavement. Every step has to be watched and tested.  Roll back the thick carpets of mosses. Underneath there is bare rock. Trace the torturous path of exposed roots, desperately eeking out any scarce sustenance. These trees are really giant bonsai.

Two hours of criss-crossing Rinnadinna is only a beginning. Its secrets will not be revealed without many more hours over numbers of visits … and a great deal of study.

– Frank Lewis

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