Appreciating The Heritage of Hedges
Hedges give character to farms, townlands, parishes and counties, making them distinct from other areas. Hedges evoke history and folklore. On National Heritage Week, Catherine Keena & Michael Somers remind us of the Kickham Tree Project in Tipperary, which preserves the legacy of Charles Kickham
(Photo above : Michael Somers Teagasc Forestry Advisor speaking at the launch of the Kickham Tree Project)
Hedges give us a sense of place and also provide a tangible link between town and country. Hedges evoke history and folklore – from hedge schools and fairy trees down to our own personal experience of individual hedges which evoke childhood memories – hedges we played in or passed on our way to school. The way we view hedges is enriched by an understanding of history. One project that links the past with the present to preserve such heritage is the Kickham Tree Project in Tipperary.
The Kickham Tree project
The History: The project preserves the legacy of Charles Kickham, a renowned writer and patriot who was born in the village of Mullinahone County Tipperary in 1825. As a founder member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he spent time in prison in England, returning to Mullinahone on his release. He wrote the ballad ‘Slievenamon’ and the novel Knocknagow which is considered to be the definitive narrative of Irish peasantry before the Irish land wars of the 1880s. His daily rambles on the Fethard road out of Mullinahone took him to the townland of Gurteen along the country road lined with hedges containing a line of trees planted by the Bryan family in 1798. Kickham sat for hours under a giant ash tree contemplating and writing, which was named ‘Kickham’s tree in his honour after his death. A bench was erected there in his memory in 1951. The tree had to be cut down a few years ago, but an understanding by three neighbours of the rich heritage associated with their local hedges and trees inspired the Kickham Tree Project, involving the local Mullinahone community, Teagasc, Tipperary County Council and FBD Trust. The project has three aspects.
The Plan: is to plant ash trees at the original site in 2023 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Kickam’s renowned novel Knocknagrow. It has been noticed that trees planted with the original Kickham tree appear to be free of ash dieback, in an area been badly affected by this fungal disease. Shoots from these trees have been grafted onto new rootstock by Teagasc to extend the lifespan of a rejuvenated version of these trees. Their health status will be monitored and it is hoped they can be the trees planted on site in 2023.
Roadside hedges in the Kickham Tree project were rejuvenated by laying and interweaving with locally sourced hazel rods in the fashion of hedge laying practiced during Kickham’s life in Mullinahone. This is now an educational resource for local schools and Tidy Town groups. An artistic installation is planned to commemorate the history of the Kickham Tree site and cherish its future.
The Kickham Tree project is a lovely example of an appreciation of the heritage of hedges – both cultural and natural heritage.
Catherine Keena is the Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist and Michael Somers is a Teagasc Forestry Advisor