Hawthorn (no, not the AFL team)

The hawthorn, also known as the may, whitethorn, and in Irish sceach gheal, is a significant sacred tree in Irish folklore. Known for its general protective powers, a hawthorn was often planted near houses to keep witches away. It was known for its fertility powers, and played a key part in Maytime customs when it might be decorated with flowers and scraps of material. There’s even a saying – ‘don’t cast a clout till May is out’ – which can be translated as ‘don’t take off your heavy winter clothes until the May blossom is out’.

Another belief, widespread in Ireland, is that the hawthorn blossom is unlucky, and a harbinger of death. I remember coming home proudly as a child with an armful of pretty blossom picked for my mother, only to be thrown rudely out the back door the minute I set foot inside, with a shouted warning to get out straightaway and not bring death into the house.

So when I first set foot on Baker’s Flat, one of the things that struck me was the thorny bushes. Pepper trees and thorns are common on the site, and most commonly associated with the remains of buildings. These thorns are boxthorns (sadly, a noxious weed) not hawthorns, but I’m theorising that they were planted deliberately to mimic the Irish landscape, and to assist with protection in an alien environment.

Thorn next to pepper tree, with remains of building scattered on the ground

Thorn next to pepper tree at Baker’s Flat, with remains of building scattered on the ground

The photo below, of a cottage on Baker’s Flat, shows what appears to be a thorn bush planted next to the house.

Bakers Flat Cottage 19C

Irish-style cottage on Baker’s Flat in the 19th century

Mac Coitir, N. 2003 Irish Trees: Myths, legends and folklore. Cork: The Collins Press.

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2 Responses to Hawthorn (no, not the AFL team)

  1. Ann Kelly says:

    Hi Susan

    Remember we met at the graveyard in Trim at Christmas !

    Thanks for your update on Baker’s Flat – it looks very exciting. That’s an amazing photograph of a cottage !

    As I scrolled through your last blog re the “mystery bust” that was found, I suddenly thought of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, a member of the Young Irelanders, and who subsequently made a political career in Victoria… Could it be him? I enclose drawings from various sources that you can compare with the bust.

    My interest in him stems from a few years ago, as I was passing the Cemetery Offices of the Town Hall in Nice. I saw that his name featured among the tombs they were about to empty…. With my society at the time “Riviera Memories” we cleaned up his grave to show it was not neglected. I don’t know what happened since 2011 as I moved from Nice then. According to the Nice municipality’s records, the person Charles Gavan Duffy was still buried in Nice in 2011, whereas in Ireland, he is officially interred in Glasnevin….. coffin removed under cover of night??? The mind boggles…

    He was a “larger-than-life” figure, packing into a long life what other people would need nine lives to do. Maybe it’s a long shot but I look forward to hearing from you if there’s a resemblance….

    Let’s hope we can meet up next time you’re in Trim.

    Keep on diggin’ !

    Aine Kelly-Bonnefoy

    • sarthure says:

      Hi Aine
      Yes, I remember our meeting well, and our conversation about Dr Moore and your dad, and the Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project. Really interesting about the bust possibly being Charles Gavan Duffy. I’ve had a look at some images on Google, and it’s certainly an option. Your drawings didn’t come through so I’ll email you privately re that. The mystery re the burial place is interesting – Glasnevin or Nice, there’s a story there I’m sure.

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