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.
The photo below, of a cottage on Baker’s Flat, shows what appears to be a thorn bush planted next to the house.
Mac Coitir, N. 2003 Irish Trees: Myths, legends and folklore. Cork: The Collins Press.