Most of you will no doubt be aware by now that I have returned to full-time education. Well, I’m about to start my second year, but you can imagine how my ears pricked up during last year’s induction when someone mentioned Maynooth University boasts the oldest tree in Ireland within its grounds.
Trees feature quite a lot on my blog… I love them. So naturally, I immediately set about looking for this special one. Which wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Most people, including staff, had no idea what I was talking about and looked at me as if I was slightly mad. Eventually, a librarian tracked down a member of security who was able to point me in the right direction. There I was, causing havoc already and I hadn’t even started my studies yet. ☺
So the oldest tree in Ireland is a yew which can be found just inside the main entrance to the South campus near the remains of the castle. Experts believe it to be about eight hundred years old, using the width of its trunk as the basis for their calculations. This is not as accurate a method as counting its rings, but no-one is keen to chop it down to find out!
Naturally, this tree has a history. It is said that Silken Thomas played a lute under the boughs of the tree the night before he surrendered to King Henry VIII in the 1500s.
Who was Silken Thomas? He was the 10th Earl of Kildare, and Deputy-Governor of Ireland in the early sixteenth century. However, when the Brits imprisoned his father in the Tower of London he rebelled against them, and was joined by many Catholic Irish who were resistant to British rule. His stronghold was Maynooth Castle, which is located less than a stone’s throw from the tree.
However, things did not go well in the end for Silken Thomas, and he surrendered to King Henry VIII, thinking he was about to receive a pardon. Instead, he was hung, along with all his uncles.
He was given the name ‘Silken Thomas’ because his soldiers wore fringes made of silk on their helmets.
Doesn’t it just make you shiver to stand in such a spot and know all that history took place right there, hundreds of years before you were born? It’s not just words in a history book, it’s real people and real events.
You can visit the tree, it’s literally right in front of you and slightly to your left as you enter the South Campus, just follow the signs through Maynooth town. As you enter the campus, you will see the remains of Silken Thomas’s Castle, known as Maynooth Castle, on your right, where you can join a guided tour if you wish.
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