Planning your Visit to Ireland? See the Oldest Tree in Ireland.

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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44 Comments on “Planning your Visit to Ireland? See the Oldest Tree in Ireland.

  1. Pingback: Planning your Visit to Ireland? See the Oldest Tree in Ireland. | homethoughtsfromabroad626

  2. Congratulations on the start of your 2nd year at university, Ali. You’re so right about the stories these old trees can tell. I wonder if it was that tree that brought you on the path you now find yourself on? I hope it will tell of its meeting with you in one hundred years time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh…. I like that comment, Hugh! I have never considered whether an ancient entity like a really aged tree would be aware of us humans as individuals. Imagine that! 😊 Thanks for putting that thought in my head. It was my first day back today… so far so good! 😂 Is your other half still studying?


  3. Simply a beautiful place, and I cannot imagine being able to see living history like this 🙂
    Of course, the best line is your writing ” There I was, causing havoc already and I hadn’t even started my studies yet.” It is going to be a very good year for you I think 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. 😊 Today was my first day back… it was a good day, even the sun was shining! I didn’t see the tree or the castle today, nor did I cause any ructions… will have to try harder! 😂


  4. Nice piece of living history Ali, but odd that the staff are unaware of it. Not everyone is interested in or enthused by our history though. (Recently they were developing the waterfront here and there were efforts to retain the original sea wall – incorporate it into the development. Seriously, there were people saying that we needed more car parking, never mind old walls.)
    Remarkable how some trees have such longevity, even if they have avoided the axe over the centuries.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Roy. I perfectly understand that we have to have progress, but do we have to destroy everything in it’s path? Not everyone cares about the past, I guess, and we can’t expect them to. What happened to the old wall in the end? I hope it was saved. Yes, it is amazing that some trees have avoided felling and are still with us, isn’t it? More luck than design, maybe. They have been axe-happy round here this year… lots of trees have been cut down, they just leave the dead stumps. It’s awful, looks like amputations. I’d rather look at a beautiful living tree than a mutilated dead stump, wouldn’t you?


  5. I love your tree posts. I see some whoppers along the coast here and wonder if Indians passed underneath when they were young, or maybe some extinct species. I think it’s cute they called security to “assist” you in your search.


    • Not feeling the love today though, Sacha. On line registration crashed, took all day to sort out and there are still issues. Complete nightmare!


  6. Beautiful tree, but perhaps controversial claiming which Yew tree in Ireland is the oldest. Maynooth seems appropriate, though. However, the small, almost bonsai like Yew trees on the south side of Kng’s Mountain, over Glencar lough, on the Sligo side, are told of by locals as being over a thousand years old.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, you cannot get up close to them unless you are a mountaineer with ropes etc. Pointed out to me by Michael who owns and looks after Sruth in Aghaidh An Aird, Devil’s Chimney waterfall walk. You can see them on the side of the mountain on the walk.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely tree, though I am a little surprised that the oldest one in Ireland is only 800 or so, as there are some in England that have been dated as well over the 1000.
    Incidentally Yew trees are very difficult to date. You can count the rings, you don,t need to cut down the tree, as you can core it, using a hollow drill bit to get a thin core of the tree. It doesn’t damage it and you can count the rings. This works in almost all trees, apart from Yew, as an old tree will gradually rot in the middle and go hollow, loosing all the oldest rings, then something happens to make it start growing inward! The tree trunk gradually refills with the younger wood in the middle making tree rings useless for dating.
    Your tree seems to have been dated using Mitchell’s Rule, developed by Alan Mitchell in pre-decimal times, it states that one inch of circumference, measured at four feet off the ground, equates to one year. This generally gives a good estimation – apart from Yews! Yew trees have a remarkable ability to merge, if two trees grow side by side then as they touch they will merge into one tree, I have seen a section on one huge oak that fell in a storm, it was thought to be one massive old tree, a bit like the Maynooth, but the section showed that it was five separate trees that had grown together.
    Incidentally dating trees with Mitchell’s rule is a great thing to get children to do, as it only involves a tape measure and a series of people standing around a tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow I love your comments, you have a mind like an encyclopedia! 😂 I never knew that about multiple trees growing together into one, although I had read somewhere that the branches of a yew will often grow down instead of up and when they touch the earth will root, eventually forming a new ‘tree’ and that when this happens the trunks often merge because they are growing so close to each other. I believe there used to be an older yew thought to be over a thousand years old, but it fell in a storm. Isn’t it incredible that trees can live so long?


      • The oldest living thing on the earth are trees, and the oldest of all are, I believe, the Bristle Cone Pines of the Rockies. If you look them up you will discover how analysis of the oldest wood led to a complete revolution in the technique of radiocarbon dating, now for a remarkable personal story.
        About half a century ago, when I was still at school, I knew the history master of a neighbouring school he knew of my interests and one day asked if I would like to come to a lecture in Southampton University, he had heard rumours that something amazing was about to be announced.
        The lecture began very boringly as he described the various ways in which archaeologists had dated objects had developed over time. He continued with the, then fairly recent, discovery of radiocarbon dating and then dropped the bombshell of the re-calibration due to the discovery of the age and preservation of the Bristle Cone Pine. There was absolute silence as he finished, a few quiet questions and then muttered discussions as everybody left. I realised, even though I was the youngest there, that no one doubted the truth of what had been described, and that all the books written on the worlds prehistory, and all the labels in museum – were wrong.
        I love to write about world changing moments, that was the only occasion I was ever at one.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I googled those trees, they are wonderful, the oldest being over 5000 years old! Imagine that! I love their gnarled, twisted and contorted appearance, too, they look quite architectural. Couldn’t see anything about the radiocarbon dating though. That is quite an incredible story about your being witness to a world changing moment. I can’t imagine how that moment felt. But surely there must have been resistance… academics, scientists, historians, even archaeologists don’t seem to take kindly to new-fangled ideas, it’s lime pulling the rug out from under them. Was that what made you decide to become an archaeologist?


          • There must have been some resistance, but I probably was too young, and so not aware of the discussions. Most accepted it readily because it solved several problems, notably Egypt where original radiocarbon dating didn’t work as the dates didn’t match the dates from inscriptions. The people who were really upset were those who liked to trace the transmission of ideas. A cannot be influenced by B if A is now known to be older than B.
            I don’t know what made me an archaeologist, I do know I always seem to have been fascinated by the past, my brother recently discovered a letter from me to our parents written when I was 7 (going on 47) expressing my fascination with the long eighteenth century – a fascination I still have.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well it was certainly a very interesting time, and an era of massive change and growth, so I can appreciate that. How wonderful that your parents had kept that letter all those years. 😊


  8. The tree is wonderful. Trees I’ve seen of a similar age usually have to be propped up, so it’s nice to see it standing unsupported. Presumably SIlken Thomas lived in the castle. I wonder why he was playing a lute under the tree.
    I hope you’ll forgive this next comment on such short acquaintance, but Britain didn’t exist before the 18th century, so it was just the English doing the oppressing in the 16th century. Like everyone else at that point they were also, for the most part, Catholic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Old trees have seen so much in the years they have stood in their place. This summer we saw some old gnarled cedar trees in large tree groves on Vancouver Island, amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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