Yesterday I took my dog for a walk in Breen Wood, near Ballycastle. It’s one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in Northern Ireland ; oak trees have been on this site for more than 200o years.
Many local forests (such as Portglenone) were plundered in the seventeenth century but not this one. People think that it wasn’t touched because of its association with fairies (its name means fairy palace in Irish) : if the forest was harmed, whoever cut the wood would have expected bad luck (or worse!)
The feel of Breen Wood is very special – and completely different to the feel of Portglenone Forest. It feels as old as it looks. It is dense, lush and holds a “far-away” quality to it.. almost like you just stepped behind a curtain. I also think it has its own micro climate. Autumn is not as advanced in this place – but it’s definitely creeping in.
As you’d expect, there are a lot of oak trees. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen so many oak trees in my life! But what I didn’t expect was the proliferation of holly – it was everywhere. Not many of the holly trees were in berry, but I did find one.
Reading a bit about the holly tree, I discovered that only female trees bear fruit, and the green berries will turn red as we move closer towards Winter. I also discovered, when researching the lore of the oak tree, that the holly and the oak are locked in an eternal symbolic battle cycle. The “Oak King” symbolises the waxing year, and the “Holly King” symbolises the waning year. As the holly berries begin to turn red, heralding the arrival of the darkest months of the year, the oak sheds its acorns and prepares to sleep before the Battle Of Mid-Winter. The Oak King always wins the battle for lengthening days – and he always loses the Battle Of Mid-Summer, sacrificing himself so that life can be renewed.
Today’s haiku is about the holly tree, and you can read it here. I also read it out loud in today’s video blog.
I am just going outside and may be some time.