Releafing Ireland

Enchanting world of yew

The Story of Yew
By: Guido Mina di Sospiro
Published by: Findhorn Press (2001)
Jan Alexander

This is a charming story, told by a charming character: namely a 2000-year-old yew tree, a matriarch of the forest. She transports the reader into an enchanting world of trees and woodlands and gives us a truly long-term view of our own existence on this Earth. She relates her memoirs for the benefit of the human race, as she plainly sees at quite a young age that mankind is following the wrong path.

In her telling of her tale, the yew goes through many transitions: from the innocent sapling who adores her own mother as Nature herself; through adolescence, full of longing and romantic dreams. Finally she arrives at a place of wisdom and acceptance, with her fiery anger of earlier years tempered with age. She becomes more contemplative, although just as challenging and direct, as in her character. Throughout her long life she encounters many other species, making friends with some and enemies with others.

At times, the biological feats of the great yewess read like a science fiction, but botanists and some foresters will recognise the scientific accuracy of Guido’s descriptions. Further testimony to the priority laid on scientific accuracy and the amount of research which went into the telling of this tale, the reviewers’ notes the front of the book are written, not by authors or journalists, but by botanists and significant people from the world of silviculture, arboriculture and natural history museums. Guido’s acknowledgements repeat the list and include some others, such as scientist Rupert Sheldrake and the late Alan Mitchell.

The book is clearly set in Ireland. Guido had visited many ancient yew trees in Britain, searching for the one that might help him tell the story. It was the late Aidan Brady, the then director of the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, who invited him to go to Killarney and meet the great yew tree which stands in the middle of Muckross Abbey. Guido found what he was searching for here. He writes:

“The story of the yew is the story of the World Tree, of all trees, and of us, anthropoid mammals. Where else would one find the palpable sense of bereavement of a whole Island that was a woodland, is a grassland, but in Ireland? Ireland is an emblem of a world-wide alarmingly familiar trend—that of desertification.”

The author’s compendium runs to 18 pages of essential reading, giving the reader a deeper insight into the irresistible character of the yewess and exploring the settings and ages of each chapter. This is a remarkable story, one which reminds us that the world of trees and the natural world is astonishing, awesome and unlimited. It is highly recommended reading.