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Some Jerusaleum Arthichokes, a woodland and a gift.

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Some Jerusaleum Arthichokes, a woodland and a gift.

How some Jerusalem Artichokes led to a Woodland on Cape Clear Island and what happened afterwards.

By Séamus Ó Drisceoil

Arriving on Cape Clear Island in 1987

When I first arrived on Cape Clear in August 1987 I had a memorable trip around the Island with the outgoing Manager, Fergal Mac Amhlaoibh. I liked everything I saw, apart from the paucity of trees. When I mentioned planting some, Fergal warned that he had the same idea.  But that unfortunately between the rabbits and winter storms he found that trees would not survive on the Island. And so, I put that particular idea aside.

Self Sufficiency
Self Sufficiency by John Seymore

Some gardening advice from John Seymour

But there were lots of other things to do and  I was soon engrossed in John Seymour’s book on self-sufficiency. And I planned and prepared a substantial vegetable garden which would include Jerusalem Artichokes.

The advice was to plant them in as straight a line as possible, ideally using string hung between two sticks as a guide.

No sticks in a treeless landscape

Well I had one stick alright but where would I find a second in that mostly treeless landscape ? Searching high and low I eventually found an escallonia bush at a nearby beach called Cuas an Uisce.  And so I broke off enough for the task in hand. Well the artichokes grew and so too did the stick. An I left it to prosper into a substantial bush. And since escallonias are much more like trees than vegetables, my dream of woodlands on Cape Clear Island were re-ignited.

Tree planting begins

1989/90 saw the first significant planting of 14,000 trees in the area around the Mass Track. This became the nucleus for our Community Woodland. Small corpses have also developed around our home and in other parts of the Island. My favorite is this plot

Small Copse Cape Clear Island
Small copse on Cape Clear Island planted by schoolchildren

beside the Priest’s house where each child in Scoil Náisiunta Inis Cléire planted a different tree.

Harry Wolfe, the man who came before.

Harry Wolf, tree planter

And so my Islander neighbors began to speak to me of Harry Wolfe. They said I should meet him because he had brought a similar passion for trees to the Island in the 1950’s and 60’s. Most of the trees, then existing  on my arrival had been planted by him, around Cotters, The Post Office and The Lake. I was quite impressed by the Contarta Pines growing at the lake and even more so when Michael Mac O’Donoghue explained how the plantation had been established.

Michael Mac O’Donoghue and his powers of observation

You see Mac whose land it was could not afford to fence the cattle out of the fields while he

Michael Mac O'Donoghue
Michael Mac O’Donoghe of Cape Clear Island

waited for the trees to grow. So Harry and Mac carefully observed the cattle as they grazed. And they realized that they always walked the same paths. They decided to plant  the saplings where the cows did not habitually walk . And both cattle and young trees thrived in the same fields.

There is much to learn from the acute observations of a lifelong seafarer or countryman !. Mac, of course, was both of these.

Following my arrival on the Island Harry Wolf did occasionally return and indeed  helped us to plant some trees. And he told me of his own efforts, going back to the 1950’s and how glad he was to seen interest being revived again in woodlands on Cape Clear Island.

A handful of acorns

The Gift

One day I was working in my vegetable garden when I saw Harry coming towards me. Arriving, we spoke for a little while and then he took a white paper bag from his pocket. He said that he had brought it to me because he knew that I knew what to do with it. It was a bag of acorns collected  around his own place in Cork City.

And I planted them and while the mice got most of them, three developed into saplings and are now growing around our house.

Oak Trees
Our Oak Trees on Cape Clear Island

If gifts are to be measured as they should, according to the message they bear this this is amongst the best that I have ever received. And when in  my garden and I notice these particular Oak trees,   I always remember Harry Wolf.

Because of course, as you may have guessed by now,  that was the last time I met this gentleman.