Trees were of great significance to the ancient Celts, whether on their own or in groups growing in forests and groves. Their roots and branches were thought to represent the links between the mortal and Other worlds. Deciduous trees were seen as symbols of rebirth, bursting into life as the seasons moved from the cold harshness of winter to the warming light of the spring.
In this article we take a look at some of the sacred trees that feature in the many Celtic myths and legends handed down through generations.
Thought to have strong powers of healing and protection, the ash tree was of great importance to the Celts.
The apple tree was linked to health, happiness and rebirth.
A symbol of wisdom and featured in one of the most famous Irish legends about Fionn MaCumhail and the Salmon of Knowledge. The story tells of how the great salmon named Bradan rested calmly in the Pool of Wisdom on the River Boyne. He fed on the nuts from the nine hazel trees growing around the pool and all the wisdom of the world became concentrated in his flesh. Whoever ate the salmon would inherit all his wisdom and judgement.
With its beautifully scented yellow blossoms, gorse was a symbol of optimism, resilience, fertility and good fortune. Sprigs were often included in wedding bouquets.
Often associated with death, yew trees are commonly found in the grounds of churches. In the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows, it is said there grew from the graves of Deirdre and her husband, Naoise, two yew trees, whose tops, when full-grown, met each other and intertwined together, and none could part them. Read the full story, retold through the eyes of Fiacc the raven, here.
Photos and illustrations by Clare Keys, David Keys and David Rooney