For reasons I will come back to shortly I’ve been looking for a fruiting walnut tree in Ireland for a while now. Ireland apparently can quite happily support them but they’re not common here at all, and certainly not native. I only found out very recently that the familiar brown nut actually grows encased in a slightly spiced citrus scented green casing, and I had only seen them in the flesh, as it were, on holidays in Wales.
I read about St. Melruaen’s Tree, a large and old walnut tree situated in the gardens of the Dominican College, St. Mary’s Priory, in Tallaght on the Monumental Trees website. I really wasn’t really too sure what the likelihood of it being accessible, fruiting or even alive actually was, but I had determined it was worth a look if I had an opportunity to visit. I got such an opportunity last week.
When I arrived at the Priory I was struck by the ‘little haven’ nature of the place, even with the magpies being quite notably and aggressively singular at me. There is a definite sense that corvids co-own that space, all manner of them bop-hopped and side-eyed me as I wandered about, rasping their advanced notice ahead through the avenues and over walls. I couldn’t help being a little concerned I might not be able to visit the tree though, there’s a religious Retreat Centre and some of the gardens are reserved for retreatants and I wouldn’t like to trespass on anyone’s spiritual reflections.
I was extremely fortunate to meet an absolutely lovely man working on the grounds. There are few things nicer than getting to talk to someone who really loves what they speak about, and he kindly escorted me to see the tree. As we ambled across he chatted generally about the gardens and pointed out other beautiful trees in the area as we went, including the tallest corkscrew hazel I have ever seen. He didn’t seem at all phased that some mad woman would come especially to visit an old tree, which I always think is a definite plus in another human being.
I was properly awestruck, with a little goosebump shudder and appreciative …not squeaks, I’m a bit big and old for that, but something.. when I actually saw it, and again he didn’t seem particularly surprised that anyone would feel different. I appreciate I’m a little odd about such things, and unfortunately no picture properly captures just how lovely it actually is, especially on the scale it is. It is effectively in pieces, having been struck by lightning in the 1700s, but the pieces have carried on growing, winding in and out of their space, beautifully smooth, silvery new trunks spearing up from winding, darkly gnarled beginnings. The tree has a whole square nearly to itself. My companion left me to appreciate things and the garden, advising that I could indeed take windfall walnuts though they were not yet ripe, and also advised me that the Jackdaws will make off with the majority of the walnuts when they are, plucking them directly off the tree, absolutely assured of their right to do so. I wandered around beneath it for ages, hugely enjoying the distinctive scent, all the nooks and quirkiness and the peace in the garden.
Oh, I nearly forgot, the reason I was looking for a walnut tree and specifically some windfalls was because I wanted to try making walnut ink, but that’s a story for another blog…