Hawthorn – the fairy tree

Hawthorn Tree. Image copyright Ireland Calling
Hawthorn Tree. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The Hawthorn is Known in Ireland as the fairy tree. It is often referred to as the gentle bush, lone bush or thorn, as it is disrespectful to mention the fairies by name.

Hawthorn Tree. Image copyright Ireland Calling

As it is considered a fairy tree, it is believed to be extremely bad luck to cut one down, remove branches, or even hang things upon it (except at Beltane when this was customary) in case you disturb the little folk.

This belief has survived into modern times.

  • In 1999 work was interrupted on the main road from Limerick to Galway because a fairy tree stood in its path. The road had to be rerouted and construction was delayed for 10 years.

  • In 2009 there were numerous sightings of an ancient ghost thought to reappear in Tyrone after the felling of a fairy tree.

Few people will speak of the fairy tree out of a mixture of fear and respect and even fewer would ever remove or damage a hawthorn standing alone.

Couples fell in love under the hawthorn blossom

Contrary to these beliefs, in Britain, the hawthorn was associated with love and springtime, as the warm weather of May would bring couples together under the sweet blossoms of the hawthorn.

Hawthorn branches hung above a door were believed to protect from evil spirits rather than incurring their wrath.

In ancient Greece, likewise, the hawthorn was associated with love and marriage. Hawthorn crowns were worn by brides as decorative headwear and a hawthorn branch would be used as a wedding torch, perhaps where the phrase ‘carry a torch for’ comes from, meaning to love or have strong feelings for.

Huath, Huathe, H – the hawthorn represents the sixth letter of the ogham alphabet and the sixth month on the Celtic tree calendar, the last weeks of May, when the hawthorn blossom is in flower.

Jesus’ crown of thorns

The Christians believed that hawthorn branches formed the crown of thorns that adorned the head of Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion.

On a medicinal level the hawthorn berries, leaves and flowers are said to strengthen the heart and circulation and to balance blood pressure. Rich in vitamins and other nutrients, the plant has been used for such purposes for generations and is even thought to have been a part of the Neolithic diet.

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