Dromore Wood is first mentioned in 1579 when the Earl of Thomond is granted the lands and Castle. In 1595, during a land dispute, one third of Dromore has been rented which included a mere 30 acres (12 hectares) of woodland. It is impossible to know if this is the extinct of the medieval woodland in Dromore as the case only refers to the land that is been rented by a tenant.
The first edition maps show an extensive area of woodland around what we now call the Castle Lake. This area of woodland maybe what is been referred to in the medieval documents. In the early 1800’s the Crowe Family of Nutfield in Barfield took over the Dromore Estate. They started an extensive programme of woodland plantation and allowed an area of native woodland to establish.
The Crowe Family planted a large area with Beech trees along with smaller amounts of native oaks and Ash, with exotic trees such as Horse Chestnut and Lime. In the 1940s, the Crowe Family sold their land to the Irish State. The woodland and surrounding land was taken over by the Forestry Division and they turned the site into a commercial forest. The Forestry Division introduced productive non-native trees such as Norwegian Spruce and often under planted mature oak/ash woodland with the conifer, stopping the natural succession of native trees and shrubs to develop. The Forestry Division also experimented with many other non-native plants to see how they would grow in our climate. Specimens of Sycamore, Field Maple, Sitka Spruce and Silver fir can be found dotted across the woodland.
Consequently the Wood now bears the signs of both distant and more recent past with century’s old Beech and Ash trees, Lime trees and Horse Chestnuts along with naturally regenerating oak woodland alongside introduced commercially planted Norway Spruce. Dromore Wood became a National Nature Reserve in 1985 and is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for nature conservation. Part of the management for the Reserve included the removal of non-native trees and allowing the natural regeneration of native woodland. Today, Dromore has 330 hectares of woodland predominately made up of mixed deciduous trees and small areas of block conifer forest.
Native tree species
The Alder is widely distributed and a fast-growing tree found on wet soils along rivers and lakes. Alder trees produce attractive reddish/brown catkins in late winter. It is one of our more unusual native broadleaved trees because female flowers produce cones. Green cones can be found on the trees in summer which turn brown over autumn and winter. The cones produce tiny seeds which are easily carried and spread by the wind. Seeds can last in the cones for a long time and so provide an important food source for birds and Red Squirrels over winter. Leaves are rounded in shape, slightly toothed and the tip of the leave is never pointed but often indented. Another interesting feature of Alder trees is that their root nodules contain a bacteria which allows the tree to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the tree can use for nutrition.
The closest village to Dromore Wood is Ruan, this name is derived from “An Ruadhán” an old Irish term for the Alder tree. The name translates as “reddish land” and this refers to the red dye which was made from parts of the tree. Historically, sections of Alder trunks were used for making round shields, as the wood is light but strong. It is believed that Brian Boru ordered many Alder trees to be cut down to make wooden shields before he went off to battle the Vikings. Alder is very resistant to decay when submerged in water and has been used for making clogs and sluice gates in rivers and canals.
Along with the oak, Ash trees are the climax vegetation which means that if nature was left to take its course much of the country would eventually be forested by oak and Ash. The Ash is the major tree species in Dromore Wood, thriving in the limestone soil and many of the large Ash trees here would have been planted in the days of the old estate. The seeds of the Ash tree are called ‘keys’ and they hang in bunches slowly turning brown until, in late summer, the winds scatter them abroad.
Ash trees are particularly important as the base of mature Ash trees is used to make Hurleys being strong and flexible. Ash is also used in the making of tennis rackets. In Dromore Wood, the Ash tree is regarded as the ‘Mother of the Forest’ and, wherever a clear area becomes available, it will soon be populated by new Ash saplings. Given good conditions, these saplings could grow to a height of 28 metres.
Perhaps more commonly known as the Sloe, the Blackthorn is more bush-sized than tree, growing to a height of around 4 metres. The Blackthorn is also well known for its purplish blue plum-like fruit which are used in flavouring gin and the making of a jelly.
The Blackthorn is very early to flower with white blooms covering the tree in April, before the leaves have formed and can make an impenetrable barrier due to the close knit branches which are armed with sharp spines.
Blackthorn is a popular tree for small birds such as tits and Goldcrest, especially when the tree is in bloom as the flowers attract many insects. The Brown Hairstreak butterfly lays its eggs on the Blackthorn and the caterpillars feed on the leaves. The shillelagh was traditionally made from the Blackthorn.
A small tree found in old woodlands and hedgerows on old farmsteads. They have attractive white blossoms in late spring which burst open from pink buds. The sweetly scented blossoms are attractive to many insects, particularly bees. Leaves are glossy and oval in shape with rounded triangular teeth on the edges. In late summer the small apples form, they are green in colour and can often have reddish spots. Ripe yellow crab apples can been seen throughout winter and spring on the woodland floor.
Crab Apples thrive in the fertile lime soils of Dromore and can be found throughout the woodland particularly along the edges and walking trails. Many mammals and birds can be seen eating crab apples but none that are more famous than the Pine Marten. Indeed, Pine Martens are one of the most important animals which help spread Crab Apples and other wild fruit trees in Dromore. The Pine Marten spread the seeds in their scats which they distribute all over their territory.
A much-loved hedgerow tree, Elder can be found along woodland trails and forest clearings. Elder has a large flat umbels flowering head made up of small individual creamy white flowers which are heavily scented. The flowers are very attractive to many pollinating insects. The name Elder comes from Anglo-Saxon ‘aeld’ meaning fire as in the past the hollow stems were used as bellows to blow air into the centre of the fire. These hollow stems are an important habitat for many species of insect that make nest chambers for larvae and for hibernating bees.
After the flowers are pollinated, each flower develops a small purple-black berry which hangs in clusters. The flowers can be used to make a champagne or a cordial while the berries are used for making wine. However, all parts of the Elder tree are mildly poisonous so care needs to be taken in cooking them before consuming.
Out of the several native willows found in Dromore, the Goat and Grey are the most common and widespread. Both species are often simply called ‘Sallies’. The Goat willow, sometimes called ‘Pussy willow’ so named for its catkins, is an important early source of pollen and nectar for bees in spring.
The Goat Willow is one of the easiest willows to identify as they have oval leaves making it different from other willows which typically have long thin leaves. Their leaves are hairless on top with a fine felt coating of hairs on the bottom. The most distinguishing feature is the leaves come to a pointed tip which bends to one side.
Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia
The Grey Willow is often called Grey or Common Sallow. As with Goat Willow, the leaves of the Grey Willow are rounded but unlike Goat Willow, they are at least twice as long as wide. The Grey Willow flowers later than the Goat Willow and its catkins are smaller.
Both species are commonly found along the edges of lakes and wet grassland in Dromore. Goat Willow can tolerate drier ground and can often be the first tree to colonise areas of clear-fell in the Reserve.
Few sights are as beautiful in late summer than the Guelder Rose with its light coloured branches laden with rich, blood-red berries. The Guelder Rose is colourful throughout the year with its flat clusters of white flowers resembling a piece of lace and leaves which turn red during the summer.
The leaves have 3-5 lobes, palmate (similar in appearance to maple leaves), toothed, smooth on the top surface and hairy below. The cream flowers appear in May and June. Each flower stands on a little stem which is made up of many flowers. The larger flowers which form on the outside are sterile and help attract insects to pollinate the smaller ones in the middle. The fruits, known as drupes, are bright and shiny red in colour, and hang on the shrub until the start of winter.
This is another of the understory trees of the forest and, like the Hazel, the Guelder Rose flourishes in the lime-rich soil of Dromore Wood. The fruit of the Guelder Rose is poisonous to humans though not to the woodland birds. This beautiful native tree will grow to a height of 4 metres.
The Hawthorn tree is also known as the Whitethorn due to the extensive covering of white blossoms during May. It is often confused with Blackthorn, but Hawthorn produce leaves first then the blossoms follow while Blackthorn produces its blossoms first then leaves. The leaves are very distinctive with large cuts which reach halfway to the midrib. The abundant blossom attracts much insect life particularly bees and hoverflies. When the flowers are pollinated, they produce red berries called haws in late summer.
This is a fast growing hardy tree which grows up to 8 meters tall. Hawthorns can be found in hedges, woodland and along lake shores. They create an important habitat for many species of small birds that nest on thorny branches. On mature Hawthorn trees, you can often see Tree-creepers travelling up the trunk from the base in a spiral pattern in the search for insect hiding in the bark.
Hawthorns have a special place in Irish mythology. They are often called Fairy Trees, and it is believed that fairies lived within or beneath the Hawthorn tree. It was wildly believed that removing or interfering with groves of Hawthorn trees would bring bad luck. Even today, new roads have been diverted around known fairy tree sites in fear of reprisals from the fairies.
A common tree in the Burren and Dromore Wood, the Hazel thrives on the rich limestone soil. Growing to a full height of around 6 metres, the Hazel is able to survive comfortably under the high canopy of the larger trees of the forest. This is what is known as the understorey. In spring the Hazel tree produces small catkins and in autumn the hazelnuts provide an important food source for the animals of the wood, particularly Red Squirrels and Wood Mice.
The leaves are large and rounded, unevenly toothed, very hairy and come to a sharp point. The male yellow catkins expand and open in late winter before the leaves open. This provides a blast of colour throughout the woodland that would otherwise be a grey season. The female flowers are tiny, bud-like with pink/red flowers. Once pollinated, the female flowers will develop into oval fruits which mature over the summer into hazelnuts with woody shells which are surrounded by a cup of leafy bracts.
The Hazel tree lends itself to coppicing. This is when the tree is pruned hard which encourages the growth of new long slender branches. These branches would have been used as spars for roofing and the frame for plastering. The low ceiling at the rear of Dromore Castle clearly shows the marks where hazel branches were used as a plastering frame. Hazel trees also appear in Irish folklore and customs. They were called the Trees of Knowledge in ancient times. In the Salmon of Knowledge, the nine hazels of wisdom grow at the source of the River Boyne. There, the salmon feed on the hazelnuts from the trees and so absorbed their vast knowledge. Fionn Mac Cumhail, the mythological Irish hero, ate the salmon of knowledge and acquired the knowledge of the world.
The Holly is a slow growing evergreen tree. It is one of the main understorey trees which thrive in the shade of taller trees such as Oak and Ash. Holly is an extremely hardy tree and can be found growing in areas of limestone pavement in Dromore. In areas of deep rich soil, Holly trees can reach their optimum height of 15 meters.
Leaves are dark green and glossy, oval in shape and have a leathery feel. Young trees and lower parts of older trees have spiky leaves while older trees have smooth leaves with no spikes.
Holly is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers occur on different trees. Both males and females produce small white flowers in summer. However, only female flowers will go on to produce the red berries in winter. Holly berries make a great food source for many species of birds, most notably thrushes. The Mistle Thrush is known to vigorously guard holly berries during the winter to prevent other birds from eating them.
Holly trees play a vital role in an interesting food web in our woodlands. The Holly leaf-miner Phytomyza ilicis is a species of fly which lays its eggs using an ovipositor on new soft leaves in May and June. The larvae emerge from the eggs and tunnel their way into the holly leaf feeding on the photosynthetic tissue as they mine. The tunnels the larvae create are easily seen with yellow and purple blotches occurring on the upper surface of leaves. The following spring, the larvae pupate inside the leaf mines and emerge as an adult and the cycle continues. However, one of our most loved birds the Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) is quite partial to Holly leaf-miner larvae. Blue Tits use their beaks to peck out the larvae from their mines; a V-shaped tear can be seen on the leaf after the Blue Tit has captured the larvae.
Ireland was once densely forested and oak was the major species. The numbers of oak trees were greatly reduced through the need for their valuable timber. There are two native species of oak tree found in Ireland, the Sessile and the Pedunculate Oaks. Pedunculate Oak is the main oak tree found in Dromore Wood as these fine old trees thrive on the lime rich soil.
Although slow to grow the oak can live to a very old age, hundreds of years, and can grow to a height of 30 metres. It is said an oak spends 300 years growing, 300 years resting and 300 years declining gracefully. Some of the old oak trees in Dromore Wood were probably planted in the days of the old estate. A mature oak tree is a living world, supporting 290 species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants in Ireland.
Pedunculate Oak can be distinguished from other oak species by examining their leaves and acorns. The leaves are irregularly lobed, oblong and borne on short petioles while the acorns are found in clusters on long stalks. The name Pedunculate is from ‘peduncle’ which means a fruiting stalk and so it’s the arrangement of the acorns which give this tree its common name. Acorns aren’t abundant every year on oak trees; they go through mast year cycles when more acorns than usual are produced. This is a useful strategy which overwhelms animals like jays and Red Squirrel providing lots of food they can use during the winter and so increase the chance of acorns being spread around the forest and germinating into new oak trees.
Buckthorn or, to give this small tree its full title, Purging Buckthorn derived from the times gone by when the bark and berries of this tree were used to make a very nasty but effective purgative.
Buckthorn shoots grow in two different ways. The long twigs extend the size of the tree and the shorter twigs, which are many-leaved, form the flowers and fruits. The name buckthorn may have arisen through the similarity of the shorter shoots – growing in pairs – resembling the antlers of a deer.
A lover of lime soils, the Buckthorn is common in Dromore Wood where it flourishes in the damp lake margins and the moist shade of the taller trees. It is the female tree which develops the clusters of small black berries which are eaten by birds and mammals but not humans! The Buckthorn has sharp thorns on its twigs and the dark green leaves are the food plant for the caterpillars of the Brimstone butterfly.
Whilst walking through Dromore Wood in late summer, you are sure to notice a medium-sized tree with leaves similar to the ash tree but the branches will be laden with red berries. This is the Rowan or Mountain Ash. Although the Rowan prefers acid soils, it grows well in areas of Dromore Wood where there is a well-drained peaty top soil.
The dense flowers heads are cream coloured and appear in May, they are highly-scented and attract many species of insects. But it is the berries which capture the attention. These are used to make a jelly but in Dromore they are eaten by birds, such as Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, and mammals, like the Pine Marten. The tree scientific name aucuparia comes from the Latin aucupor meaning ‘to catch birds’.
Originally a widespread native tree. Scots Pine was one of the first trees to colonise Ireland at the end of the last Ice Age. Pollen from Scots Pine trees have been found in bog samples which can date back 7,000 years. Despite its initial abundance Scots Pine gradually declined and disappeared from many parts of the country about 4,000 years ago. The few locations were they remained were believed to have become extinct about 2,000 years ago. In the 17th century, Scots Pine trees were reintroduced to Ireland from Scotland and in the last 150 years have been widely planted on large estates and in commercial forestry. In recent years, a small population of the indigenous Scots Pine was rediscovered in the Burren National Park by botanists from Trinity College Dublin.
In Dromore Wood, the Scots Pine are most likely ones that have been reintroduced from Scotland. They are a few large specimens which may date back to the time of the Crowe estate but most were planted in blocks or under planted by the forestry service up until Dromore became a Nature Reserve in the 1980s. Scots Pine is quite an easy tree to identify, the needle-like leaves are thicker than other pines, twisted and can be found in 2’s. Young female cones are green in colour turning brown when mature. They can become large trees growing up to 40 meters. In mature specimens, the lower bark becomes rugged with purple ridges while the upper bark is papery and reddish in colour.
Silver Birch grows well on poor soils but prefer sunny positions with good drainage. They thrive along the lake shores in Dromore. It is believed that a mature birch tree can support up to 200 different species of insects whilst the tiny winged paper-like seeds are a valuable food source for many birds such as finches. The Birch is a pioneer species, one that will be the first to inhabit vacant ground. The light foliage of the Birch tree allows other vegetation to grow below it as it does not create a heavy shade.
The leaves are triangular in shape double toothed and are hairless on hairless stalks. The bark is papery orangey/red on younger trees turning rough, white/silver in colour with black arrow/diamond-shaped crevices in mature trees. Their flowers are in catkin form; male catkins are formed in autumn and remain on tree over winter opening in spring when the female catkins start to flower.
Birch trees can grow to 20 metres tall and are mature at fifty years of age. You may notice dense tufts of ‘twigs’ in birch trees, these are the result of a fungus Taphrina betulina which feeds off the bark and trunk of the tree and are known as ‘witches brooms’.
Anonymous for much of the year as it blends in with the other foliage, the Spindle suddenly shows its colours in late summer. The leaves, green through the spring and summer, turn dark red in autumn and the four-lobed fruits, nicknamed Cardinal Hats, change from green to bright pink. But that is not the final colour of the spindle tree’s palette: as the seedpods split open, they reveal bright orange seeds. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow and can be seen flowering in May and June.
The hard, white wood was used in the making of spindles for woollen thread making before the invention of the spinning wheel, and also used for the making of charcoal. The Spindle tree reaches a height of 6 metres and is profuse on the damp, lime-rich soil of Dromore Wood.
Several species of Whitebeam are found in Ireland and Sorbus aria is the most common found in the Burren region. A rare tree in the wild, a small number can be found on the edge of woodland in Dromore. They are most widely used in towns and road planting schemes due to their ornamental qualities.
Quite an easy tree to identify in the spring, the leaves unfold erect and are silvery in colour quite similar in appearance to magnolia blooms. Leaves are irregularly toothed and oval in shape with white woolly hairs on their undersides. Small white flowers turn into small orange-red berries in autumn which are relished by thrushes. In the past, the hard, pale wood was used for making stool legs in furniture making.
Crann silin fiain
A beautiful tree throughout the year, the Wild Cherry has a distinctive brownish-red, shiny, bark which peels horizontally. During late spring and early summer, the Wild Cherry will be covered in white blossom and then the fruit will form eventually, ripening into deep red succulent cherries in mid-summer.
The fruit of the Cherry is eaten by a wide variety of birds and other animals in the woods. Its second botanical name avium is a reference to the importance of how several species of birds distributed the seeds across the woodland.
Birds such as jays and Blackbirds may drop ripe cherries in flight and other birds and mammals will eat the fruit and deposit the stones far and wide in their dropping. Pine Martens and Red Squirrels can be spotted in mid-summer gorging on the sour cherries. During late summer into autumn, the leaves of the Cherry change from green to yellow and red to complete a colourful display. The timber of the Cherry tree is much valued by wood turners. Wild Cherry trees are often subjected to bacterial cankers which can infect and eventually kill the trees; it is for this reason that Wild Cherries are rarely planted in commercial forestry, they are mostly found in established native woodlands.
Wych Elm is our only native elm tree in Ireland. People may be more familiar with the English Elm (Ulmus procera) which was introduced to Ireland, and planted mostly in large country estates and parks. Unlike the English Elm, our native Wych Elm is more resistant to the Dutch Elm disease, which has decimated English Elm populations. This is because the English Elm propagates through suckers from the parent plant, while Wych Elm produces seeds. Wych Elm is not very common in Ireland, mostly found in woodlands in the northwest. Before man, it was more widespread as it tends to occupy fertile soil that is sort after for agriculture.
Dromore has some superb specimens which can be found along the longer woodland trails, these trees seed profusely and many younger trees are scattered around the woodland as a result. The seeds are green/yellow in colour and can be seen on the trees in late May. The leaf of the Wych Elm is rough, unevenly toothed with an asymmetrical base on a short stalk. Elm trees can live for 500 years and reach a height of 30 meters.
One of our native evergreen conifer trees, Yews are mainly found in old woodlands, large parkland estates and on old churchyard sites. Yews are one of the world’s longest living trees, with some specimens in the UK been aged to more than 2,000 years old. Although it can be difficult to accurately date them due to the unique way they grow.
The leaves are downward arching, soft dark-green needles which are yellowish on the underside. The leaves are very tactile but never crush them to release scent as they are highly toxic. Male flowers whiten the crown of the trees before shedding clouds of pollen in early spring.
The fruit are in aril form, a soft jelly-like fruit which only partially covers the seeds. Only the female Yew trees produce the red berries. The berries are very attractive to birds and are full of sugar, the seeds are poisonous to humans, but are distributed in bird droppings.