Armada Chestnut TreeImage copyright Michael Cooper
Image caption The Armada tree is believed to have grown from a chestnut seed in the pocket of a drowned Spanish sailor when he was buried

A tree believed to have grown from a seed in the pocket of a drowned Spanish Armada sailor is among contenders for Northern Ireland’s Tree of the Year.

Six trees have been shortlisted by the Woodland Trust and members of the public can vote for their favourite from the 2017 final shortlist.

The winning tree will receive a care award of up to £1,000.

The trust wants “better protection” for ancient trees and woodland, according to its director, Patrick Cregg.

“This competition is just one way of putting our precious trees in the limelight, giving them the attention they deserve.

“By reminding people of their value, we hope they will continue to thrive for future generations.”

The Northern Ireland contenders are:

The Armada Tree, St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Cairncastle, County Antrim

The story goes that when the Spanish Armada was passing Ireland’s shores in 1588, a sailor was washed up at Ballygally, from one of the ships blown off course by gales.

Some locals took the body and buried it in the graveyard of St Patrick’s Church.

After some time, a sapling emerged from the unmarked grave. It is believed that the tree (pictures at the top of the story), now twisted and gnarled, grew from one of the chestnut seeds that the sailor had in his pocket when he was buried.

The tree has been analysed and found to date back to the 16th century, adding credence to the local legend.


The Bicycle Tree, Lisnarick, County Fermanagh

Image copyright Michael Cooper

At the heart of Lisnarick village, County Fermanagh, is a community green populated by century-spanning chestnut trees, home to the locally famous ‘Bicycle Tree’.

The story goes that in the autumn of 1954 a Lisnarick boy noticed a stranger’s bike leaning against the tree outside the cottage of a young lady – the target of his romantic aspirations.

Aghast by this sign of competition, using a horse shoe the young man nailed the bicycle high in the tree it was laid against. Fixed there for weeks, the bike was eventually extracted by its owner in the dead of night.

Needless to say, the bike-owner retreated from Lisnarick, leaving behind The Bicycle Tree’s story.


The College Tree, grounds of Foyle College/Londonderry High School

Image copyright Michael Cooper

During the 1850s, Scottish manufacturers Tillie and Henderson developed a booming shirt enterprise in Derry. Spurred on by their success, Tillie built a local gentleman’s residence in 1870 called Duncreggan House.

The house was completed with impressive landscaped grounds boasting a variety of fine, now mature, trees including this beautiful cut leaved hornbeam.

Londonderry High School moved to Duncreggan House in 1928, and – with an amalgamation – Foyle College followed in 1976.

The college plans to move to a new campus in 2018, and it is hoped that the new owner will treasure the historic grounds.


The Erskine House Tree, Belfast City Hospital

Image copyright Michael Cooper

The Erskine House Tree is a descendent of the famous ‘Plane Tree of Kos’, Greece, under whose shade Hippocrates, the father of medicine, reputedly taught in 500 BC.

In 1966 a Greek doctor, Dimitrios Oreopoulos, undertook kidney research at Queen’s University, Belfast, and Belfast City Hospital.

He later moved to Canada gaining international fame for developing a new form of kidney dialysis. In appreciation, Mr Oreopoulos presented seeds from the Plane Tree of Kos, which were planted in the hospital grounds.

Only one of these precious trees survives – the Erskine House Tree.


The Weeping Ash, Main Street, Bangor, County Down

Image copyright Michael Cooper

This tree was planted outside Bangor First Presbyterian Church in 1840 and the magnificent ash is steeped in history.

It is said that the Rev JC McCullagh used the tree as a hitching post for his horse when he came to the church in the mid-1800s.

In the 1920s, when a motion proposed the tree be removed to make way for a war memorial, the congregation rebelled en masse, with the mayor of Bangor exclaiming: “God forbid.”

The furore led to a change in thinking and the plan for the memorial had to be rethought. The big tree survived.


The Weeping Tree, Paupers’ Graveyard, Newry, County Down

Image copyright Michael Cooper

This weeping ash stands in the corner of Newry’s Paupers’ Graveyard and its canopy hides a centuries-old hollowed trunk, full of character, stories and wildlife.

The tree stands on sacred grounds – the final resting place of over 2,000 local souls who perished in the workhouse.

These were victims of destitution, disease and injustice from around 1860 to 1946.

In 1953, the remains of those who died during The Great Hunger (1845-1851) were reinterred.


The Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition runs in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

One of the four winners will be selected to represent the UK in the 2018 European Tree of the Year contest.

You can vote for your favourite Northern Ireland tree on the Woodland Trust’s website. Voting ends on 8 October.

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