The three centuries old Big Tree at Whitechurch, Ballylooby before it was felled last Friday. Picture courtesy of Denis Slattery
Ballylooby's three centuries old Big Tree was felled last Friday due to urgent health & safety concerns but the Co. Council plans to plant a specimen tree in its place within the next month.
It was a poignant and sad day for the community as the ancient beach tree, located close to Whitechurch graveyard, was a much loved landmark with the initials of many local residents etched into its bark.
The Big Tree stood sentinal for generations on an island in the middle of a T-junction at Whitechurch about 2km from Ballylooby village.
Tipperary Co. Council general services superviser John O'Meara said the tree was conservatively estimated to be more than 300 years old. It's interior was hollow and for the past 20 years concrete blocks placed into its interior were used to keep it erect. The tree had been effectively dead for many years, he pointed out.
He said the Council received a report last Wednesday that the tree's concrete interior was falling out of the trunk and part of a bough had fallen down.
Mr O'Meara and other council officials visited the site last Thursday morning and barriers were placed around the tree.
Mr O'Meara said the recent high winds and storms made the tree unstable and their fear was it would fall on top of a passing motorist or pedestrian.
“I am not a person for cutting down trees and I am so sad to be the one to pull the trigger but it's just a real health & safety danger. Everyone is passing under the tree.”
Fine Gael Cllr Marie Murphy supported the Council's decision to fell the tree. Its trunk was rotten and dangerous and it just had to come down. “I don't want it on my conscience that the tree fells as someone was driving by,” she said.
Mr O'Meara consulted with the Council's horticulture expert and Coillte as well as heritage and National Monuments experts before felling the tree.
A Hi-mac machine was used last Friday morning to push down the tree with its bucket. Mr O'Meara said it only took a light push to bring it down. “It was like closing a door,” he quipped.
As news spread that it was the end of the road for the Big Tree, local residents visited it for the last time and took photographs to remember the landmark. Several residents were present for the felling.
Among them was Denis Slattery from Garryroan, Cahir, who lives just a 100 yards from the T-juntion.
He said the Big Tree was a landmark everyone in the community referred to when giving directions and when he was growing up it was a popular meeting place for local teenagers.
“Every child in the neighbourhood would have engraved their initials on it over the years. It was always one of those meeting places.”
Mr Slattery said it was very sad to see the end of the tree, which locals believe may be the last of a line of trees planted along one of the approach routes to the Georgian era Millgrove House that still stands.
“We would consider the tree to be a member of the family. There are members of my family living all over the world and when they come home one of the traditions is to go for a walk over to look at the Big Tree.”
Mr Slattery said their hope is it will be replaced with a nice specimen tree planted in the same spot. “We would hate to see the area being paved over. It would be a terrible shame. The Big Tree was part of our landscape.The road was built around it and people have navigated around it for all time.”
Mr O'Meara confirmed the Council will replace the Big Tree with a specimen root ball beach tree of between 15 and 20 years-old. But he said the Council hasn't decided yet whether to transplant it in the exact spot where the Big Tree grew. He plans to transplant the specimen tree within the next month and hopes it will bring enjoyment to local people for another 300 years.
Meanwhile, the Big Tree's trunk has been placed in a field close to the Whitechurch T-junction so locals can bring away sections of the bark where they carved their initials. Mr O'Meara said it's planned to make a bench out of the wood from its boughs and erect it in the area.