Books: Artwork from Co Down's Kilbroney Park trees forms touring exhibition
GERRY Adams likes to hug them. Van Morrison sang about the redwood one keeping "us from all harm". And CS Lewis believed those among the hills above Rostrevor most closely resembled his famous fantasy kingdom. Trees.
"That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia," Lewis wrote in a letter to his brother; he was citing the whole surrounding area of the Big Stone, the landmark granite boulder high above the village, and the particular light of the landscape.
Now Lewis and the trees of Kilbroney Park have been reunited thanks to the annual east Belfast celebration of the writer, the CS Lewis Festival. Artwork from a book focussed on the trees in the area is on exhibition during the festival at the Village Church on the Newtownards Road.
The book was the initiative of cross-community group Light 2000, whose chairman Billy Graham emphasised the book has no direct links with Lewis.
But given the success of the beautifully illustrated book – the initial print run of 1,000 has almost entirely sold out – the Woodland Trust gave Light 2000 the gift of growing its own idea.
"The trust set aside a sum of money for a project of our choosing and so we got together and decided to take the book on tour," Billy says.
After its run in east Belfast, which finishes next week (November 13) the exhibition travels to the Market Place, Armagh, before returning home to the Rostrevor Inn on Bridge Street in the village in December.
""We all love trees. I don't think there is anyone who does not like trees," Billy says. "Modern science tells us of the importance for our mental health of walking among trees, touching them and even that trees can communicate with each other. That is extraordinary."
In what he called his 'last life' Billy was political correspondent with this newspaper for 29 years and before The Irish News with the Irish Independent and the Belfast Telegraph.
"That was my last life and in engaging with politicians on a daily basis I tried to plant in them the seeds of peace," he says. "Now in this new life working with community organisations I encourage the planting of seeds for trees."
The first major Light 2000 success was the planting of 400 saplings by Rostrevor schoolchildren which in turn led to a decision to enter the Northern Ireland Tree of the year competition run by the Woodland Trust.
The entrant was a towering evergreen Holm Oak which dates back more than 200 years and not only won the Northern Ireland competition two years ago but came sixth in the equivalent European contest the following year.
The overall impact has been not only to highlight Kilbroney but to increase awareness of the importance of the environment.
Billy likes to quote Scottish-born environmentalist John Muir, who stated: "The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."
Billy adds: "The trees of Kilbroney Park serve to demonstrate what can be achieved when people work together in harmony. It is absolutely amazing that all of these trees are all together in one place."
The book itself is also a collaborative effort, not just of the trust but with funding also coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council as well as sponsorship by local businesses.
But the colourful collection of abstract and representational artworks also comes with a warning, from Patrick Cregg of the Woodland Trust.
In the introduction he says: "Sadly, here in Northern Ireland we have lost many of our remarkable old trees. Such trees might be regarded as the cathedrals of the natural world."
Billy backs up the point. Describing the book as "a labour of love", he goes on to state: "We must all of us respect and protect the environment that we have in all the many parks in Ireland, north and south."
:: The Trees of Kilbroney Park – limited copies still available in No Alibis bookshop and the Lamppost Cafe in Belfast as well as the Winding Stair bookshop in Lower Ormond Quay in Dublin, £7.50. Further information from Billy Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org