Northern Ireland news

Leaning oak in Co Down is Northern Ireland's ‘tree of the year'

The distinctive Holm Oak tree in Kilbroney Park, Co Down, chosen as the Northern Ireland Tree of the Year. Picture by Michael Cooper
Gareth McKeown

A HEAVILY leaning oak tree in Co Down has been named Northern Ireland's 'tree of the year'.

The evergreen Holm Oak, known as 'Old Homer', stands inside the main Fairy Glen entrance to Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, the inspiration behind CS Lewis' depiction of mythical land Narnia.

Loved by generations of locals, it secured more than half of the votes in a competition organised by the Woodland Trust, defeating rivals including an oak tree in Belfast's Belvoir Park believed to be around 500 years old.

Northern Ireland’s winner – along with the winning tree in England, Scotland and Wales – was recently revealed in a Channel 4 documentary Tree of the Year with Irish comedian Ardal O'Hanlon.

The mighty evergreen oak was planted some 200 years ago by the Ross family on, at that time, their private estate. The Ross’ legacy, a mix of native and exotic specimens from all over the world, lives on in Kilbroney Park – now Council-owned and open to the public.

The unique oak, with a girth of nearly 12ft (3.6m) and a typical snakeskin bark, is distinctive because of the 45-degree angle at which it leans, making it easy for children to climb.

However, one of the huge boughs has become enormously heavy with age and is now in need of some assistance.

The winning tree was nominated by Alistair Livingstone on behalf of the LIGHT 2000 community group.

"This oak has been loved by countless generations of local people, and it’s the tree that crowds continue to gather under during the Fiddler’s Green Festival – an international celebration of music and culture," he said.

“It’s a breathtaking spot, attracting its fair share of famous residents and visitors over the years, including great writers. It certainly inspired the Belfast-born CS Lewis, who said the view from Kilbroney Park (then known as the Meadow) overlooking Carlingford Lough was his idea of Narnia," he added.

“I recently visited Kilbroney Park and was overwhelmed by this much-loved oak," Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust added.

The oak will join winners of a similar public vote in England, Wales and Scotland to a European Tree of the Year competition in February.

All four winners, chosen from 28 shortlisted entries, will also get a £1,000 care grant.

The English winner was a Sycamore Gap tree which featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves starring Kevin Costner.

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