Not long waving, but drowned by angry voices

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The Independent Online
CERTAIN of us have it in for trees and others would preserve them, for aesthetic if for no other reasons. I incline to the latter view, although, like the late Queen Mary and Gladstone, I like chopping them down when the time comes. No doubt there is something deeply priapic about this instinct, as possibly King George V and Mrs Gladstone were wont to observe when they caught their respective spouses in the act.

For many Irishmen and women, however, the destruction of trees assumes a mystical significance that I cannot fathom. I have quite often done pleasant things in trees (there is one at Luggala, Co Wicklow, for instance, which seems designed for the purpose) and suffer from the primeval fear that something unpleasant might one day happen to me in one of them, such as falling out of it, being bitten by a snake or having it chopped down from under me.

I had, in west Cork, the temporary possession or guardianship of one Scots pine, an aristocrat among conifers. My friend and neighbour Sammy Burchill, whose instincts are otherwise absolutely civilised, cannot look at any tree without seeing it in terms of firewood and often volunteered to cut it down for me on the grounds that it was spoiling the view.

In the four acres of scrub oak, ash, sycamore, holly and fuchsia (rightly detested in this country as a foreign weed), I would happily stroll for 11 months out of the year, annoyed only occasionally by robins giving out at me for encroaching upon their territory or crows attacking the deaf cat.

That has all gone now, of course, and I traipse the country admiring other people's trees, in so far as there are any. A frequent lament among nationalists of the old school is that the English cut down all our oaks to build their navy ('Derry' in Gaelic means oak, and there is not a bore in Ireland unwilling to tell you so), but we never made much effort to put them back again, leaving that to English settlers such as my friend John Boorman, who is planting them in Wicklow as fast as we are slashing them.

There was an oak wood at Coolatin, not far from Dublin, numbering 650 acres, which made it by far the most substantial in Ireland. Five hundred acres of these trees were harvested by the new owners, who had every entitlement to do so, and a preservation order was imposed on the remaining acres by the enlightened Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, who has since gone the way of Margaret Thatcher, and his preservation order with him.

We in the Irish Tree Society, chairman Tom Pakenham and a quixotic institution if ever there was one, attempt to preserve this last heritage, so familiar to our ancestors, by throwing dinner parties at which the guests kindly offer to adopt one oak each at Coolatin. We are a generous people, but there are so many calls upon our charity already that I fear this one might as well be christened Dunsinane.

More's the pity. The Celts skulked profitably in woods. For miles on end, from the North Sea to the Polish border, there is scarcely a copse to be seen. Where are we to dance and gallivant when the last wood is gone?

WE will miss BBC Radio 4 in the Republic when it is removed from long wave, as we missed Radio 3 when it, too, was consigned to microwaves. I know it is of absolutely no more consequence to Broadcasting House than it is to the Foreign Office that there are five million Anglophones on this island and that we would like to keep at least peripherally in touch with our English and Welsh and Scottish cousins, but I hope a mild whimper might be in order. After all, we can still pick up German and French and Spanish stations with perfect clarity.

I come with huge reluctance to the conclusion that no one in England entrusted with the English language cares that anyone else speaks it. Bugger them, say I, and a thousand million voices across the world echo the sentiment.

KLINKE went off to the Culchie Festival in Castlebar, but, as I foretold, failed to be elected or even nominated as Culchie of the Year, ruled out by reason of his degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities. As this is the first peasants' festival to be instituted anywhere in the Western world, I cannot help but feel that it would have got off on the right foot by selecting as its archetype the descendant of Prussian Junkers and Confederate slave-owners.

Klinke reports that the leading contenders were unimpressive (one wore the penis-bones of dead foxes in his hat and another had a bow tie made out of peat). The contestants were provided with female escorts, two of them members of the Irish army. Klinke says one of them was a Madonna impersonator. Knowing the Irish army, I do not doubt it.

No one, least of all the contestants, took any notice of their escorts, but this is one of our most robust traditions. When I was a young man chasing skirt, I found that whenever I sought out women in company I was accused universally of effeminacy. I am glad that nothing has changed, in Castlebar at least.

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