Cairde Chomhshaoil na hÉireann
Friends of the Irish Environment
FOREST NETWORK NEWSLETTER
REVIEWS
"The Story of Yew" by Guido Mina di Sospiro, published by Findhorn Press,2001
(You know that mad ecological community in Northern Scotland). 
At Easons, Price £16.05 Hardback
This is the story of a 2,000-year-old female Yew tree located in the Yew
Woods at Muckross, Killarney. Actually, the tree it is based on is estimated
to be only about a quarter of this age but di Sospiro takes the licence that
it was cut down by the Franciscans (ironic) to build the Abbey and
resprouted miracle-like from its stump.  Apparently, this is possible with
these unusual conifers.  Alan Mitchell, famous British Tree expert, guided
the author through the botanical aspects of the book.  You are asked to
suspend your Cartesian dualistic view of the world (not too difficult I
suspect) and imagine the Yewess (Top of Celtic Tree hierarchy) as a superior
being to humans who witnesses the end of the Iron Age, a Roman legion, early
Christians, Medieval, and Monastic settlement and their cumulative effects
on the natural environment and how Killarney survived as a remnant native
woodland.  (What di Sospiro describes as the desertification of Ireland).
This is intertwined with religious and mystical references, which gives it a
holistic flavour.
The book also describes the natural processes in woodland evolution and
competition including mycorrhizal fungi and how the Yew managed to suppress
the growth of Oaks by inhibiting the symbiotic relationship between the
Oaks' roots and the fungi. Di Sospiro recognises that pure Yew stands are
rare and are relatively poor as far as biodiversity is concerned. The book
certainly helps the less scientific to understand some of the processes
involved in woodland ecology. It is recommended by Botanists both in Ireland
and abroad (e.g. Dr. Botanic Man himself)
I managed to finish the book in two weeks (a record). But it is not very
long in truth and it is easy to read particularly as it looks at the history
of a part of the country with which we all should be familiar. I would even
consider using some of the references in academic work
I would recommend for adults and children of 10+ (there are some somewhat
gory bits but what's new about this these days).
William Maher
5/5/01