THE STORY OF YEW

  Transcript J. 087

RTE Radio 1 – Today Show with Pat Kenny (Ireland’s number 1 radio show, with an audience between 800,000 to 1,200,000)

  2nd May 2001, 10.05 AM

Interview with Guido Mina di Sospiro

Typed by Rachel Peelo


Pat Kenny:

How often do you encounter a tale told by a tree?  Well, that’s exactly what I have in front of me now.  It’s called ‘The Story of Yew’ – Y-E-W – and it is the tale… the life story of a 2000 year old Yew tree, as told by the tree herself.  Now, the author is Buenos Aires-born Italian called Guido Mina di Sospiro, and he happens to be in Ireland at the moment. You’re very welcome to the programme.

Guido Mina di Sospiro:

Thank you very much.

Pat Kenny:

Now, this is an extraordinary book, so perhaps we’ll start by finding out what the premise of the book is… a 2000-year-old tree writing her autobiography?

Guido Mina di Sospiro:

That’s right.  That’s precisely what it is.  Well, I was thinking about trees very much because I had inherited a house from my grandmother in which the trees were fantastically old and I wanted to be worthy of the legacy so I began to study, study and study and study and I became obsessed because there was a Yew tree on the grounds, and an English girl came over one day as a guest and said “That’s a plane tree” and that’s this and that’s that and that’s a Yew tree.  And she was going back and forth “And that’s Yew” and I thought “Ah, that would be a good title, a good pun” and that was the beginning of twelve years work.

Pat Kenny:

Where was this tree?

Guido Mina di Sospiro:

In Lake Como where we have a house.  It’s a huge Yew tree and there is a bigger yet plane tree, so it is sort of dwarfed by it, but nevertheless it is a good four hundred years old and a female at that, with berries, so that’s the difference.  The males don’t have the berries, the females have them.  The males pollinate and the females just bear the berries.  So I began to research and study for three years in my studio in Florida until the books in there evicted me from the studio – heaps and piles of books everywhere – and I couldn’t walk in it anymore.  So I said, it’s time to go looking for locations.  And I went to Wales, I went to England, I went to Scotland… I found magnificent Yew trees, but something was missing.  It was just not right.  In despair, I came back to England – I mean, to America – repeatedly saying, “This is not going to happen.  I have all the research, it’s just my point of departure, but it’s not going to happen.”
Pat Kenny:

All right.  You knew you wanted to write a book about a Yew tree…

Guido Mina di Sospiro:

Yes, and I wanted it to be two thousand years old to make it coincide with the birth of Christ, up to the present.  That’s all I knew and then I started the research… a lot of research with the greatest botanists in the world, etc., etc., but I still didn’t find the location.  So one day in despair I called the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin and I spoke to Aidan Brady, who at the time was the director. And the first thing he said – I remember it as if it were yesterday – was: “Have you looked into the Killarney Yew?” and I said, “No, I’m afraid…” I didn’t know what Killarney was, I didn’t know anything.  “Well, you should look into that.” 
All right, so I took my plane, flew to Dublin, met with him and with Donal Synnott, who at the time was the curator of the herbarium, is now the director.  And they told me go here, go there, do this, do that, and they gave me a letter of introduction to the superintendent of Killarney National Park.  Took my train, went to Killarney.  It had been raining for three months uninterruptedly, so they told me, and I was there five days: perfect sunshine, blue skies, I could walk everywhere… met Cormac Foley there – the superintendent – fantastic personable chap.  He took me all over the place, and I found everything I needed.  Muckross Abbey  – a fantastic old Yew tree growing inside the cloister of a dilapidated Franciscan abbey on Killarney National Park.
The Yew wood, which is one of three in the world but the largest – it’s an anomaly… it’s a whole huge piece of land between the two lakes… all Yew woods, nothing else.  That’s anomalous and fantastic and unique in the world. Then there was Serpent Lake, across the hills, in which St. Patrick had banished Ireland’s last snake; there was Dunlow Castle with two fantastic Yew trees… very old Yew trees growing in front of it – a male and a female intermingling, intertwining, making love for years, and that fitted just the love chapter, for example. All the elements, it seemed to me, were there.  It was just a matter of connecting the lines… you know, connecting the different elements.
Pat Kenny:

And so you set the tale in Ireland.

Guido Mina di Sospiro:

And so… that’s it, and I fell in love with the country, by the way.  I mean, it’s become really my elective homeland.  I adore it.
To Continue click here
BACK
The Story of Yew