The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, development, and conservation of all types of forests. Coole Park is running a number of free events to celebrate the year. There will be activities for children as well as a tree walk covering the different plantings from Gregory times to the present day.
The woods at Coole bear witness to the many generations of Gregorys who had a great interest in forestry. Robert Gregory, great grandfather of Sir William, bought the 600 acre estate in 1768 and first planted the ‘Seven Woods’, later to be immortalised by Yeats in his poetry. Subsequent generations of Gregorys continued planting at Coole.
Sir William Gregory inherited Coole during the era of the great Victorian plant hunters. Intrepid explorers probed the farthest corners of the world, sending back seeds and plants. Exotic conifers were particularly popular, and several remain at Coole today. Sir William was a self-confessed ‘coniferomaniac’ and the pinetum at Coole, completed in 1856, is considered to be his greatest contribution to the estate.
A few years after his death Lady Gregory wrote: “My husband planted rare pines that now tower skywards and many larch and spruce for he believed in home-grown timber.”
Lady Gregory herself had a great love of trees and an interest in forestry, often planting trees by hand. “Nearly all my book royalties grow into trees,” she told a guest once.
The Big Wind of 1903, a hurricane which swept Britain and Ireland, caused great damage to the woods at Coole where thousands of tall conifers were overthrown. Lady Gregory planted 2,500 trees to replace those destroyed and set up a second-hand sawmill to make use of the fallen timber, selling the results at cost.
When the State acquired Coole in 1927 the Forest Service took on the management of the estate. Lady Gregory wrote: “A great joy to me to see the work beginning again that I had been forced to abandon. And they will plant great spaces in comparison with my few acres at a time. This will be an interest henceforth.”
Today Coole is a nature reserve managed for wildlife conservation and public amenity by the National Parks and Wildlife Service since 1987.
The Trees of Coole, a tree walk exploring the history of the woods from Gregory times to present day, will take place this Sunday at 3pm. The walk will trace the story of Coole through the various tree plantings, looking at native and non-native species and exploring the remains of Sir William Gregory’s pinetum of exotic conifers.
Participants on the walk will receive a booklet on the trees of Coole as a memento to celebrate the International Year of Forests. The walk will begin at the visitors’ centre and last for 90 minutes.
Discovering the Trees at Coole, an afternoon of children’s activities, will take place on Wednesday August 24 from 2.30pm to 4pm. This event is suitable for children aged from five to 10 years and activities will include games, exploring the woodland, and experiencing the trees of Coole using the senses.
Places are limited and booking is essential. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Children’s activities will take place every Wednesday in August. Booking is essential.