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The sun was veiled, pre-Iphone kids would direct themselves with the porch light shooting orange and yellow beams across the rutted land, the air holding the stillness of a tranquil lake, an ancient hawthorn bush stood sentinel. Strewn below, apples that had rolled from a nearby tree lay like shrivelled nuts, their scent rank and spoiled. 

In the olden days, hawthorn (crataegus monogyna) was used to make hedges, keeping animals in check. The berries, or haws, got turned into all sorts of treats like jellies and jams, syrup, maybe a bit of homemade wine.

Come autumn and winter, berries would show their festive colours and birds like thrushes and waxwings gobbled up those haws like it was Christmas dinner. People reckoned this tree was the home of fairies, and that leaving a twig of hawthorn in the milking parlour would lead to the creamiest milk.


Keep an eye out for bunches of dark blue-back elderberries hanging around – the birds can’t get enough, some trees are already stripped clean. These berries pack an antiviral punch, winter warriors of sorts in the old days. 

Look out for the final hurrah of blackberries, each one a little bundle of small black drupes or druplets, each with its own seed. Even as the blackberry season winds down, you can still spot blossoms and a mix of green, red, and black fruit all hanging out on the same arching briar.

People once believed it wasn’t wise to go blackberry picking after Halloween, fearing the mischievous púca would give them a good spit.

ní fiú sméar san fhomhair é‘ – don’t do it, the saying went. 


Elder and blackberries are just part and parcel of our native Irish biodiversity.

Mary Robinson, Ireland’s former Prime Minister and a true advocate for nature, shows us the way to protect it: storytelling and a touch of well-placed humour. She suggests that sharing tales binds us closely with nature, allowing us to find a rhythm between humanity and the environment.  

Imagine this, a hawthorn, a breeze mingled with the blossom scent and its branches holding nests, fancy B&B with an all-included tart winter berries breakfast package for birds, butterflies and bees. In it, the Púca sees the equivalent of a rusty motel neon “open” sign, and lets himself in.

The Púca, like a wizard having mastered the art of the Animagus, flips between animal shapes playing tricks with a mischievous flair, a creature dancing on the edge of the Forbidden Forest’s shadows.

Locals know better than to mess with the hawthorn; it’s like resisting the urge to pop bubble wrap at a public library – you just don’t. The Púca also doubles as a sage, handing out advice and guidance, swinging between mischief and help – a captivating character in the grand tale of Irish folklore.


As we step into December, the curtain falls on the berry season, but the beauty of this tree’s late-dropping superfood fruits is that they remain on trees even into the winter. Like a mechanic fine-tuning a sluggish engine; hawthorn berries would do the same for our hearts, cranking up the pumping power and widening coronary highways to deliver oxygen.

And the ecosystem spiral continues as moths and butterflies exclusively indulge in the nectar and leaves of this benevolent tree as seasons pass.  


Ready to make a real impact on Ireland’s ecosystems ?
here to explore how you can support Green Sod Ireland‘s initiatives and be a part of the movement towards sustainable conservation.


References :

Contributors, M. O. J. T. A. B. (s. d.). Species Profile Browser · Species Profile. https://species.biodiversityireland.ie/profile.php?taxonId=28945  

Teagasc. (s. d.). Environment – Growing Wild – Elderberries and blackberries – TEAGASC | Agriculture and Food Development Authority. https://www.teagasc.ie/news–events/daily/environment/growing-wild—elderberries-and-blackberries.php

Clarke, V. (2022). COP27 : Mary Robinson calls for ‘positive narrative’ on climate action. The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/environment/climate-crisis/2022/11/08/imf-and-world-bank-should-provide-solidarity-funding-for-developing-countries-robinson-says/ 

Pete. (2023). The Púca : a Shape-Shifting trickster in Irish folklore – IrishHistory.com. https://www.irishhistory.com/myths-legends/mythical-creatures/the-puca-a-shape-shifting-trickster-in-irish-folklore/

O’Driscoll, D. (2022). Sacred Tree profile : Hawthorn (Lore, Medicine, Magic, and Mystery). The Druids Garden. https://thedruidsgarden.com/2015/10/30/sacred-tree-profile-hawthorn-lore-medicine-magic-and-mystery/

Photos by Rory MacCanna: https://www.flickr.com/people/maccannarory/ & IrishHistory.com