A recent survey by the Heritage Council of Ireland has revealed that forty per cent of Irish Schoolchildren have never ever climbed a tree. So, this tree week is a good time to remedy that. Go out and find a nice tree in your area that is safe for you children to climb and encourage them to have a go – under your supervision of course.
Climbing trees is an activity some people keep up all their lives. DID YOU KNOW that the oldest woman who ever lived in Ireland – Katherine Fitzgerald Countess of Desmond – died in 1614 aged 140 years after a fall from a tree she had climbed up to gather fruit.
She was born in Dromana on the banks of the Blackwater in Co Waterford in the late 1400’s. She married Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond in around 1506 following the death of his first wife and they had one daughter also called Katherine. They lived in Inchiquin Castle, eight miles southwest of Youghal, where he died in 1534 aged 80. He left her a life tenancy in the castle – little thinking no doubt that she would live so long.
In 1582 after the Desmond Rebellion, all the Fitzgerald lands were forfeited and the castle was granted to Sir Walter Raleigh. Although he leased out the land, to be fair to him he allowed the Countess to stay in the castle for her lifetime. But in due course he sold these Irish possessions to Sir Richard Boyle, who had no intention of honouring the agreement and brought proceedings to evict her.
She was having none of it and in 1604 she set sail from Cork to Bristol to complain to the English monarch. From there she walked to London pulling her daughter behind her in a cart. The daughter was a 90-year-old invalid at this stage. In London, her petition was presented to King James 1. She returned in triumph to Inchiquin and went back to living in the castle.
Lady Desmond reportedly walked every week to her local market town, a distance of 4–5 miles, even after her return from London in 1604. And of course, she gathered her fruit each year by climbing up the tree. However, it was a fall from the fruit tree that led to her death at the venerable age of 140 and she is buried in Youghal beside her husband in the Franciscan Friary.
Nathaniel Grogan’s 1806 engraving of Lord Kerry’s portrait of Katherine, Countess of Desmond
Blog written by Eanna Ni Lamhna
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