The Billion Dollar Bush

February 21, 2021

The Light Of Ancient Wisdom


Okay. It wasn’t a billion dollars. It was millions. And it wasn’t a bush as much as a bushy tree as you can see from the photo. But beyond my alliterative indulgence, the rest of this story is true. Hard to believe, but true.

It was 1999. In County Clare, Ireland, construction was underway for the N18 motorway when local folklorist Eddie Lenihan discovered the plans included the destruction of a fairy tree. He raised the alarm, warning that the destruction of the fairy thorn bush could result in misfortune and in some cases death for those traveling the proposed new road. According to Lenihan, the bush is a marker in a fairy path and was the rendezvous point for Kerry fairies on their way to do battle with the Connacht fairies. Under the bush, he claimed, the Kerry fairies would regroup and consult on what might be the best tactics in battle. He said their white blood has been seen on a number of occasions on the surrounding grass. Lenihan warned of terrible consequences if the fairy bush was destroyed. “It is sacred ground.”

It is a fairy story, but not a fairy tale. With a cost of millions and significant construction delays, the motorway was reengineered and constructed to go around the tree. Years later someone took a chain saw and cut down the tree. Generally there was no regret over the actions and costs to protect the tree. There was only the acknowledgement that a person who cuts down a fairy tree will have bad luck and never another good night’s sleep.

It’s easy to point a finger at Irish superstition and many did just that as this story made international headlines. But that is not what happened here. This was not an issue of irrational, groundless, or unfounded belief, as is the definition of superstition – a definition embraced by the Catholic Church and applied liberally to traditions of Ireland’s mythic and otherworld heritage. This belief is grounded in the Brehon Laws. The tenant of honor and value for every person extended to the natural world. And the laws were very specific with regard to trees. Yes, there was a hierarchical structure in which some trees were considered more valuable than others. Oak trees were at the top of this structure. But all trees were valued and there were specific requirements for restorative justice should trees be harmed or damaged. Penalties for stripping the bark from an oak to use in the process of softening leather is just one example. All trees were valued and protected, fairy or not.

The story of the fairy tree along the N18 didn’t raise eyebrows among the Irish as it did for those in other cultures. It was accepted as a logical and rightful consequence of their civil code heritage.

Within the current trajectory of environmental devastation, our world would be better off with a similar heritage. Even a billion dollar price tag could become a nominal cost for restorative environmental justice.

Judith –