Can you believe it is the first of May already? As I write this, I am looking outside my window at a beautiful hawthorn tree in full bloom and I am reminded me that this tree is also known as the May tree, after the month in which it blooms.
While its blossoms are used in May Day celebrations, it was considered unlucky to bring hawthorn into the house, because of the folklore that doing so would bring illness and death to that house. Much nicer then to reflect on its more positive symbolism, chiefly that of regarding the hawthorn as an emblem of hope. In fact its genus name Crataegus, comes from the Greek kratos, which means strength. Its branches are said to have been carried by the ancient Greeks in wedding processions, and in Celtic lore, it was said the hawthorn can heal a broken heart.
The hawthorn features widely throughout our own native Irish myth and legend, with many references to the tree (sceach gheal in Irish) and its connection to the little folk – the fairies. My grandfather, long dead now, was a great believer in the fairies and the old folklore. A Co Longford farmer, he would plough a wide circle around the lone hawthorn tree in his field, for fear of offending the fairies that supposedly inhabited the tree. It was widely held that disaster would befall those who dared to dig up a hawthorn tree.
The hawthorn is in flower from May to June and right now it is a joy to behold the hedgerows and fields alive with great clusters of its beautiful 5-petalled white flowers. Come September the pollinated flowers become 1cm wide, deep red fruits known as haws and a once common expression in Ireland ‘When all fruit fails, welcome haws’ is something else my grandfather used to say to us when we were children.