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Lord and Lady Rosse of Birr Castle, with Tom Roche of Just Forests, hug the poplar after hearing it has been accepted as Ireland’s nominee in the 2014 European Tree of the Year competition. Photo by: Just Forests

Irish contender for European Tree of the Year felled by Atlantic storms

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Lord and Lady Rosse of Birr Castle, with Tom Roche of Just Forests, hug the poplar after hearing it has been accepted as Ireland’s nominee in the 2014 European Tree of the Year competition. Photo by: Just Forests

A 200-year-old giant grey poplar destined to become Ireland’s entry for the 2014 European Tree of the Year has been blown over by the Atlantic storms that have lashed the country.

The Irish Times has even described it as ‘the tree that died for Ireland’ after the tree went crashing to the ground in the gardens of Birr Castle, by the side of the river Camcor in Offaly.

The paper reports that the raging winds brought the tree down in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The paper adds that what made its demise even more poignant is that the poplar was midway through a month-long election campaign, as Ireland’s representative in the 2014 European Tree of the Year competition.

The Offaly poplar was vying for votes with trees from as far away as Bulgaria and the remains of an ancient, half-dead oak in Wales, thought to be 1,200 years old. The paper says the Welsh tree survived the storms.

The grey poplar was the star attraction at Birr Castle, one of Ireland’s greatest gardens.

It had featured in a recent book Heritage Trees of Ireland when author Aubrey Fennell wrote that, at 42 metres, it was the tallest of its kind in these islands.

He called it: “A triumph of hybrid vigour. While the variety is produced by a union of white poplar and aspen trees, it far exceeds either of those in size.”

More than 30 trees at Birr Castle were lost to the storms with the  Irish Times reporting that owner Brendan Parsons, Lord Rosse, was particularly upset by the loss of a magnolia imported from China by his great, great, great-grandfather, a noted botanist.

The paper adds that the grey poplar died like a soldier, falling in perfect parallel with the river.

Tom Roche, a forestry campaigner and furniture maker who nominated the tree for the European award, is leading a plan to leave it where it is and carve a long river-facing bench into the trunk for visitors.

The paper also says the tree is still in the running for the European competition as it is for a tree with a ‘story’ and although the poplar’s story has become a memoir, this does not disqualify it.

Voting is open until February 28th at treeoftheyear.org

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