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Ancient Irish Trees Brought Back to Life

By Darragh Murphy

Down towards Gougán Barra, where the remote wilds of west Cork meet the gentle slopes of the Lee valley, Ted Cook’s home seems like a relic from a forgotten era.

A pheasant keeps sentry out front, unperturbed by visitors. Behind the gate, the grassy driveway looks like it hasn’t seen a car in a generation, if ever. It’s a sylvan idyll, nestling snugly in about an acre of mixed woodland.

Yet this quiet corner of Kilbarry, Co Cork, so rustic that you half expect Hansel and Gretel to come bounding down with cookies (five kittens do emerge), is at the cutting edge of an international campaign to help save Ireland’s forests.

At Cook’s house, in unprepossessing boxes, lie no ordinary trees. They are oaks. Moreover, these are no ordinary oaks. They contain the precise DNA of the last remaining aboriginal native sessile and common oaks around Ireland. In the US, where they were grown, they were grafted on to root stalks before being sent on to Holland and imported back home.

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