May is the month of the white blossom when hedgerows and field boundaries across rural Ireland are dotted with trees covered with what from a distance looks like snow but is instead the beautiful white flowers of the Hawthorn tree. Associated with the fairies, the hawthorn or whitethorn was oftentimes feared by Irish people and in many parts of the country was never brought inside a house. People of my generation were the last generation to truly believe in its connection with the Sí (sidhe) and my own wife for this reason stopped me planting hawthorns in our garden when we first got married!
The remains of prehistoric dwellings known as ‘fairy forts’ dot the Irish landscape and are usually evident by the presence of clumps of hawthorn bushes. Solitary hawthorn trees can also be seen in many farmed fields in rural Ireland. In both instances, local people in my time would never cut them down lest bad luck would befall them. This fear may also have something to do with the scent of the hawthorn flower. It is the chemical compound triethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decompose.
But triethylamine is also found in human semen and vaginal secretions. So no wonder the tree with its white blossom symbolised the lusty month of May, the arrival of summer as the season of fertility and growth. It was when a hawthorn branch on a tree would be decorated with ribbons, pieces of cloth and flowers requesting a good harvest. As with the ash, it was also associated with holy wells which were also linked to female fertility. By September, the pollinated flowers become lush red fruits known as haws. The April leaves were used as a green salad in sandwiches. Jelly was made from the red berries.
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