Fermanagh’s ash trees give hurley makers hope

By John Carney

FERMANAGH is turning into a mecca for Ireland’s hurley makers as they search for the dwindling wood they need to keep a healthy production line going.

The ancient Irish sport of hurling is called the “clash of the ash” because the hurls or hurley sticks are made from the bottom 1.3m of the native Irish ash tree.

But the last few years have seen ash come under attack from a disease called dieback.

The disease is caused by a fungus that has spread through Ireland and the UK, and it’s estimated it could claim 90 per cent of the islands’ ash trees.

It has forced desperate hurley makers to scour the country for ash trees, with Fermanagh proving to be a good source for them around the nearby fields of Florencecourt and Castlecoole estates.

John Keane from Nenagh, Tipperary, is one of many hurley makers that have been struggling as demand outstrips supply for them throughout Ireland.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do in the future, but there are plenty of ash trees up in Fermanagh that can be used. We pay for any ash trees that farmers or whoever are prepared to sell,” Mr Keane said. “We’ve bought trees from around Florence Court and Castle Coole estates a few times. We used the ash trees from here to make hurleys. We have been to estates and farmers all over Ireland.

“If we see plantations of ash tree timber we’d call in and ask the owners if they’d sell some of them. If we can agree a deal with the owners we’d come back up with a trailer after that to cut out what we need and take them back home.

“We have no other choice but to look further afield these days. We’ve been over in the UK regularly looking for them as well.”

Tens of thousands of ash trees have already had to be cut down across the country due to the ash dieback disease with shocking predictions that up to 160 million could be lost in the future.

“A lot of the time the wood has dieback in it, but if it’s not hitting it too bad you’ve a chance of making a hurl out of it,” Mr Keane said.

“We know exactly what to look for and if the ash wood is usable or not. Dieback seems to be everywhere now and most of the trees are only good for firewood here in Tipperary.”

l If you have ash trees forsale you can contact John Keaneon 00-353-85128-4043.

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