Planted in Boston, America during 1646, a very special tree once grew.
Described as “a stately elm…whose lofty branches seem’d to touch the skies”, this ancient tree lived long enough to stand nearby the building where John Adams – who would later become the second President of the United States – met with his fellow American patriots and ‘Sons of Liberty’ in the years leading to the American Revolution.
Thus, the tree was known as the ‘Liberty Tree’, and so became the most famous symbol of revolution in America.
In 1775, the British Army cut this original Liberty Tree down – no doubt in an attempt to quash the morale of the American Loyalists – and used it for firewood. What they perhaps did not realise, however, was how the Liberty Tree’s legacy would live on, throughout America, France and into Ireland, with its roots in rebellion wherever it grew.
The last of multiple Liberty Trees planted in France in 1790 still stands to this day, in the parish of La Madeleine at Faycelles. This tree and others of its kind became one of the most prominent symbols of the French Revolution.
French Honorary Consul Catherine Gagneux describes the Liberty Tree of France as: “…a symbol of the everlasting Republic, national freedom, and political revolution… a legacy of the Age of Enlightenment with the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”.
As an icon of revolution and freedom from oppression in both France and America, it was only natural that the influence of the Liberty Tree would spread to Ireland during its people’s own struggles for independence.
In 1798, General Humbert began his Expedition from France to support the United Irishmen and Irishwomen in their uprising against the ruling British, and his time in Ireland saw many more trees take root across County Mayo and elsewhere in towns such as Killala, Castlebar, Westport and our very own Ballina.
For the Year of the French and Ballina 2023, in commemoration of the events of 1798 and France’s historic support of the Irish, the French Embassy and In Humbert’s Footsteps has planted 225 new Liberty Trees within the grounds of schools and local communities from Kilcummin in Co. Mayo to Ballinamuck, Co. Longford, along the very route that was taken by General Humbert and his troops.
These trees are of species native to Ireland, and were planted by children local to the schools along the route.
Sharon Horkan, Secretary of In Humbert’s Footsteps, says: “Today, planting a Liberty Tree represents a commitment to democracy and human rights, and can serve as a reminder of the importance of individual liberty.”
Indeed, in addition to our increased awareness of the crucial benefits of native trees to our natural ecosystems, climate and environment, there is surely no better way to memorialise the iconic Tree of Liberty by planting more; thus passing its legacy of freedom and revolutionary spirit to the younger generations, where it may continue to grow and flourish for many more decades to come.