To Speak for Trees review: forestry, sexism and Celtic wisdom

Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s rich book maps her life as a scientist and her love of nature

Diana Beresford-Kroeger: Her life’s work has been to advocate for Mother Earth, especially the great forests of the world.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger: Her life’s work has been to advocate for Mother Earth, especially the great forests of the world.

Born to an aristocratic Anglo-Irish father, John Lisle de la Paor Beresford, and with her mother descended from the high kings of Ireland, Diana Beresford Kroeger had a tough start. Her mother a cold beauty who made sure her child knew she was never more than “a nuisance”, and shouted triumphantly when the dad was killed, “Jack, the bastard, is dead!”, was killed in a car crash a few months later herself. When the traumatised 11 year old was brought before the judge in Cork, he asked: “What will I do with you?” There were two options: the nearby Magdalene Laundry in Sundays Well – “nightmarish hotbeds of abuse and death” – or back to her mother’s Georgian house in town and bachelor Uncle Pat. (The Beresfords, being aristocrats, had no time for a girl.) By a miracle, the judge allowed the child to be sent back to the non-existent care of the bachelor uncle, oblivious to a body’s even basic needs, and “staff”.

A summer vacation to her mother’s people in Lisheen was her salvation; a rocky enclave in west Cork where, thanks to its remoteness, the Brehon/Gaelic ways had survived Britain’s brutal 500-year occupation, its Penal Laws smashing “old” Ireland to its knees, she was welcomed, fed and taught self-care. Under Brehon law an orphan was the community’s responsibility and the old people inducted her into Nature’s secrets, the wisdoms of the past. Starving for food, love and knowledge the “Gidl”, or cailín, was nourished on every level.

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