A crab apple tree planted 19 years ago in memory of the victims of the Omagh bombing and a birch planted by former president Mary Robinson have been cut down during construction work on a site in Co Cork.
Macroom and District Environmental Group intervened last week to stop the destruction of protected trees in the area known as President's Grove at Macroom Castle Demesne.
Site works were under way at Bishop McEgan College to build an extension to the existing school building, including a classroom for people with autism.
Ted Cook, of the environmental group, said that on learning of the damage last Tuesday, he had immediately driven into town and crossed the cordon at the building site.
He presented a copy of a protection order from An Bord Pleanála, issued after an appeal to the board against the development in March of last year.
The board had accepted the Macroom environmental group’s submission that the trees had significant local and social importance and that their removal would have a serious impact on amenity.
Mr Cook said he entered the site just as roots of the birch planted by Ms Robinson on a visit to the town in 1996 were being torn up.
The damage caused immediate wilt and drought stress on the tree and its condition is “critical”.
Some years after its planting, Mr Cook said he had met Mrs Robinson at a college event and that, unprompted, she had asked after the birch she planted.
The “bigger loss” was the crab apple tree - “the lord of the forest” - which he had harvested apples from with two students who have autism just two years ago when it yielded 60lb of fruit.
They made jam and raised €180 for local charities, he said. “That’s a major loss.”
He said the tree, reduced to a stump, may come on again if there is no disturbance. But a small community or group of trees did over time become a “single organism”, he added.
Local gardaí attended the scene, although it is understood the contractors were entirely co-operative and agreed to halt the work.
The environmental campaigner, who grew all the trees on the two-acre site given over by the trustees, including Ms Robinson’s birch, said the foreman on the site had immediately halted the work.
He understood the contractors had been working off the original planning permission granted by Cork County Council rather than the amended plans and maps, he said.
Mr Cook said he believed the contractor “comes with clean hands” and was not at fault. He subsequently visited the site with the local county engineer and believed an enforcement file had been opened.
Report environmental destruction
Mr Cook urged anyone who witnessed such environmental destruction to report it to gardaí and said local gardaí in Macroom had been helpful and supportive.
A wrong had been done to the town by the destruction of the trees, he said.
“For those of us in the know, this grove is more than symbolic,” he said.
“The message to other communities up and down the country is that they don’t have to stand with their mouths open.”
Cork County Council said it was aware of the issue but it would be premature to comment until the investigation was complete.
Cahalane Bros Ltd, the contractor, did not respond to a request for comment.