Spring is definitely sprung, these hazel catkins or “Lamb’s tails” were spotted this week on Slieve Gullion.
These, are the male flowers of the hazel, the female flowers are almost inconspicuous and could be easily mistaken for buds, but on closer examination you can see the crimson stigmas which protrude to receive the pollen from the male catkins as they are blown by the wind. The flowers when thus fertilised, develop into the familiar nuts you see in Autumn.
The hazel has its place in folklore, as it was believed that hazelnuts gave one wisdom and inspiration and one story relates to Fionn Mac Cumhail.
The story goes that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool and dropped nine nuts into the water. These were then eaten by a salmon, who it was believed absorbed the knowledge and wisdom. The poet Finn Eces spent seven years fishing for this particular salmon and when one day he finally caught it, he gave it to his servant, the young Fionn to cook, with strict instructions not to eat it. During the cooking process Fionn burnt his thumb, which he then put into his mouth to cool. Thus Fionn absorbed the wisdom and knowledge allowing him to become the leader of the Fianna and one of the most renowned heroes of Irish mythology!