The Place of The Apple In our Culture & Heritage
By Bridget Carlin, Seed Savers

The Bloody Butcher Apple

When Paris chose Aphrodite as the recipient of the ‘golden apple’ deeming her the fairest of the goddesses he drew down the wrath of Hera and Athene on his family and so ensued the Trojan Wars.

When Satan tempted Eve with the ‘apple of knowledge’ humanity’s descent into this ‘vale of tears’ was ensured.

Irish myths and legends abound with references to apples. Indeed the apple tree was one of the seven sacred trees referred to in the Brehon Laws.

More recently there are instances of people talking about apples recorded by UCD’s folklore department and the lyricism of the language is to be envied;

‘Did you ever hear tell of fellows putting apples into haystacks to sweeten them?’

‘I did, I did. I done it myself. You’d get a lick of apples in an orchard you know, and they’d be sour, be green, a kind of sour. And you lifted a lock of hay like this and you drive in your apples like this, but you have to have a wee bit of stick that you’d know where they were. Leave them there for a week or so, come back…. and they were as soft! Ah for God’s sake, I done it hundreds of times. To sweeten them.’


Apple legends continued to be created when Europeans travelled to the New World. ‘Johnny Appleseed’ (1774 – 1847) travelled throughout America encouraging the planting of orchards and giving away apple seeds to all he met. His respect for nature and the land led to his being accepted by the Native Americans; to them the apple tree is a symbol of honour. In Iroquois and Wyandot mythology the central tree of heaven is an apple tree, therefore planting such trees is a worthy act. Johnny Appleseed was very wise and learned about the landscapes and animals he encountered on his travels – his appearance, bare foot, ragged and with wild long hair made him famous throughout the land. He will always be remembered for the legacy he left of trees and orchards throughout America.

Today the Irish Seed savers are trying to emulate his achievements by keeping the inspiration for all these stories alive. They have a collection of over 150 native apple varieties and some of the names they carry would indicate that there are fascinating stories regarding them; ‘Bloody Butcher’, ‘Maidens Blush’, ‘Widow’s Friend’ and they all taste so much better than the commercial varieties available which to quote Shakespeare could be described as ‘ …fair without and bad within’

To finish on a seasonal note, forget the orthodox Christmas Tree this year and revert to the traditional ‘Kissing Bough’ made from evergreen branches, and decorated with mistletoe, red apples and candles. Putting decorations on a Christmas tree is based on the old custom of hanging apples in the branches of evergreens in mid-winter in the hope of bringing good luck and helping people to survive the cold season.

Seed Savers is having an open day/tree sale day on Sunday 23rd November at Capparoe, Scariff. A different Christmas shopping experience. Phone 061 921866 for details