The link between King William and sweet chestnut is strongest at Scarva House in County Down. In front stands a magnificent sweet chestnut, larger than the Cranmore trees and slightly younger.
The story is that when King William stayed here his horse put a foot on the young tree (suggesting that it was newly planted in 1690), this caused it to spread rather than grow vertically. Its trunk is only about a metre high where it divides into vast branches, growing out and up. Some of these giant limbs are dead – one has been lopped, one is propped up on a pole, but another ‘bald’ one is still putting out healthy live shoots.
Other branches thrive with excellent leaf cover, and new young growth sprouts from the base of the venerable trunk. This tree may look half dead, but the greater part is very much alive and appears all set for hundreds of years to come.
Scarva House is private. The tree is seen by disparate groups – those seriously involved with horses, and those who gather for the ‘mock battle’ on July 13th each year, a re-play of the Battle of the Boyne. There are other trees named after King William and his army, such as the `Royal Oak’ outside Lisnaskea – and there must be more….