Shane’s Castle, Co. Antrim has great oak trees – among the oldest and biggest in Northern Ireland.
The greatest of the oaks stands beside the ruins of the previous castle, a fine house on the shore of Lough Neagh, accidentally burnt when it was still a relatively new building. It is a perfect oak in shape and stature and measures 20’ 10” around its circumference.
The age of oaks at Shane’s has been the subject of dendrochronology, dating by tree rings. By examining trees felled in 1982 one was dated to 1675, another felled in 1989 was even earlier at 1649. The giant survivor by the old castle could be of this sort of age, seventeenth century.
Very few oaks in the Province go back this far. The oaks at Inisherk, Crom, are much the same size as those at Shane’s, though there does not seem to be one quite up to Shane’s biggest (but close!)
Their size is due to rapid growth in the rich soil and damp climate so they have wide annual growth rings. By taking horizontal borings into the trunk, live trees may be aged without felling – this has indicated around 1780 for the older Crom oaks, most are nineteenth century.
The oaks are relics of a time before the great house of Shane’s Castle was built, before villages were cleared to make way for the fields in which they now stand.