Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1767 [unknown]
Location: Florence Court, Fermanagh, Irelandmap
Surname/tag: Willis
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Categories: Fermanagh Genealogy Free Space Pages.

TAXAS BACCATA FASTIGIATA - not just any old yew tree - THE IRISH YEW

At Florence Court, the stately home of the Earls of Enniskillen, is one of the most important trees in Ireland, a tree with its own National Trust Heritage status. The Florence Court yew discovered by George Willis in 1767 is THE Taxas Baccata Fastigiata, the mother of all Irish Yews grown around the world for their ornamental properties. Literally the mother tree because she was a chance find, a female tree with uniquely dense upright growth that cannot reproduce from seedling. Every Irish Yew in the world was grown from a cutting from this tree, or from one of her off spring.

The Irish yew is among the most spectacular pillar-forming plants. It grows bolt upright and is one of horticulture's most notable foundlings. [1]

Two plants were originally found growing in a wild state about the year 1767 by a Mr.George Willis of Ahatirourke when out coursing for hares on a limestone rock on the mountain above Florence Court called Carrig-na-madadh or “Rock of the Dog” locally known as Willis’ Rock. They were found on the eastern slope of Cuilcagh Mountain, under Ben Achlin, between the Cove & the Ben near Lugahurra hollow. (This is not far from Aghatirourke and Rourkefield House.) These he dug up and planted one in his own garden and brought the other in his coat pocket to his landlord Baron Mount Florence (subsequently first Earl of Enniskillen) at Florence Court where it was planted and still grows. The tree that he planted in his own garden grew there till the year 1865 when it died.

"A Rare Find on Cuilcagh Mountain" is the title of an article by Dick Rogers published in The Impartial Reporter. “Cuilagh is a great hulk of a mountain which dominates the scenery of south Fermanagh. Not long ago, with one of the foresters of Florencecourt, I climbed up its vast side. Our way wound round the garden of Florencecourt House and along the little Larganess River before bearing right to Kerrshill Wood. Here in a clearing we saw the original Irish or Florencecourt Yew, the progenitor of the trees of columnar habit (Taxus baccata fustigiata) now found all round all round the world. It is one of a pair found by George Willis about 1767. He was a tenant of Lord Mount Florence and was living on the high land of Aghatirourke above and behind Florencecourt house.

It can only be propagated by cuttings, the seedlings reverting to the common berry-bearing type. He found the two in a cleft limestone rock on the mountain. The one he planted in his own garden died after a hundred years; the other is this one.

We went round into Glen Wood which has larch and spruce and old beech. Going gradually uphill we climbed on to the moors and continued southwest along the lower slopes of Trien, a broad boggy mountain. The going was heavy over heathery, mossy and often wet ground, but we came across an occasional poll or swallow-hole where the limestone roof of an underground river had fallen in and the hole was growing rowan trees, foxgloves and ferns.

About the 1.250 foot contour there are some outcrops of limestone rocks and one of these with a narrow and deep cleft is known as carriag na madadha, the rock of the dog or Willis’s Rock. It was here, in this cleft that George Willis found the Florencecourt yew.

Click here for a National Trust youtube presentation of the Florence Court Yew. [2]

and here [3] for an RTE radio visit to the tree

Images: 1
Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'
Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'


On 17 Nov 2015 at 09:36 GMT Leigh (Hoolihan) Murrin wrote:

Hi, changed the Irish category for this page. Thanks!

On 7 Jun 2015 at 09:46 GMT Valerie Willis wrote:

There are many photographs of the Florence Court Yew on the internet. It is 250 years old, not a great looking tree, too damaged from all the cuttings taken from it. As an important, historic tree it is much respected and people have gone to a great deal of trouble to take atmospheric photographs.