Week 17 The Beech Tree and the Accidental Academic

Second Beech- Mayfield ,sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 倪芙瑞莲 2019


This weeks tree story is a personal one and perhaps a bit unusual. People often plant trees to remember a loved one who has passed but this story is about chopping down a tree (which had already died many years earlier ) as a kind of tribute to the memory of a loved one .

The Beech Tree

There were two copper beech trees in the garden where I grew up in Carlow Ireland. It is a big garden and my mother continues to tend to it today.   One was near the house and the second was among other trees in the back garden which features in the above artwork.  They shed years of dappled light on the ground where my seven siblings and I played and fought, mended bikes and canoes. I had a privileged childhood.  Many years later one of the beech trees near the house had died,  a cable TV company nailed electric wires multiple times into the bark over several years. We were not customers of this company and did not use or pay for this TV service but they wanted the wire to cross the garden to the next house as it was cheaper than bringing the wire back to the road. A few years later the bark had swallowed the wire , the cable company came to nail new wires , three separate wires were swallowed by the bark and the tree eventually died. The dead tree soared 20 metres  high and threatened to come down crashing down on the house during stormy weather. But the TV company refused to remove their wires.  


The Accidental Academic

My father was ‘an accidental academic’, he remained in school instead of the family farm because of his love for sports – gaelic football and hurling ( hurling is a very fast Irish field sport using a long wooden stick and hard small leather ball) . He also happened to be smart and gained a number of scholarships and later became an award-winning scientist.  He discovered the mode of soil fungal infection in cereals and which he had named ‘Take All’ and had independent articles published Nature in the early 1970’s. A moral and self-disciplined man he conducted matters fairly and always abided by the law. He wrote to the TV company, he got his solicitors to present their letters to the multinational corporation to explain how he needed to cut the dead tree down as it threatened to fall crashing down on the house. The dead beech killed by the wires could no longer be used as a telegraph pole. These letters continued with no response. A few years later my beloved father passed away. All my brothers and sisters were home for the funeral. After contemplating the dead tree we knew we could do this one strange thing to honour Colm Patrick Cunningham (1933-2003). 

There would be no more waiting, we would cut the tree down . No more letters, no  advance warning, no more feeling guilty of the neighbours TV service disrupted , we were going to do this ……. And we did.  


Beech one as flowerpot stand

Memory Palace of Trees 2020 is an ecological art practice which invites your participation to tell a story (or give some kind of information) about trees. It is a social enquiry of how to live better with the planet and with people by simply sharing stories. You are cordially invited to tell me your story of a tree or trees. (email : niamh@niamhcunningham.com) I would love to hear from you. Each week throughout 2020 a story will be posted with either an artwork already made or perhaps your story will inspire me to make a new work!