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Loughgall & Apples

LOUGHGALL AND THE HISTORY OF THE APPLE

Loughgall is the heart of a long-established apple-growing tradition.

The history of apples stretches back over 10 million years. Whereas wild crab apples are native to Ireland and pre-date humans, cultivated sweet apples are derived from a species that grows in the forests of the mountain ranges of Central Asia. Strings of dried apple rings were discovered in the 4,500-year-old tomb of Queen Pu-Abi, while Greek and Roman mythology refer to apples as symbols of love and beauty and there are several texts, including Homer’s Odyssey, which refer to apples and to apple orchards. There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period, around 4,000 BC to 2,000 BC, but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter taste in the 1st century AD.

One possibility is that seeds of sweet apples were brought to Ireland during the migration of the Celts from Europe. A large apple believed to date from about 1000 BC has been found in excavations at Navan Fort near Armagh. Legend has it that St Patrick himself planted an apple tree at Ceangoba, an ancient settlement outside Armagh City.  Old historical records tell us that monks at the Culdee Monasteries, which were established in Armagh in the 9th century, enjoyed apples as treats during festivals. By the 12th century, apple growing was widespread in County Armagh and orchard planting increased throughout the following years.

At the time of the Plantation, in the 1600s, tenants, including those in Loughgall, were actively encouraged to plant orchards including apple, plum, cherry and pear trees. The Cope family were an old established English family from Hanwell, Oxfordshire who acquired the Manor of Loughgall. Loughgall village developed slowly under the benign guidance of the Cope family, taking on a distinctly English appearance. The Cope family greatly encouraged the improvement and fertility of the farms of their tenants. Apple growing on their estate flourished and the apple industry grew to become a major factor in the economic development of Co. Armagh, with Loughgall the heart of this important industry.

 

Apples and Orchards Armagh
Apples and Orchards Armagh

The Bramley Apple, for which Loughgall is famous, did not arrive in the area until 1884 when Mr Nicholson of Cranagill, a short distance from the village, bought sixty Bramley seedlings from Henry Merryweather and introduced them to County Armagh. At that time, this region was producing over 100 different varieties of apples, many with wonderful names such as Widow’s Whelps, Sugar Sweet, Foxes Whelps, Strawberry Cheeks, Gillyflowers, Irish Peach, Angel Bites, Beauty of Bath, Honey Comb, Ladyfingers, Bloody Butcher, Red Russets and Gillflowers.

The remarkable story of the first Bramley apple tree started by chance in 1809, when a young girl called Mary Ann Brailsford, from the village of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, planted some apple pips in a flowerpot. A seed germinated, the plant grew and it was replanted in the garden where it continued to thrive.

Some years later, Mary Ann’s cottage was bought by a local butcher, Matthew Bramley. He played little part in the development of the tree, but the reason it bears his name is that in 1856, a local nurseryman, Henry Merryweather, saw the tree’s potential. He asked Bramley’s permission to cultivate the tree from cuttings. Bramley agreed, on the condition that the apples be named after him.

By 1921, the Bramley apple had become the principal variety of apple grown in Armagh and today accounts for approximately 90 percent of the apples grown and processed.

The Cope estate was purchased by the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture and Loughgall Country Park was established  www.loughgallcountrypark.co.uk

It has become a rural haven for relaxation and recreation, featuring an 18 hole golf course, a well stocked 37 acre lake, an extensive award winning play area and junior adventure trail and a number of walking and cycle routes. In May, the area comes alive with colour as pink flowers of the apple trees blanket much of the deep green landscape.

For future research and breeding purposes, the Armagh Orchard Trust has planted a heritage orchard of old Irish varieties, some of which originated in Co. Armagh, in a walled garden within the Country Park. Many of the 100 or so varieties have evocative names such as Bloody Butcher, Vicar of Brighton, Milltown Cooker and Keegan’s Crab.

Loughgall Apples

By 1921, the Bramley apple had become the principal variety of apple grown in Armagh and today accounts for approximately 90 percent of the apples grown and processed.