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Liberties pear tree more than 170 years old, DNA tests show

A pear tree, reputed to be one of the oldest fruit bearing trees in Ireland, has been found to be more than 170 years old following DNA testing.

A pear tree in the grounds of Dublin’s Digital Hub campus, reputed to be one of the oldest fruit-bearing trees in Ireland, has been found to be more than 170 years old following DNA testing.

The tree grows next to St Patrick’s Tower, a windmill that was part of the George Roe & Co Whiskey Distillery in the Liberties. It is visible in an 1892 picture taken during a whiskey tour of Ireland.

However, the genetic tests carried out indicate that the pear tree was planted about 50 years earlier.

National College of Art and Design lecturer Gareth Kennedy, who uses the tree as part of his coursework, said a sample leaf was sent to Irish Seed Savers, which aims to protect Ireland’s food crop heritage for future generations, and academic Dr Gordon Reid who made a DNA fingerprint “to anchor and identify” the tree.

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“Without a shadow of a doubt it is a Marechal de Cour brought to Ireland from around 1847-1850,” Mr Kennedy said.

He said the tree has become part of “Liberties legend”, with some dating its planting to 1805 when the distillery windmill, originally constructed in 1757, was rebuilt.

“There was a little bit of intrigue about how old this tree is. It seems that for every year the tree actually got older, it got five years older in urban myth, going all the way back to 1805 before we arrested that urban legend a little bit with the help of Irish Seed Savers and Dr Reid,” he said.

Gareth Kennedy, a lecturer in NCAD, picks fruit from one of the oldest pear trees in Ireland. Photograph: Enda O'Dowd

“But that is not to disenchant the tree. It has survived the industrial revolution, it has survived post-industrial Dublin, it has survived 1980s Dublin, 1990s, the Celtic Tiger and it’s still here giving us fruit every year. It is more than 170 years old which is a rather fine age.”

Mr Kennedy was speaking at the annual harvest of the pears, from which he and his students will make jam “to keep us going through the dark winter months”.

Digital Hub chief executive Fiach Mac Conghail said he planned to make a pear crumble with his share of the fruit.

“Every morning I come in here and I realise the historical and geographical significance of the Liberties and the pear tree reminds me of legacy and how to be consistent and sustainable in our future decisions that we make as to how the Digital Hub survives,” he said.

The tree will give its name to the Land Development Agency’s planned development of 500 apartments on the Digital Hub campus, which is to be called Pear Tree Crossing.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times