In the sixth century an Irish Christian missionary, popularly called St Moluag, established a mission upon the island of Lismore in the Firth of Lorne which played a very significant part in evangelising the western Highlands. At that time 1400 years ago it is said a great yew growing from a cliff existed on the tidal island of Bernera, which lies off southern Lismore, and that St Columba visited, preached under it and used it as a personal retreat. In the eighteenth century circa 1770, the Noble Yew of Bernera was felled by the Campbell family and its timber was used in their castle at Lochnell for a staircase and initiated a period of ill luck which has allegedly dogged the family ever since.
In the mid twentieth century it was noticed that this yew had never died and had been re-generating and grown in a creeper like manner at the base of the cliff. Over the decades since then at least two new stems have grown and are now taller than the cliff face and give the mistaken appearance of being separate young bushes growing on the cliff edge. There are no obvious signs from this viewpoint to suggest they are regeneration from the ancient female yew below which never died, as this is only apparent if the site is viewed from below. If the yew was ‘huge’ 1400 years ago, it implies it may have taken many centuries to become that size by the sixth century and so it could easily be over 2,000 years old today. There is also at least one other young yew on Bernera which is likely to be a natural seeding due to avian dispersal of seed from the ancient female yew.
SYTHI would like to express gratitude to the Tree Register which supported the fieldwork to this site with a Vicky Shilling Bursary.
For a longer article which was written for the Tree Register Newsletter please see the featured yew page.