Loughgall and the Bramley Apple

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Loughgall   is the heart of a long-established apple-growing tradition. 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 mountains of Central   Asia. One possibility is that seeds (pips) of sweet apples were brought to   Ireland during the migration of the Celts from Europe. A large apple believed   to date from about 1000BC has been found in excavations at Navan Fort near   Armagh. The story is that St Patrick himself planted an apple tree at an   ancient settlement outside Armagh City. 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, ‘with an   enclosed ditch and white thorn hedge’. According to Prof J.G.D. Lamb’s book   ‘The Apple in Ireland; Its History and Varieties’ 1951, the penalty for   cutting down apple trees was ‘a fine of five cows, with lesser fines for   cutting down the limbs or branches’. 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, the Nottingham nurseryman who spotted the Bramley’s   potential in the early 1860s. The original seedlings had been germinated in   1806 and grown in a garden in the village of Southwell. They then passed to a   Matthew Bramley who gave them his name. Bramley’s Seedlings – to give this   superlative cooking apple its formal name – has been the mainstay of the   commercial apple industry around Loughgall for most of the last century. The   climate is not good enough to grow dessert apples reliably, though today   there is a trend to plant apple varieties suitable for pressing to produce   apple juice and cider. In 2012 the European Commission confirmed that Armagh   Bramley apples had been awarded protected geographical indication status   which promotes and protects names of high quality food and drinks. The Armagh   Bramley now joins Comber potatoes and Lough Neagh eels which already have   this coveted status. The arrival of the Bramley and its magnificent success   has played a part in the decline of many older varieties. To preserve these   for future research and breeding purposes, the Armagh Orchard Trust has   planted up 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. The wrought iron gate of the   walled garden is decorated with the shape of an apple. At the bottom of the   next hill and up to the right you will see ‘Drumherriff House’. Jonathan   McAlister was a farmer who purchased this property, reputedly an old coaching   inn, and its orchards in the early 1900s. The McAlister family still live   there today, well over a century later, and Noel McAlister, Jonathan’s   grandnephew, still runs a very successful apple growing business where fresh   Bramley apples are available all year round.
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