Carton Avenue was laid out in 1757 by James Fitzgerald (1722 – 1773), the first Duke of Leinster, nearly 40 years before Maynooth College was founded. It provided a fine approach to Carton House, his country residence. In the late eighteenth century, when the early professors from the College went for their postprandial ambulation, the trees were already well developed, with their abundant foliage giving deep shade. Six of those professors had come from the Sorbonne, so they must have felt quite at home as Carton Avenue had been laid out in the French style of the time.
Lime trees had become very fashionable in 18th century Ireland. The rows in Carton Avenue are about twenty-five paces apart giving a fine elegant avenue for the horse drawn carriages that would have gone to the Demesne. Today you are more likely to find walkers, joggers and children, playing along the walking path that has been laid recently. The trees are planted opposite eachother with each tree about eighteen paces from the next. You will find a row of bricks built into the pathway every eighteen paces marking each pair of trees. There were originally 66 trees on the north side, and 65 on the south side, with the gate lodge occupying the site of the missing tree. Over more than 250 years, a handful have been lost to storm and disease, while in the Spring of 2011, eight were deemed dangerous and removed. Happily, all but one of them have been replaced in the Spring of 2012.
Lime Trees can live for many hundreds of years, with some specimens known to have survived for a thousand years. Called 'Lind' in the Middle Ages, it is commonly called 'Linden' in Europe, and visitors to Berlin will have strolled on Unter den Linden Boulevard. In America the name 'Lime' is reserved for the citrus fruit tree, and what we call 'Lime Tree', they call 'Basswood'.
If you should continue your walk into Carton House, you will find some beautiful specimens, and they have named their restaurant The Linden Tree.
With its beautiful heart-shaped leaves and seeds that fly down like helicopters, it has been a favourite in Ireland for several hundred years.
Carton Avenue is aligned with Main Street in Maynooth which will take you back to Saint Patrick's College. The street was designed at the same time as the avenue, and is also adorned with Lime Trees, though they are less beautiful, having had their elegance compromised by traffic and aggressive pruning, as well as being starved of water and nutrients by having the paving and tarmac too close to the trunks. In addition, a few disappeared "mysteriously" to make way for commerce in the 1960's, causing consternation in the town, but they have been replaced. The rows of Lime Trees appear again in the grounds of Saint Patrick's College, west of Saint Mary's Building, where there are some fine specimens.
A Murder of Crows
After leaf-fall around November, a spectacular display of the Maynooth Crows takes place at sunrise and sunset each day. Most of the crows roost in woods of Carton Demesne, but just after sunrise a hugh convoy of crows comes along the Carton Walk, and they assemble on the trees near Main Street. Each tree accommodates some two hundred crows, and they occupy about twelve trees at each side of Carton Walk, amounting to about five thousand crows.
On a crisp morning, the display is worthy of a Hitchcock film, when thousands of crows suddenly break into voice, and take to the skies, giving us the Crow Cacophony. The normal courtesies of debate do not seem to apply to the Crow families, where all speak at once, and thousands touch down and take off, to blacken the sky over Main Street and the Glenroyal Hotel.
There is little musical about the crow voices, but they are surprisingly close in pitch, with most notes within three semi-tones, in the E to G range (330 - 390 Hz).
Following this stretch of the wings from Carton to Maynooth, many return to the trees for a final noisy conclave. This show of taking off and returning, and the continuous cacophony continues for about 30-minutes, before they head off to clean up our streets from the droppings of late night revellers, and scavenge all over our University town of Maynooth.
This display is repeated at dusk, sometimes at the opposite end of Carton Walk, before the Crows head off again in convoy to the protection of the Carton woods.
In the Winter snow, the bare lime trees stand in sharp contrast to their Summer abundance.