The Middle Eastern tree that has prospered at St Columba’s

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The tree pictured on our Old Page this week is a pyrus salicifolia, and native to the Middle East. It is widely grown as an ornamental tree, almost always as a pendulous (or “weeping”) cultivar, and is called by various common names, including Willow-leaved Pear, Weeping Pear, and similar.

Why it is was chosen to ornament the grounds of the newly-dedicated St Columba’s Parish Church, nobody is quite sure. Our old back-and-while picture shows it being planted circa 1973 by the St Columba’s Brownies, under the watchful eye of leaders Rhoda Gill (Brown Owl) and Sadie Croft (Tawny Owl)

Wielding a purposeful spade are keen young members of the Pack, Shirley Beattie and Alison Buller. And the Rector, Rev Herbert Cassidy, is beaming on the occasion. He went on to become a popular Dean of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh.

Fast forward to this year, and in the colour picture are the aforementioned Rhoda and Sadie, with the pyrus salicifolia having matured and prospered (just like St Columba’s). Both women obviously pleased to see that the deciduous Middle Eastern arbour survived the intervening seasons. “And needing a bit of a trim”, in the words of Rhoda.

In the foreground of the modern picture is the present Rector, Canon Bill Adair. And we must admit that his likeness was included due to a bit of Photoshop magic as he wasn’t available for the up-dated picture, taken by Portadown snapper legend Jim Lyttle. Jim covered as many events in the town over the years as there are pebbles on the shores of Carlingford Lough.

Jim was acting upon instruction from wife Georgie – who is deeply steeped in Guiding and wanted the St Columba’s tree recorded for prosperity, having found the original planting in her scrapbook. Jim’s website ‘Portadown Photos’, by the way, is an historical gem in his home town.

Rhoda recalled that St Columba’s was fashioned out of the massive Portadown (St Mark’s) Parish Church and that he and Sadie followed in the Brownie leader footsteps of Muriel Todd and Thelma Nicholson as ‘Owls’.

Rhoda’s husband Dessie Gill – an erstwhile stalwart at St Mark’s – was the first Rector’s Churchwarden at the new parish, with Maynard Ramsay the first People’s Churchwarden. Maynard was a well-known butcher in town, having worked a long time with the fabled Hoy’s at Edenderry – still going strong after many generations.

Said Rhoda, “I hadn’t a clue what breed the tree was until Jim looked it up. It’s in lovely condition and the only tree in the grounds of St Columba’s. It was lovely to recall the days of our Brownie leadership and it would be interesting to know where all the girls are now, 42 years later.”