Flying low over an Irish county, the plane passengers couldn’t believe their eyes. Amid a dense forest, the shape of a cross appeared like an intricate, beautiful crop circle. And that eye-catching image has subsequently begun to gain traction online.
The cross is located close to Killea, located in County Donegal in the north of Ireland. It’s the kind of place you’d find in various rural regions around Ireland, Scotland and England. But what has been achieved here has nonetheless put this quiet, sleepy village on the map.
Beyond the region, moreover, Killea wasn’t particularly well known. However, all that changed when stunning photos of this ancient Christian symbol emerging from its forest started being spread on social media.
And Darren Sheaffer, a filmmaker who occasionally uses drones for making his footage, caught wind of the sightings. As a result, he dropped the work he was doing in a nearby village and headed to the forest to investigate.
The footage he captured, meanwhile, has since gone viral. Local television channel UTV also broadcast the drone’s film, which shows the woods steadily stretching out beneath as the camera rises into the air.
And there’s certainly no mistaking the shape that has been seemingly crafted out of the tree canopy: it’s a traditional Celtic cross. Indeed, against a backdrop of dark green trees, the light leaves clearly mark out the stem and the circular “nimbus,” or halo, at the top.
The Celtic cross itself is an ancient form of the Christian cross, which originated in Ireland in the ninth century and subsequently spread through the British Isles. Examples of the cross, often sitting atop stone plinths, can still be found all around Ireland.
And that 300-foot example in the forest is amazingly accurate. What’s more, how it was achieved is ingenious. Specifically, the effect was achieved by mixing two different species of trees in the forest. As a consequence, during fall, thanks to the difference in the colorings of their foliage, the cross would emerge.
People around the world were enthralled by the cross. Furthermore, initially it seemed especially mystical because no one had come forward to take credit for it. But when the identity of the obviously talented horticulturist was finally uncovered, it was a revelation tinged with sadness.
UTV news reporter Gareth Wilkinson did some digging and discovered that the cross had been the work of a local forester called Liam Emmery. Sadly, Emmery passed away in 2010, having suffered with the effects of a brain injury sustained in an accident two years previously.
Emmery was remarkably clandestine about his huge forest project, it seems. Indeed, not even his relatives knew much detail about his planting project before it appeared on the news after his death. And because the stunning display is seasonal and requires good visibility and an aerial view to see it properly, his family had forgotten it even existed.
Emmery’s exact method for creating the cross is unclear. What is apparent, however, is that planting the forest must have taken a considerable amount of planning.
And Emmery’s widow Norma is perhaps the greatest fan of his work. “If he was here, we would have all heard about it because he would have been so proud,” she told UTV.
Norma also revealed that she had completely forgotten he had told her about the cross until there was such a fuss this fall. However, she believes that he would have loved the response his efforts have generated. “He just loved things to be perfect. And I think the Celtic cross is perfect for him,” she added.
An Irish horticultural expert who investigated the site added that the cross is not just a great tourist attraction – it’s also an impressive feat of forestry. “It’s not just cutting patterns in your back lawn,” Gareth Austin said in an October 2016 interview with The Irish Post. “This is sizable horticultural engineering.”
Meanwhile, Sheaffer – the filmmaker who originally shot the drone footage of the cross – was especially proud of his countryman’s work. “It’s great for Liam’s family,” he remarked to the Belfast Telegraph in October 2016.
The best part, according to Sheaffer, is that the cross will be around for years, forming a lasting tribute to Emmery and his arboreal artistry. “[It’s] a real legacy and something that will be there for decades,” he added.
Furthermore, the filmmaker also revealed that he has been blown away by the interest generated by his short clip. “It is an amazing site, and I’ve been amazed by the response that people have had to it,” he said to the newspaper.
Projects like the Donegal forest cross are rare because of the specialist skills, cost and investment of time that goes into creating them. Besides Emmery’s cross, however, there is also the touching story of the “guitar forest” in Argentina. Planted by Pedro Ureta, it is a forest shaped like a guitar to commemorate his wife, Graciela.
So far, it’s not clear whether any special conservation efforts are under way – or even needed – for Emmery’s forest. For the time being, though, passengers making their way into City of Derry Airport will continue to be treated to views of the stunning legacy of one man’s artistry and hard work.