Posts tagged with: 'Leitrim'

Autumn in the West

I’ve always loved autumn.

As is my wont when I have a bit of spare time, I recently went to a wood I know near Lough Key Forest Park to look for some deer.

The last time I had been really lucky, spotting four female Fallow Deer. That was back in summer. They were drinking at a little stream. Having quickly noticed my presence, they fled into the surrounding plantation*.

Autumn woodland

Woodland in Autumn

Unfortunately, this autumn visit produced no deer. But just as my time was nearly up, didn’t a gorgeous red squirrel pop out from the undergrowth, no more than four metres from where I was crouched down. He looked at me, paused for a second and then scurried off across the track and disappeared. Thrilled with myself, I was getting up when I heard a ruffle in the trees above me. I looked up and spotted another red jump from one tree to another!

This is a great spot. I enjoy a great peaceful visit each time. Underneath the plantation conifers is a great carpet of mushrooms. The ground is simply covered in, among others, Sickeners, Butter Caps and Common Puffballs.  Under the native deciduous trees, I found Chanterelles, Common Yellow Russulas and slimy Porcelein Fungus, but like all others, I left them there.

There is something very special about autumn. It brings out the child in us. Get out there and enjoy it – even more so if you have children to bring along. We all love kicking up the brown, yellow and reddish leaves that cover the ground at this time of year and, let’s face it, doing so reminds us of being a child.

Autumn - guelder rose

Guelder Rose in Autumn

But another great thing about autumn time is the way the birds are much more visible, simply because of that same falling of leaves and the fact that they’ll more readily come to feeders in the garden. I’ll look forward to seeing robin, wren, chaffinch, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, greenfinch, the odd bullfinch and the wonderful blackbird. The blackbirds are very common in our garden, as they jump from ash tree branch to whitethorn top. They’ll happily perch on the outermost branches of the whitethorn, often in pairs, their gorgeous yellow / orange beak and distinctive yellow ring around their eyes clearly visible against the low and pale autumn sun. They’ll sit on the crossbar or upright of my children’s goalposts.

The other day, I noticed two in particular, clearly playing with each other. As one would vacate a certain tree in favour of another, no more than 5 m away, so the second would follow almost immediately. I watched them circumnavigate the garden, in short hops, as if playing ‘follow the leader’ or ‘catch’.

If you don’t have any, do try to put out some bird feeders in your garden. Place them where you can see them, maybe from the dining table. You and your children will enjoy them. Place them far enough away from walls, fences and other high objects, so rats can’t get up them. Perhaps you’ll even try your hand at photographing garden birds during their autumn and winter visits.

Plantation * : Andrew St. Ledger of The Woodland League suggests that we not grace what Coillte and private conifer growers have done to our national landscape with the glorious words “woodland”, “wood” or “forest”.

Autumn in the West of Ireland

I’ve never really bought into the tradition of considering each of the four seasons to last three months. Rather, I’d consider winter in the West of Ireland to last four (November thru February), summer to last three (June, July, August) and spring to run from March thru May. That leaves autumn consisting of just the months of September and October. More appropriate to our climate, I would suggest.

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Ireland’s western province, Connacht, holds an especially intriguing place in the national self-perception. Far from the seat of power and the more densely populated Leinster, Connacht is a little-understood part of our country.


Coat of Arms of Connacht

As far back as the first millenium, Connacht was already seen as different, wild and distant. An early poet described the characteristics of the (then) five Cúigí, or provinces, of Ireland. While Ulster was about war, Leinster about wealth and Munster about music and art, Connacht was said to be about learning. Cúige na Mí, of course, was about kingship. This idea of Connacht being about learning may perhaps come from the notion that druidic influence may have lasted longer out west than elsewhere in a land being increasingly dominated by Christian teaching. ‘Learning’ evokes notions of druids’ knowledge, teaching, stories and chronicles – essentially the domain of people more in tune with their natural surroundings, their own culture and the teachings of elders passed down over the millenia.

During the Middle Ages, then, came the famous declaration, attributed to Cromwell, of “To Hell or to Connacht”. In the 1650s, as English efforts to suppress the resisting Irish continued, Cromwell’s army was trying to shift the native Irish away from the fertile lands of the east and south of the country. The choice facing the displaced Gaelic Irish was, essentially, between ‘hell’ and the far-away, infertile, damp and rocky boglands to the west.

By the late 19th Century, Connacht was firmly depicted as the real, the essential, the historical Ireland. Rural, poor and agricultural, the province was very much the opposite to the rich, urban, developed, sophisticated east (which, of course, was in turn backward compared to the affluent and sophisticated London and England of that era).

Connacht continues to evoke two very different images among the Irish. Is it, on the one hand, backward, conservative and inferior ? Or, on the other hand, is it uncorrupted and deeply rooted ? Is Connacht desolate and isolated, a land covered by endless useless wet and boggy ground ? Or is it, in fact, natural and unconstrained in its beautiful simplicity ?

Connacht Today

Today, Connacht comprises the five counties of Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway. With a population of just over 540,000, it is the least populated province of Ireland and, apart from Galway city (75,000), has no urban area with more than 25,000 residents. The province is roughly bordered to the west and north by the Atlantic ocean, to the south by the Burren of Co. Clare and to the east by the River Shannon, although half of Leitrim is, in fact, on the east side of the river.

Physical Features of Connacht

Ireland’s largest offshore island is Achill, Co. Mayo. The country’s only true fjord, the Killary, forms part of the border between counties Mayo and Galway. Our second largest lake, Corrib, is mostly in county Galway and other great lakes of Connacht include Loughs Carra, Conn, Cullin and Mask. Mountain ranges include the Nephin Begs of Mayo, the Twelve Bens and Maumturks of Galway and the smaller ranges of Dartry and Ox in Sligo. Northwest Mayo contains the two largest tracts of land in Ireland without through-roads.

Come to Connacht and experience authentic, true, wild and wonderful Ireland !

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Conall Brutally Killed

Conall, barely 10 months old, was recently found brutally killed in the mountains of the Sligo Leitrim border.

Not the first child of his kind to have his short life savagely ended in this disgusting way, serious questions must be asked of the supposed law enforcement authorities in this country and of those charged with the care of such a young male.

How can people who poison the likes of Conall still be out there, rather than in prison, where they clearly belong ? How many people are there willfully poisoning their neighbours in this fashion ? How difficult can it really be to apprehend and punish severely those who willfully poison others ?

The communities in which this type of scandalous act of killing occur, whether Sligo, Leitrim, Kerry, or wherever, are small. Johnny knows Mick and Mick knows Billy. Get out and catch them and spare our society these criminals, who have no compassion, much less love, for those we share this island nation with.

I have enormous sympathy and respect for the NPWS team who work on these re-introduction programmes. I’m just not sure that this is a good thing.

But more questions :

How can Scotland and Norway continue to send their children to our shores, to be put at very real risk of falling victim to this wanton destruction ? How can their governments allow the exporting of their defenceless sons and daughters to another country where, seemingly, not enough is done to protect them ?

What role has education played in these eagle re-introduction programmes ? Have rural people and farmers been educated about these birds ? Farmers from the donating countries should be talking to our farmers about these birds and co-existing with them.

Shame on Scotland. Shame on Norway. Most of all, shame on Ireland. I am disgusted by all three of you.

Read more here. And here.

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Some Places to Visit in Ireland’s West

If you’re living in or visiting Ireland’s West, you might like to consider some of these places for a nice walk or some fun out with the family :

1. Moore Hall, near Carnacon, south County Mayo.

Ruined “big house” plus surrounding forests – much of it planted conifers, but also quite a bit of native broadleaves. Nice walks around Lough Carra.

2. Lough Key Forest Park, near Boyle, north Co. Roscommon.

Okay, there’s the paying part, but there is also loads to do without parting with your cash. Kilometres of forest walks, most of it through native and non-native broadleaves, parts also through conifers. Lakeside walks. Feed the swans and ducks. Look at the passing cruisers, etc.

3. The Suck Valley Way, Athleague, south Co. Roscommon.

Head for the lovely Visitor Centre in a former church. Walk along the bank of the River Suck as far as Castlestrange and its La Tene Stone. If you’re up to it, continue to the quaint and pretty riverside village of Castlecoote.

4. Mountbellew Demesne, Mountbellew, north Co. Galway.

Very large and dense conifer plantation has good walks. See its old forge. If you’re lucky, you might spot some deer, or test your skills in finding their footprints.

5. Arigna Mining Experience, near Drumshanbo, mid Co. Leitrim.

Perhaps Ireland’s best paying tourist attraction (in my humble opinion). Visit the old coal mine, guided by the actual miners themselves. If I remember correctly, mining ceased circa 1990 and the guys themselves now bring visitors around. When they’ve retired in the future, I doubt if the experience will ever be the same, so get there soon.

6. Old Head Wood, beyond Westport, west Co. Mayo.

Forget the beach (as pleasant as it is). Walk beyond the beach and discover the amazing, though small, Old Head Wood. Walk through it at a slow pace and take in this tiny piece of old Atlantic Wood. Then exit the far side and walk along the cliff top fields, until you get a clear view of the great Atlantic Ocean and Clare Island in front of you. Spot the Cormorants, Seals, Dolphins, etc. Take note of the poor trees, bent over at 90 degrees eastwards from the fierce and unrelenting Atlantic winds.

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First post – Autumn 2008

I’ve always loved autumn and so, what better time to start this blog ?

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