Tag Archives: Nature

A walk on the wild side: Ireland’s Greenways

2013-06-06 12.04.54Here in Ireland’s Mid-West region we are privileged to have some of Ireland’s most beautiful unspoilt countryside. Not only that, we are doubly privileged to have a dedicated walking  and cycling track right in the heart of that lush green landscape. This is the  jewel of the South West, the Great Southern Trail Greenway.

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The trail winds along the route of the now defunct Limerick to Tralee railway line that linked Limerick and Newcastle West in 1867 and then Newcastle West and Tralee in about 1880. The line finally fell into disuse in the 1970s and through the extraordinary efforts of a small group of local people down the decades, this has now become 40 kilometers of magnificent country  walks.

Feb13 417This is Ardagh station, with the long platform gradually being claimed by vegetation. Station houses were traditionally made of beautifully hand cut limestone, such as can be seen here.

Ardagh Station

Ardagh Station

Deserted railway stations have a particular fascination  for me, as I was born in one such beautiful building, the home of my grandparents, in Newtownforbes Co Longford seen below.

Microsoft Word - Newtownforbes LAP.docStation House, Newtownforbes, Co Longford where I was born and the track I walked with my grandfather.

I spent many an hour walking the railway line with my grandfather, jumping from sleeper to sleeper, trying to keep up with him,and helping him to pull the great big levers that changed the direction of the tracks, sending the engines to the store.  Telegraph lines traditionally ran alongside the railway  line  and my grandfather would lift me up so I could press my ear to the pole and hear the lines ‘singing’.

It was not until several years after I came to live in this area that I discovered that my grandfather’s brother Alfie Clinton, had served  as station master  in Newcastle West  in the early 1950s which made the opening up of the trail of extra special interest to me.

newcastle house

The beautifully restored and modernized Station House in Newcastle West, Co Limerick.


Feb13 413 Feb13 406The beautiful cut limestone is also used in the bridges, platforms, and tunnels that lie along the trail.  Apart from these lovely examples of our built heritage the trail offers a unique close encounter with nature in all her glory.

These photos are from a walk on the stretch between Ardagh and Newcastle West in the month of May, when Ireland is  at her prettiest with the branches of the white Hawthorn  weighed down by heavily scented white blossom.

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Deliciously scented Hawthorn

The meadows at either side of the line are filled with Spring flowers and the occasional cow peacefully grazing.

The hedgerows along the line have their own microclimate and are populated with copious wildflowers.

Sometimes you have  to look very closely to discover the tiniest of little flowers…

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The Great Southern Greenway is one of many such trails being developed on disused railway lines in many parts of Ireland. Each is unique. The award-winning Great Western Greenway that runs along the Atlantic from Westport to Achill Island in County Mayo, with its stunning scenery; the Deise Greenway between Dungarvan and Waterford in Co Waterford with its spectacular arched viaducts; the recently begun Burtonport  Old Railway Walk which traverses some wild Donegal scenery – to name but a few.

The tourist potential of these Greenways is enormous and it is to be hoped that they will continue to be funded – not just to attract tourists, but for the benefit of local communities that work so hard to get these recreational amenities up and running.

Some sites of interest with some stunning scenery!

Great Western Greenway in County Mayo

Deise Greenway in County Waterford

Burtonport Old Railway Walk in County Donegal

Great Southern Trail in Limerick/Kerry


Filed under Healthy Living, Ireland, Irish Countryside, Living in Ireland

Spring…in her yellow dress

Here in Ireland, chilly easterly winds  have prolonged Winter and Spring has been reluctant to appear. Grass is not growing as a minimum temperature is required for growth. Animals  – cattle mainly – are collapsing due to starvation as fodder supplies have run out and farmers report that animals are ‘crying’ with hunger. Because of the wet summer  of 2012, the fodder has been less plentiful and less nutritious than normal.  There is indeed a  food crisis in the farming sector and the farming community has suffered greatly due to the high cost of importing fodder and the expensive substitutes  that have to be fed to farm animals – if their owners can afford it!  Hopefully this animal food crisis will come to an end within the next couple of weeks as temperatures finally begin to climb and Spring finally takes hold.

A few warm days with temperatures in the mid teens have already produced great signs of hope. Native plants, shrubs and trees are finally beginning to stir. Today as I travelled from Cork, I took a detour to see if I could find Spring in the bleak fields.  I am delighted to report that it IS there!


Blackthorn bears delicate flowers on bare stems

Here we have Blackthorn. Blackthorn is,for me, the real  harbinger of Spring with her beautiful white flowers borne on bare branches. Blackthorn has delicate blossom, and is a precursor to the more feisty Hawthorn (or Whitethorn) whose boughs will bend under the weight of fabulously profuse blossoms that will adorn the hedgerows and whose scent will fill the air for weeks. The Hawthorn bloom is one of the most beautiful spectacles of Nature occurring in Ireland…and I just LOVE it!

In the past few days, the ubiquitous and often unloved Gorse has begun to put on a spectacular display. The sulphur yellow flowers of this otherwise unattractive and spiny shrub are cascading down sheer embankments on new roadways,often distracting this driver! The Suplhur Yellow Gorse  -a promise of  summer sunshine to come?Gorse, otherwise known as Furze, or as Whin in my native Donegal, thrives on disturbed ground and is very much at home along our motorways and major roads.

Gorse (also known as Whin or Furze) lines the roadways and hedgesGorse often flowers almost all year when conditions are mild, but has been less obvious so far in this this cool year.

B0000636Now it is shouting  from rusty gates down country lanes, if only we will look!

To me, Spring is yellow. Apart from the white Blackthorn (!),  many of our wild early Spring flowers are yellow. This has always fascinated me as our cultured yellow daffodils, yellow crocus, yellow Forsythia are also among the first to awaken after winter. If we look at ground level in country lanes and along road verges, there are carpets of yellow there too.

Great linear drifts of Celandine

Lesser Celandine flourish along the roadside

Driving along sheltered country roads at this time of year is a real ‘joy-ride’! The banks are covered with the pretty multi-petalled Lesser Celandine (nothing ‘Lesser ‘ about her! ). They  also grow right down on to the road, facing up into every spare ray of sunshine!

Profusions of Primroses and Celandine on a sunny bank

Pale Primroses and bright yellow Celandine

Driving these minor roads is an enormous voyage of discovery as the yellow linear meadows follow the road, changing and adapting to the micro-climate  around every corner.They are all the more beautiful as the trees are still bare and leafless, even in these closing days of April.

Ribbons of yellow line the lanewaysProfusions of yellow edge the narrow country roads  and sit at the foot of the barren trees.  Yet there are signs of bud burst – delicate green buds are swelling, and some delicate lime green leaves are already opening in sunny sheltered positions.

Yellow furry  Catkins  from which will emerge the willow leavesYellow -green catkins are in great profusion on the stems of willows, ready to burst forth with a few more days of warmth.

Crowds of yellow dandelion open their faces to the sunAlmost most spectacular of all is the  much maligned  Dandelion,  scattered in great drifts  in the verges of motorways,  (where drivers may not stop to take photographs !) and carpeting  entire fields  colonizing bits of ground where nothing else would think of growing. Yet it delights us at this time of year, with its sunshine colour, defying the cold bleak days of winter and giving us a promise of hopefully yellow-sunny and yellow- warm days ahead!


Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History