Getting out and about, taking in the freshest of fresh air and finding a new perspective on local natural heritage, are opportunities to be savoured in the walks and talks during the upcoming Scariff Harbour Festival.
East Clare is a stunning landscape, nowhere better reflected than in the primeval oak woods of Raheen, in which stands one of the most majestic trees in the country, the Brian Boru Oak.
Raheen Woods, once part of the ‘Great Forest of Aughty’, has been home to the 1,000-year old oak tree long associated with the last high king of Ireland. Still bearing fruit, thousands of its acorns have generated many more oak trees across the length and breadth of Ireland. Although the pièce de résistance of the woods, the 100 ft high Brian Boru tree with a girth of 26ft below its branches, is only part of the wonderful story that is Raheen.
Native wood specialist, Andrew St. Ledger will tell that story. He will lead a highly-informative tour through Raheen Wood Estate on August bank-holiday Saturday. Involved in creating and establishing the Community Woodland Project, made possible through the kind donation of 4 acres of the estate by its current owner William McLysaght, it doubles as a local nature reserve and an ecological enclave and resource for environmental sustainability within the community.
Built on the work of local environmental groups and the timely promotion of biodiversity by the Department of Environment and Clare County Council, the local community took a giant leap of faith by allowing these 4 acres become a Biodiversity Project. ‘This project has been a wonderful example of how through action, trust and respect between partners, an atmosphere of shared learning in a bottom up approach was created,’ said Andrew St. Ledger. It went on to be opened up the public and become part of a local Pride of Place presentation.
On the Festival walking tour, the Dublin-born artist, wood sculptor and forest activist, will look mainly at native species, like the oak, holly, ash, wild cherry and others while high-lighting the importance of native trees for biodiversity. ‘The native and natural forests are the life-support system for this planet,’ he said. ‘On this walk, you will learn that the health of the ocean is influenced by natural forests, that Gaelic society was a forest culture, you will learn about the wonderful properties and values of this most valuable of natural resources and about the need to integrate native trees on farms,’ he said.
Another inclusion in the Harbour Festival Programme is a separate walk discovering Local Native Plants. Botanist and former model, Phoebe O’Brien will take her tour along the banks of the Grainey River in search of aquatic plants and hedgerow plants on the roadside bank. Participants will learn how to use a hand lens, some tips on using floral keys and most of all what plants tell us about the environment and its management.
‘I became interested in plants as a child, foraging for blackberries and trying to make perfume from lemon balm,’ said Phoebe O’Brien, who travelled in the nineties as a top model for 10 years before taking up her studies in Botany and Plant Science at NUIG. ‘I am passionate about sharing plant knowledge and terrified at the thought of young people growing up not being able to recognise a daisy, a primrose or violet,’ she said.
Like the trees and the forests, much can be done to preserve wild plant life. Appropriate management is key, recognising invasive plants and avoiding the inadvertent spreading of them, getting grazing or cutting time right to allow wildflowers to thrive and letting grassy areas grow longer at certain times of year, are all good for plant diversity.
Phoebe O’Brien is a member of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), a charity which supports plant learning and recording of species. Beginners might like to follow # wildflowerhour on Twitter and Instagram on Sunday evenings to see what plants are in flower each week. ‘If any community groups would like a botanist to create species lists of public areas, a new list of ecologists and botanists is being created to support The Community Foundation for Ireland’s Environment and Nature Fund 2019. In the short-term, however, I would love you to join us in Scariff on bank-holiday Saturday,’ said Phoebe.
Scariff Harbour Festival 2019 in association with Waterways Ireland runs from Thursday 1st August – Sunday 4th August. The only requirement for all festival activities (except the Christie Hennessy Tribute Concert) is one €5 wristband for the entire week-end.
View images from previous events here.