April 12, 2016

WILD GARLIC – IN WILD WEATHER

The rich green leaves of the wild garlic are at their most vibrant. A very occasional plant had produced a white flower.

snow at gallan in april DSC00190

Snow at Gallan
Snow at Gallan Eile

I was amazed. Only a few hours earlier we had had our heaviest lowland snowfall in several years and that was followed by very heavy rain.

 As we walked around Ross Island on Sunday afternoon the rain had eased off but it was continuing to fall.

Wood anemones on Ross Island
Wood anemones on Ross Island

A little further on carpets of the delicate wood anemone nodded gently. The juice, especially from their creeping roots, is bitter and poisonous. A vinegar made from the leaves is said to have similar medicinal properties to mustard when used in a poultice.

While the wood anemone is stronger than it looks its flowers do not last long. As well their scent is not as attractive as their appearance. Another reason for not picking is that pheasants like to eat the flowers.

We continued along the Miners’ Trail to the ancient copper mines on the lake shore. These were first worked 4,500 years ago, making them the oldest copper mines in north western Europe. A stiff, cool breeze blew in off the lake.

Canoes from the Governor's Rock headland
Canoes from the Governor’s Rock headland

As we walked out on the Governor’s Rock coming towards us was the only other person we met on our three hour walk. I can not remember another time when Ross Island was so quiet.  Underneath the high headland on the great, wide expanse of Lough Leane three single person canoes looked very vulnerable.

Now through swamp woodland the occasional willow was fully leafed.  Then along the high track on the southern side of the Library Point.  An oak was covered in its coppery green early leaves.

Great expanse of wild garlic near Library Point
Great expanse of wild garlic near Library Point

At Library Point Mouse Island looked tiny, O’Donoghue’s Prison ominous and, in between, Innisfallen was immense.

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Just beyond, the two great Monkey Puzzles marked a favourite picnic place of the Earls of Kenmare. Or was this another location where they might have built their mansion?

Just short of Library Point there is a huge area of wild garlic.  Each year I read about the salads, sauces, butter and meat flavouring for which wild garlic was used. Each year I mean to try some. Maybe this year. Garlic is the first extensive explosion of Spring. Sometimes mixed with the vividly yellow lesser celandine and followed by great carpets of bluebells

In our great figure of eight sojourn on Ross Island we went back along tracks through the south east of the island an extensive and quiet place of headlands, great beech trees, a might horse chestnut, inlets of the lake and finally to Ross Castle along the canal.  What must it have been like under the threat of Cromwellian canon in 1652?

There is no place like Ross Island – in any weather.

– Frank Lewis

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