23 February 2016

Nature Notebook


in the heart of the exotic Monks’ Yew Wood

Did you lock your bicycle in the middle of Killarney woods about 20 years ago and forget where you left it? I found it last Sunday afternoon. Untouched by human hand. But it is now a woodland sculpture. Rusted solid. Absorbed into the woodland by plant and animal. Undoubtedly an ‘exotic’. I could not decide whether it was more flora or fauna.

bicycle in woodsP1010503

“Monks walk the woods here at dusk,” the late Danny Cronin was convinced the Monks’ wood, between Muckross Abbey and the Garden Quay, were haunted. “I saw them myself”.

While this was the most unexpected encounter in three hours criss-crossing the woods but nature here is a harmonious mix of the native and the exotic.

One of the first yew trees is straight as a die and is spiral, like a giant corkscrew. “This is a feature of some yew,” horticulturist Cormac Foley, points out that the great yew at the centre of Muckross Abbey has the same spiral feature. “It may have come from this woodland.”

ridged bark P1010477

We had walked up on to that Muckross Abbey/eastern end of the Monk’s Wood, which is on a raised fissured or creviced limestone platform, but if you pick your steps carefully it is not difficult to walk on.

This is a yew wood. Because of the evergreen cover and the growth suppressant from yew the woodland floor is relatively free of undergrowth and has whole areas covered in mosses, at their most luxuriant at the moment, thriving on the heavy rains of recent months.

multiple trees P1010496

Several yew had up to a dozen trunks coming from the one base. A spectacularly contorted yew looked as if it one time carried a huge boulder – though there is no sign of that roundabout. There are trees with a tangled web of intertwining branches. There are yews here that must be among the oldest living things in Killarney.

boulder tree P1010511

The Monks’ Wood is a quiet, calm, sheltered place. A great natural cathedral. A place to come to meditate, to reflect on the turbulent burnings and martyrdoms in the nearby abbey. It is hardly surprising that monks would have come here … and perhaps still do.

There are several open areas in the wood. Might these have grown fruit or vegetables for the monks or were they places to sit and take the sun? It is said Muckross Abbey is built on Carraig a’ Ceoil/the music rock. Imagine listening to music here on days like today (Tuesday February 23).

The Herberts in the later 18th and throughout the 19th centuries and the Vincents in the early 20th centuries used this sheltered, humid, relatively mild place to plant trees from around the world. Many of these exotics are still to be seen. Two of the finest specimen Monkey Puzzle trees from Chile. Several huge sequoias from California.

Monkey Puzzles P1010509

But this is essentially a native woodland. It has several large native oak trees. Our three hours last Sunday was spent in the southern part of the Monk’s Wood. It is divided by the Muckross & Dinis demesne road. Imagine what more there is in the northern/lakeside part? Still to be explored before our radio walk here which will broadcast on April 30**


Note … 

** Our weekly radio programme is broadcast on Radio Kerry (97fm or worldwide and on podcast on www.radiokerry.ie) on Saturday mornings from 9 to11am.

– more information or to book a stay at our self-catering rental accommodation Gallan Eile …

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