DAWN CHORUS IN KILLARNEY’S WILD GARLIC WOODLAND

Is this the oldest yew in Killarney?  It is said yew can ‘grow for a thousand years, mature for a thousand years and is a thousand years dying’ and then it regenerates from its roots.  Earlier generations were very wise in choosing to plant yew in graveyards as a symbol of life.  In a sense it is everlasting, head gardener from Garnish Island, near Sneem, Seamus Galvin, told us.

It was 5.20 last Sunday morning (April 23), an hour before sunrise, as we stood around this witness of past millennia. We were out to hear that very special feature of nature, the dawn chorus, which is at its height an hour before the sun rises. Within minutes the first birds were beginning to sing, perhaps woken by our torches.

On the track over Hyde’s Bay there are several sets of crumbling steps that might have been developed as part of the landscaping of the two great Killarney estates in preparation for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861.

Now we were beginning to see the ghostly outline of lake, headland, island and mountain. The bird song got stronger and stronger.

Acres and acres and acres of beech woods carpeted with the white wild garlic flower which now is in full bloom. Leaf, flower and root of this indicator of ancient woodland can be eaten.

All morning the birds sang. Story teller and initiator of the Kerry Camino Mikey O’Donnell told of finding old birds’ eggs collections in attics.


Distinctive ‘JG 1940’ and decorative ‘MTM’ carved into the smooth grey bark of big beech trees, remember a time when most boys – and many men – cut out their initials – particularly at a stage in life when they were linked amorously to another.

Killarney Walks guide Michael O’Connor told of the mining that went on on Ross island from 4,500 years ago and at its most extensive in late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Library point is named for the layered rock underneath, that resembles a collapsed line of books. Killaney boatman Donal ‘Ducks’ O’Donoghue swears boatmen see the leaves of the books move in strong wind.

From Library Point 23-acre Innisfallen Island that has the extensive remains of a monastery that was a famous centre of learning, where the oldest contemporary account of the history of Munster was written. The Annals of Innisfallen are now in the Bodlian Library in Oxford. The cone-shaped O’Donoghue’s Prison where it is said that the chieftain of Ross Castle chained his naked prisoners.

Donal remembered with feeling the 28 miles of rowing of earlier years – to get the punch line you will have to listen to Saturday’s radio programme!!

Wild garlic soup and wild garlic pesto bread prepared by James Coffey, the executive chef at the Park Hotel in Kenmare, revived us on Sunday morning under the two great Monkey Puzzle trees at he Earl of Kenmare’s picnic place on Ross Bay. Imagine Cromwellian stories sailing by here 365 years ago. 13 year old Kerrill Healy from the Killarney School of Music on the Killarney whistle played the plaintive ‘Caoine Ui Dhomhnaill’.

Around the corner from Lord Kenmare’s picnic place the most extensive carpets of wild garlic is in full bloom. This extends from Ross Bay to the western shore of the Library Point headland.

Our final stop last Sunday morning was in swamp woodland. Alder and sally are the ideal woods for sluices and other underwater structures. The yellow wild iris will blossom shortly.

After three hours we finished our walk with Killarney School of Music’s Padraig Buckley and 17 year old Fiona Fell on Killarney Whistle with the chirpy ‘Maxwell’s Bonnet’.

Frank Lewis’s dawn chorus walk in wild garlic woods on the Library Point headland on Ross Island in Killarney National Park will be broadcast on Radio Kerry this Saturday morning – April 29, from 9 to 11 – on 97fm, or live on www.radiokerry.ie.
It will also be available on podcast  (http://www.radiokerry.ie/podcast/saturday-supplement/) from May 2 or 3.

– Frank Lewis

PS

In the bluebell woods in Muckross last Sunday afternoon 4 year old Sarah Ryan

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