The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A sloe day in the country.

At the bottom of my garden are two trees six feet apart and but seperated by 4,000 years!

One is a plum tree the other a blackthorn. The plums, purple/red, are juicy and very sweet, the sloe is small hard with a magnificent black and electric blue skin. Anyone who has bitten into to a sloe knows they are bitter, astringent to be exact as they dry out your mouth in an instant leaving you unable to taste anything for several moments. Yet these two trees are related as plums were breed from the sloe.

The sloe producing blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) comes into bloom in March and is the first full blown hint of spring that nature gives us.  We frequently get cold, stormy weather in early April blowing all the blackthorn petals off the branches leaving the roadside covered with white petal blossom and in parts of England this is called blackthorn winter. The blackthorn is used for fencing as its long thorns make it impenetrable to cattle while the timber of the blackthorn is used to make the Shillelagh walking stick.

Even though the sloe taste is astringent it still has its uses. It is commonly used to make sloe-gin or, my favourite, sloe-apple jelly. It takes a minimum of 3 months to make sloe-gin and thus needs to be carefully planned to have in time for Christmas, but it is better if you can leave it longer.  Sloe-apple jelly is made by adding two parts crab apple one part sloe. The taste is divine, very tart but goes well on scones.

Next time you are in the country, try a sloe.

PS. Wondering, would you be interested in a one day sloe-gin making class in early November. - Just asking.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Comeragh Wild.

We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild.' Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness" and only to him was the land 'infested' with 'wild' animals and 'savage' people." Chief [Luther] Standing Bear, Lakota (1933).

Our concept of wilderness is interesting, to some it is a place that must be bent to mans bidding, reclaimed, reformed and refined. To others it is a place to escape to, to find yourself, to recharge. Either way the "wilderness" leaves no one without an opinion. To me the wilderness is the 180 degree opposite to everything man does. The temples of the great Mayan cultures or Great Zimbabwe have all been reclaimed by nature, even our stone circles and standing stones, in the Nire Valley are hidden by nature. I love the way nature will cover all our traces in time and the Earth will forget us. 

On Sunday 22nd of September, as part of the Comeragh Wild festival, we will take "The Last Journey" across the Comeraghs, we follow the route of Bóthairín na Sochraide, the funeral path, from the Nire to Rathgormack . While we walk it we must contemplate the relationship our fore-bearers  had with this wilderness of the Comeraghs. They crossed the mountain following a coffin, a loved one, a friend, a neighbour; they paid their respects. They crossed without any technical clothing (waterproof gear), they crossed in all weather conditions and they crossed without any navigational aids. But, they possessed an innate understanding of the mountain, the weather, the seasons and their ability. We have lost these, I see many walkers today who are unable to read the topography, who are unable to read the weather and who have no idea how to hold a course without a compass or, worse, a GPS. Obsessed with getting to the highest point, keeping Naismith's rule and covering one-hundred meters in a minuet, "pushing themselves" and never seeing what actually surrounds them.

I wonder have we, humans, become the wildness and the mountains remained sane. Are we the ones who have gone feral and can no longer read the Earth or the Wind.

Come and join our walk along the funeral path and contemplate life, nature and our place in it. The event is free but you need to confirm your place, phone 058- 54975. Our the Web site 

Nire Valley.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The out-law plant.

What is the most hated plant in Ireland? You might think of nettles and even some might volunteer broccoli, but technically, at least, you would be wrong. The title of most hated plant must go to Senecio Jacobea or Ragwort ( Buachalán).  What are my bases for this claim, well there is a law banning ragwort. Ask a horse owner about ragwort and be prepared for the “rant” that will follow.
Ragwort is highly poisonous especially to cattle, goats, horses and deer. Sheep seem to have some resistance to the weed but it retards there ability to thrive.  To make matters worse it is at its deadliest when it gets in among hay or silage. Normally animals will not eat ragwort as it is bitter and unpalatable, they will only eat it in areas where the land is overgrazed and the cattle are hungry. However when ragwort gets into hay, the drying process removes the bitterness but the plant looses none of its toxins, thus making it more palatable and just as deadly.

Cinnabar Moth
So are there any saving graces to this plant. Well I might volunteer one, provided I am out of ear-shot of any horse owners. Ragwort is the host plant to a colourful moth and its larvae (caterpillar) the Cinnabar Moth. Unlike many other species of moth the Cinnabar moth and its larva are both colourful and beautiful. The larva has yellow and black bands, it lives on the the ragwort and absorbs the toxins of the plant in such a way as to make it distasteful to birds that might otherwise eat it. The moth is as beautiful, with its black and red colour combinations. The moth has proven to be particularly successful as a bio-control agent for ragwort when used in conjunction with the ragwort flea beetle in the western United States. So next time you see ragwort keep an eye out for the Cinnabar moth.

Larva of the Cinnabar moth.