The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Leaves of winter.

The Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, is a tenacious weed, the hint of Spring will bring it to life. This little plant will suddenly appear in planters, garden pots and bare ground. The avid gardener will attack it with a biblical purge, but this little plant, that produces five hundred seeds, reappears in a flash and can quickly overrun every piece of bare ground, its war with the gardener continues all year. However, were the gardener to take a slightly different course, their sweat and toil would have a tasty outcome as Hairy Bittercress is one of the most flavoursome wild salad plants you will meet and it grows for free all around you.

The Hairy Bittercress is neither hairy or bitter or a cress, but it tastes like cress and in a sandwich it is indistinguishable from water cress. The Hairy Bittercress has fresh, nutty or peppery flavour even a cabbage like taste, and so it should as it is related to cabbage. It belongs to the Cardamine family, its near cousin the Lady's Smock Cardamine Pretensis has a beautiful soft pink colour and is the sole food for the Orange Tip Butterfly.

Keep an eye out for this edible weed now as it is popping up everywhere and is easy to identify before other weeds appear. It is best collected by snipping off leaves with a scissors, you can eat flowers and leaves, add them to a salad, my favourite is a great big bunch of Hairy Bittercress and sardines.

Friday, 7 February 2014

May be we should put up pylons!

Tourism in the Nire was born over 50 years ago when the late Paddy Melody started pony trekking from his pub in the sixties, about the same time the growth in car ownership saw larger numbers of people come to the Nire to visit the lakes.  Following the opening of a number of guesthouses an umbrella tourist organisation for the area was formed in the early eighties. The group, despite its tiny size, has achieved many positive outcomes. Some positive result, though seemly small, took a lot of work, like raising £3,000.00 (€3,800.00) for a display stand.  In more recent times we got a set of looped walks on the Nire side of the Comeragh Mountains; this took years to get in place.

Now, a group based in Wicklow wants the Nire looped walks closed!  They claim there should be no looped walks above the 300m contour, there should be no looped walks taking people into the mountains, they claim these walks are endangering the native habitats.  All very commendable, on the face of it, but for some, unknown, reason they have only targeted the Nire.  There are other looped and linear walks in Ireland over 300m, but these walks have stronger tourist and political interests to protect them and this Wicklow group are not going to endanger their funding by stepping on political or industry toes. Thus the Nire is an easy place for them to get their teeth into, politically isolated and tiny within the overall tourism sector. 
This group produced a report on the Nire walks, which reads like a Transition Year project, and was littered with wild, sweeping and scatter gun statements. When they visited the area this week their mission was so secretive that they did not want to talk with anyone in the Nire. They spoke to people in WIT, none of us in the Nire has a doctorate or letters after our names, and what would we know.  

One of the arguments against pylons is the tourism potential of the Comeragh Mountains, if an East coast quango gets its way, Eirgrid might as well start building pylons and put us all out of our misery. 

Come and walk one of the Nire looped walks before they are decommissioned and the employment potential of tourism in the Nire is knocked back into the stone-age.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Hazel and catkins.

Yellow Catkins
It is early February and we are drenched and wind swept. Spring seems to be forever away. However if you look closely there is one herald of spring who is pushing ahead and announcing the coming of longer, warmer days. It is the hazel tree. To the Celts the hazel symbolised wisdom and may be this small tree is wise in preparing for spring while we are all bemoaning a never-ending winter.
If you take the time to look, the hazel's, butter yellow, catkins are hung out like Christmas decorations. The catkin is the male part of the plant and the female part of the plant is a tiny, and I mean tiny, blood red bud. The pollen from the catkin,when blown by the wind, will stick to the female bud and from this a hazel nut will grow.
Hazel stand in winter
The hazel was once a commercially important tree in Ireland as its nut was a food source and its timber was used in building. If you coppice the hazel it will produce a multitude of straight stems which make ideal materials for upright poles in wall when building in wattle and daub. They are also used in basket weaving and thatching.
Hazels grow in wetter soils and thus are believed to have magical powers to find water and are favoured by water diviners to locate underground water sources.
Today the main commercial producer of hazelnuts is Turkey, where the produce around 625,000 tonnes of hazelnuts each year this is about 75% of worldwide production.
You can walk in the country at this time of year and look for the bright yellow catkins and in autumn return to pick hazelnuts.