Leonie Twentyman Jones and Margaret Richards visited Ireland in late May. It took a while for Leonie to put pen to paper when they got back to Knysna, but her account of their visit was worth waiting for. ~Esther
A journey through the Irish countryside in late spring and early summer is a magical experience. The fields and hillsides are an unbelievably vibrant green (particularly for drought-bemused South Africans), dotted with plump white sheep and edged with hawthorn trees (Crataegus monogyna) covered in delicate white blossom as well as swathes of the ubiquitous bright yellow gorse (Ulex europaeus). Ancient stone walls are brightened up by little clumps of deep purple campanula which have the ability to grow in the smallest of cracks.
Narrow country lanes in Connemara have thick wild hedgerows of red fuchsia (the hardy Fuchsia magellanica, originally from Chile and Argentina, but now naturalised in the west of Ireland) and pink Rhododendrons (Rhododendron ponticum). Originally introduced to England in the early 1800s, Fuchsias were so beloved by Victorian gardeners that they took them everywhere they settled. It is believed that Quaker families who came from England in the 1840s to assist the Irish who were battling with the devastating Potato Famine could have brought Fuchsia plants with them. The pink Rhododendron, introduced to England in the eighteenth century, probably from Spain, was brought to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century by landed gentry who wanted to beautify their estates and also to grow shrubs that provided cover for game birds. So while they are very beautiful when in bloom, these plants form high, dense evergreen thickets and have spread into the countryside where they are causing huge problems to indigenous plants.
The stark, desolate, almost otherworldly plateau known as the Burren (from the Irish word boireann meaning ‘stony place’) in County Clare — visited by tourists mainly to see its ancient megalithic remains — is home to over 70% of Ireland’s indigenous plant species. In little pockets of pasture amongst the terraces of cracked limestone one can find a surprising variety of plants — including ferns, orchids, such as the Early Purple (Orchis mascula), clumps of little yellow primroses (Primula vulgaris), Dog-violets (Viola riviniana ), Herb-robert (Geranium robertarium), and the Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) with its yellow pea flower. These are some of the early spring flowers we saw — seemingly undeterred by the strong winds.
by: Leonie Twentyman-Jones
Photos supplied by Leonie and Margaret