28 May 2022

Albert Nolan column: Exploring the River Suir heritage walk

Albert Nolan column: Exploring the River Suir heritage walk

Iwas passing through Golden after a long drive and pulled in to stretch the legs along the River Suir Heritage walk. This walk is full of interesting history and wildlife and you can follow the river nearly all the walk to the Cashel, a total of 6 kms.
Golden is always a busy town and I eventually found a spot on the opposite side of the bridge.

I paused to read the plaque beneath the bust of Thomas McDonagh. He is well known as a poet and revolutionary figure. He was part of the Easter rising and was executed for his role. His friend the poet Francis Ledwidges penned these lines in his memory,

'He shall not hear the bittern cry
in the wild sky where he is lain,
nor voices of the sweeter birds
above the wailing of the rain

The walk borders the river and it was very swollen after all the rain and the current was very strong. While I enjoy getting close to nature I left a little uneasy initially for a non-swimmer. This unease was soon forgotten as I started to enjoy the landscape and wildlife. The raucous calls of the nesting rooks replaces the sounds of the traffic.

There is a large rookery around the grounds of the old church, around a hundred occupied nests. These normally social birds turn into the neighbours from hell at spring time. I have often seen an unguarded nest been stripped of its sticks by other rooks. When the owners return they are visibly confused by their lack of nest building progress?

The large grain store dates to 1820. The walls and roof are still relatively intact but the floors are collapsing. It is a pity to see such a historic building not being put to a more productive use. The area around Golden has a rich agricultural heritage and many other communities have developed social history museums.

Mature willow trees are dotted along the bank and some were half submerged by the water. The roots of willow stabilize the bank helping to prevent erosion. Willow also has pollen and nectar rich catkins that provide food for pollinators.

The real stars were the multitude of colourful lichens on the bark of the willow. These are an indication of good air quality and birds will also use them to camouflage their nests. Traditional lichens were used to make dyes and are still used as part of the cosmetic industry.

On one willow where a large branch had been ripped off bracket fungi were growing. These were like steps on the stairs and fungi are nature’s ultimate recyclers. A tiny wren emerged out of the undergrowth ahead of me and burst into song. He gave loud warning calls. This was a warning to me that his nest was nearby and he felt threatened by my presence.

Alder is also common along the walk and the catkins that flowered during the winter and early spring had faded to brown. The fissured bark of the alder is also a great hunting ground for the treecreeper.

It uses its curved beak to prise out insects. The cows would normally have grazed the grass right up to the edge of the river. Now that the grazing animals have been excluded by a wire the natural vegetation is slowly returning.

These flowers were suppressed for years and now are getting the opportunity to bloom for bees, butterflies and other insects.

Lesser celandine is common in damp places and its yellow flowers are often the first flowers of spring. Its old country name is pilewort and it was used for treating piles and other nasty skin rashes.

Nettles already have a few rolled up leaves with the caterpillars of butterflies and moths safe inside. Many of our native winged insects lay their eggs on the spring leaves of nettles.

When the caterpillars hatch they eat the nettle leaves. Other plants had just their leaves out but I could identify most of them.

Willowherb is another flower of wet habitats. The plant can grow to around a meter tall and has masses of pink flowers. The caterpillar of the elephant hawk moth feeds on the willowherb. Meadow sweet distinctive leaves were a few centimetres high.

The plant is used for chest complaints and upset tummies. It has a divine scent that stays even after the plant has cut. Common hogweed has late summer white fluffy umbels of flowers. These are a magnet for insects that in turn feed birds.

Wintercress is a member of the cabbage family and I have only recently become familiar with this plant having found it growing locally at the base of a roadside hedge. Burdock is a biannual and the hooked seeds catch on the fur of animals and are transported to new locations.

I heard a flock of goldfinches and these feed on the seeds of burdock. By a flooded field and with the light fading I turned around. A dunnock was singing from a low hawthorn tree. There was only a single ash tree along the riverbank but this tree does not like to have its roots permanently wet.

In the park a grandmother and her granddaughter were out walking and enjoying nature.

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