Countryside looks its best and landscape comes to life in sun
Published 18/05/2016 | 02:30
What a difference a day makes. In Ireland, when the sun shines, our rural landscape comes alive.
Instead of peering through a grey mist, as I remember doing on my first visit to the Ring of Kerry when all I could see was a vague and rather grim outline of mountains and valleys, on a sunny day everything changes and the countryside looks at its best.
This is especially so in early May when leaves gleam with a bright pale green freshness and the splendour of bluebells, wild garlic and fritillaries beneath a canopy of ancient trees almost takes your breath away.
I recently enjoyed all of these when in a favoured spot that had the benefit of centuries of careful design and planting.
The Irish Timber Growers Association chose Tullynally Castle in Co Westmeath as the venue for its latest field day and among our great Irish estates, it must rank as one of the finest.
We were doubly fortunate in that not only had we warm sunshine but we also had the owner of Tullynally, Thomas Pakenham himself as our guide.
Unusually for a timber growers outing, almost 50pc of our group were ladies and clearly the wives and partners of all those dedicated forestry experts had insisted on coming along. Who could blame them? Rather than spending a day staring at rows and rows of Sitka spruce and discussing the technicalities of silviculture, we all knew we were in for the welcome treat of a visit to a garden and arboretum of international fame. I must quickly state here that I am of course aware that there are many talented female foresters of great renown who have contributed hugely to our store of knowledge, but from past experience, most ITGA outings have tended to be dominated by rather single-minded males whose main interests lie in discussing yield classes and the economics of replanting after clearfelling huge coupes of conifers.
This is also the case with many Teagasc field days when the hard realities of commercial timber growing tend to muscle out any attempts at discussing the beauty of a carpet of wild flowers, perhaps flourishing under the shelter of ancient broadleaves or indeed how the plainest of woods can be transformed by the addition of interesting mixed edge of woodland species. Farmers and other landowners have souls also. If only for the sake of the next generation, we should nurture our natural love of attractive landscapes and in our own woods, try to replicate the beauty of places like Tullynally, Kilmacurragh and so many others. I cannot recall any great romantic literature that was inspired by a walk through a plantation of Norway or Sitka spruce and one wonders what Wordsworth, Kavanagh or Shelly would have written if they had staggered across some large areas of clearfell in Wicklow or the Slieve Blooms. It doesn't have to be so. Commerce and natural beauty can be successfully combined with just a bit of forethought and careful planning.
Having walked down lovely winding paths, past stunning magnolias and other exotic plants, many of which had been brought to Tullynally by Thomas himself on his travels, we eventually came to a splendid stand of Norway spruce. It was approximately 40 years old and the height and girth these trees had attained was exceptional.
One could sense a sigh of relief among the hardened foresters in our group as they gazed at more familiar species and on which one could place a cash value. Sadly, I couldn't see anyone hugging a tall spruce but I am sure a strong wish to do so was being suppressed. Here was commercial forestry at its best and like most of what one sees at Tullynally, it was the result of diligently seeking excellence and achieving it. That is the real beauty of the place, for it combines profitable farming with the desire to preserve a historic estate as its original owners intended. If it doesn't pay, it doesn't stay and without a farm income, no one can afford to improve on what are essentially woodland gardens.
There is room for both, and for this reason, every farmer and forest owner should visit Tullynally and learn from the example it sets. I haven't described the detail of the layout of the property but reading Thomas's most recent book, A Company of Trees will whet the reader's appetite to go and see for themselves.