Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

A fresh look at Irish nature after Down Under's delights

Cherry Blossoms have come and almost gone.
Cherry Blossoms have come and almost gone.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Since our return from Australia, I have been asked several times about the highlight of our trip. Honestly, almost everything was fantastic and thankfully we have all made it back safe and sound to resume our lives in the country we are lucky to call home.

I love travel, especially if there's sunshine and warmth. The newness of everything is always great, exploring different places and encountering strange wildlife, meeting new people with their unfamiliar accents and observing their sometimes mysterious behaviour. Finding hitherto unknown products in the shops and even the novelty of using foreign money are the little things that add to a trip.

But wonderful as travel is, it is also fraught with dangers. Because the very nature of travel means that you are doing different things, often outside your comfort zone. You have to be know your limits and not be swept away by excitement.

One of the highlights of the Australian trip was the early morning walk around the six kilometre rim of Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory. The first stage of the walk is a steep ascent which our guide/cook/driver Ria Mitchell explained was called 'Heart Attack Hill'.

On hearing this, we all laughed. Until she told a story about a man who had recently done the walk and who really did have a heart attack. It is a very long way from anywhere and, by the time a helicopter arrived it was too late.

The charm of moving to a new place a couple of times a week can wear thin and, in the last few days before we returned, six-year-old Ruth was homesick. She didn't even have the words for her feelings. But she knew she was missing her friends, her soft toys and her own bed. She even admitted to missing school. Outside of her family, these are the reassuring familiarities of her life.

Once home, the two things that struck me were how fully spring had sprung and how every lamppost had sprouted election posters. The soft lush growth of the leaves and the grass this time of year is so delicate and graceful.


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On leaving Dublin Airport we soon started to see the bobbing heads of the cow parsley (also known as Queen Annes Lace).

Further along, we come upon a stretch of them being cut by a hedge-cutter, a practice which I cannot understand. There could be some justification on a narrow road where they limit visibility, but they are actually a nutritious wild plant with a short flowering season. Some people just seem to feel the need to control them. Nothing that our children learn at school is more important than an appreciation of nature.

Looking out our kitchen window at the remaining few apple trees that were planted by Robin's grandmother 99 years ago, it's as though they have been pinged by a magic wand into blossom. Maybe it's the contrast from where we had come, but the flowers seem to be more numerous and more striking than usual.

After dropping the girls to school the following morning, myself and a few pals did our regular 35-minute walk around Abbeyleix.

It's not a walk that will appear in any guide book. Part of it is on a footpath along the busy R433, though this is flanked by beautiful old deciduous woodland which teems with birdlife where we often see a jay and occasionally a red squirrel.

This leads onto a meandering lane which has a good few houses, but is far quieter and we can usually walk abreast.

While the hedges are trimmed, there is one lovely stretch of luscious old-fashioned lilac, the classic harbinger of spring, their fragrant purple flowers an olfactory treasure symbolising the first emotions of love.

Walking on then past a pear tree, there is a gust of warm wind and we are suddenly showered like confetti from behind by a flurry of small pale petals.

One of the group even managed to spot a relatively uncommon Holly butterfly.

The cherry blossom has come ... and already almost gone, its pretty pink flowers now lying in soft carpets.

As for the horse chestnut, its tower-like cluster of flowers, named panicles, seem particularly majestic this year.

The bluebells are now out and they strike a pretty pose alongside the still-flowering wild garlic.

So it looks like we are only waiting on the arrival of the swifts.

On that note, an ecologist friend, Fiona, mentioned that swifts are now amber-listed in conservation terms. They have lost a lot of their nesting areas as they like to set up home on tall older buildings and many of these are no longer suitable as they have been renovated.

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology has set up a project called Save Our Swifts and advice on establishing nest boxes for swifts can be found on its website

While the current fiscal climate in Ireland is difficult for many, home is about more than that or climate or other impersonal factors; it's about people.

So many people in Australia we met were Irish or of Irish descent.


There are the many young people on working holidays, others who went for same, but have decided to stay on for a bit longer.

Many of these may return when their itchy feet have been scratched and/or the economic situation here improves, but no doubt some will end up putting down their roots there.

But there are also those Irish who have had no choice but to uproot their families in search of work.

They are grateful for the opportunity, but sad/angry at the alternatives. Their kids will join schools and clubs, make friends, establish their own identities and grow up in a different country. Many will only ever return here as visitors.

It makes me realise afresh how lucky we are to be able to live in Ireland by choice.

It was the trip of a lifetime, but when I asked Sarah if she would like to live in Australia, her reply was a telling "yes, if I was borned [sic] there".

  • Ann Fitzgerald can be contacted at

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