Connemara shows why wildlife has to be saved
I recently headed west to try my luck at a spot of sea fishing and enjoy a change of scenery in picturesque Connemara. I have many happy memories of childhood summers spent there and whenever the opportunity arises, I try to revisit.
It is still a magic place despite the many changes that have occurred over the years. Back in the 1950s, children ran barefoot, women wore dark cloaks and shawls and toiled in the bogs with donkeys and turf baskets, and the men worked abroad in England, America or wherever jobs could be found.
Traditional, whitewashed, thatched cottages lined the roads and laneways, and all around were scenes equal to those on any picture postcard. Central heating was unknown and both cooking and heating were dependent on turf alone. At night I would lie awake listening to the sounds of hundreds of corncrakes calling in the little meadows that lay undisturbed by tractors, mowing machines and forage harvesters. The machinery would arrive later and herald the disappearance of not only the corncrake but also of the curlew, hay cocks, scythes, donkey power and groups of women and children pausing to give a friendly wave from the bogs to the few motor cars that passed by.
Fish that were once plentiful and which supported large numbers of fishermen are now increasingly scarce. Over-fishing of our seas remains a huge problem and I was told that most of the quotas are now in the hands of a relatively tiny number of trawler owners, marginalising the smaller operators.
Many people still sigh nostalgically for the past and decry the gaudy new holiday homes built on hill tops with little regard for traditional styles or the landscape. These recently built houses might not match the ideal of a picturesque western cottage but at least they are bright, well insulated and warm and dry, unlike so many of the 'quaint' thatched cottages of the past.
Hunger, TB and the grinding rural poverty that were the daily lot of so many are thankfully long gone, along with the donkeys and shawls.
But the remnants of famine times are still evident in the deserted ruins and lazy beds high on hillsides. It is hard to imagine that more than two million people either died or emigrated in the mid-1800s. Thinking about it makes one wonder why we are complaining about our relatively trifling problems of today.