The song of the skylark and the roll of the sea – a perfect summer's day

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

There are some sounds I may never hear again. One is the call of the corncrake which used to keep me awake at night when on holidays in the west of Ireland.

That was of course a long time ago and it saddens me to think of all the wild species that have declined in numbers during the past half century.

Earlier this year I heard a cuckoo calling on my farm in Meath, a rare event in the eastern counties but apparently they are reasonably plentiful further west.

This is perhaps a good indication of how we are becoming more responsible regarding the management of our farmland and sharing it with the wildlife that was here long before our ancestors dramatically altered the landscape.

There is another sound though that never ceases to delight and that is the soft whoosh of waves when the sea is calm and is gently expending its energy on the shore.

We are told that all life first began in the sea and perhaps that explains our fascination with it and the attraction of seaside holidays.

Towards the end of June I revisited some of the beaches of Connemara and while relaxing on Gurteen strand the sun shone warmly and a gentle breeze rippled the water.

Over to my left among the rocky inlets, a fisherman in a small boat was checking his lobster pots and a large black-backed gull floated near the shore, looking for whatever delicacies the tide might bring.

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Now that tjhe schools are shut for the summer the silence will be shattered by the sounds of screaming children as they run and splash happily in the shallows and build elaborate sand castles that waves will later erase.

Overlooking the bay is Errisbeg Mountain, which is easily climbed by those with the necessary will and energy. At 300m in height it is perhaps more a hill than a mountain, but rather daunting nonetheless.

Blackface ewes and lambs graze its slopes and on reaching the summit, the views of the coast and Roundstone are ample reward for the effort.

I took the easier option and strolled up as far as Gurteen graveyard, walking through meadows filled with wildflowers, while enjoying the song of the skylarks, some of which hopped among the headstones.

What a wonderful resting place it is.

With their work done, the bones of many long dead farmers and fishermen must surely lie there in perfect peace.


The following day I drove across a stone bridge to Mweenish Island near Carna, along a winding boreen with tiny fields on either side, some of which contained hay in small cocks.

This again reminded me of years past and the difficulty of making good hay in broken weather, for it can be heartbreaking to see a meadow that is almost fit to be cocked getting soaked by a passing shower.

Later on I wandered through Ballyconneely and on to Mannin Bay where the tide was out and currachs lay moored in the many inlets. A mist began to descend, hiding first the hilltops and then obscuring the horizon.

Still the skylarks sang while an exhilarating perfume filled the air from the stranded pools and the exposed seaweed on the rocks along with the whiff of turf smoke and scent of newly mown hay.

Further out, a lone cormorant fished and a seal showed his head briefly while gulls searched for stranded crabs among the rock pools.

As I walked along the strand a mosaic of multi-coloured shells crunched beneath my feet, bringing me back to my childhoodwhen I used to gather the tiny cowries and bring them home as ornaments.

I only discovered recently that they had a darker history having been used as currency along the coast of Africa in the 1800s as part of the slave trade.

That evening I met a farmer whose property lay further inland and who hoped to plant a wood with a mix of conifers and broadleaved trees.

He said that he was having great difficulty in getting permission to do so because of the current restrictions on planting in the west.

What a pity. Bad planning and a blight of bungalows and caravan parks have already spoilt many coastal areas. Surely small woodlands in sheltered places could only further enhance the beauty of Connemara?

Irish Independent

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