Entertainment Books

Saturday 20 October 2018

Meeting Dublin's wildest residents

Wild Dublin, By Eanna ni Lamhna, O'Brien Press, €25

Badgers in a back garden: in Rathfarnham in Dublin... the city teams with hidden wildlife
Badgers in a back garden: in Rathfarnham in Dublin... the city teams with hidden wildlife

Joe Kennedy

'Protestant woodlouse" may not be a very kindly description of either insect or human -- though it could be some type of sectarian opprobrium found in the scripts of certain stand-up comedians!

Yet there is such a creature, so called because, we learn, there is no name for the insect in English. The reason androniscus dentiger got the religious tag is because of its fondness for C of I burial places.

How can a woodlouse -- this one is pale-coloured and lives under paving slabs and gravel -- make religious distinctions? The reason is fascinating. Protestant cemeteries are older than Catholic ones -- at least the memorial structures are older. And the building stones and material are cemented together with ox-blood mortar, for which these particular creepy-crawlies have an irresistible urge to munch.

The discovery of badger setts on the fringes of old cemeteries is not unusual. There is peace and quiet and little disturbance. These beleaguered creatures -- the Department of Agriculture conducts a cruel culling programme in its bovine TB eradication scheme -- are now finding their way into urban places, including, would you believe, city centres!

It would be a big surprise to find one when you were walking home at night in Dublin. But this actually happened to a person in Lower Baggot Street at two o'clock in the morning. The animal had been using the Grand Canal as a wildlife corridor, while shuffling through the silent city hoping to pick up some discarded takeaway food as a supplement to its usual diet of slugs, rodents and earthworms found along the canal banks.

The Royal Canal, Tolka and Dodder are also favourite locations, but when the Luas took over some of the old Harcourt Street railway line there were some unhappy evictions. The animals soon found new homes on the Airfield Estate and nearby gardens, however.

Insects, mammals, birds and fish are the other Dubliners around us as we travel through the city. The activities of mink in the Dodder, otters in Ringsend, newts in Dundrum and bats in Raheny, along with observation of the wild flora on our path though the city, are presented by the naturalist and broadcaster Eanna ni Lamhna in this excellent book, generously illustrated by photographer Anthony Woods.

It is some years since Christopher Moriarty brought out his seminal paperbacks Exploring Dublin and Down the Dodder and Dr ni Lamhna's hard-backed, almost coffee-table sized, book is a terrific addition to the genre.

Apart from its descriptions of creatures and their habitats, there are gems of information such as the location of a remarkable strawberry (arbutus) tree at the Berkeley Court apartments and its particular history. With news of site development in this area, the survival of this wonderful tree will be closely monitored.

Dr ni Lamnha's presidency of An Taise could be a determining factor.

Joe Kennedy is a writer on nature and environ- mental topics

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