Wednesday 21 August 2019

Billy Keane: 'Lucky the hungry fox lives up to his name - and is very fortunate to live in this beautiful place'

Keane's Kingdom

'For me the giant sea stack standing alone against the tides in the bay remains in my mind's eye when I'm far away from Bromore' (stock photo)
'For me the giant sea stack standing alone against the tides in the bay remains in my mind's eye when I'm far away from Bromore' (stock photo)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The Fox of Bromore is as cute as a fox, but only sometimes. More times he is no cuter than one of ourselves. He is one lucky fox. So much so, his capturers named him Lucky.

Lucky lives in one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. The Bromore Cliffs are no more than a few kilometres from the famed seaside resort of Ballybunion. The cliff walk takes in hidden and sometimes horrible histories. Bromore is part of an iron-age fort surrounded by high mounds built by our ancestors some 1,500 years ago.

Co Clare on the other side of the Shannon estuary, the fairness of place and the people, the peace, the waves and the history set this place above all others. Mike Flahive and his family live there now. And so does Lucky.

It's no wonder Lucky and his family choose to live here. Lucky is Mike's neighbour and he keeps Mike alert. Lucky is very fond of chicken and it was this fondness which almost led to his demise.

The Bromore Fox snuck in to Mike's chicken and duck coop. It was KFC for foxes. Lucky ate a whole chicken. All that was left was a trail of feathers. Lucky was full and his gluttony was nearly the cause of his downfall.

Bromore comes from the Irish Bru Mhór, meaning a large gathering place.

There is so much history here. The cliffs were home to an Iron Age settlement of Bromore, with two ring forts of Liosdunaflan and Lios Rua nearby. The defensive ring around the Iron Age fort is still pretty much intact.

The cliffs spontaneously ignited in the 1730s and burned for years. There are stories of pirates and shipwrecks. We hear of the plight of the starving people during The Famine who risked their lives harvesting shellfish.

Then there's the Last Steps, or Na Ceimeanna Deirreneacha, probably the final walk of a ritual sacrifice. The unlucky victims were prodded by spears to the edge of the cliff and on towards their certain death.

I walked the cliffs a few days ago and I had the place to myself. Bromore is a great place to clear the head. The ungrazed meadows are a carpet of flowers and the air is pure. You can hear the birds sing. There's a cure in Bromore. And it is safe and easy walking on the flat, even if, like me, you have a fear of heights.

Mike Flahive developed the visitor attraction along with his wife Eilish as a way of supplementing their farm income. There is a small charge but our certain guess is Mike just wanted to meet people and share the splendour of his home farm. The thinking is that it would be selfish to keep such a treasure locked up behind a three-bar gate.

The Bromore foxes live halfway down the cliff face but Lucky is a wanderer.

Last summer Lucky was caught in the act of larceny. Mike and a friend lassoed Lucky and gently lowered him in to a big wooden barrel until they decided what to do with him. He was given a feed of cat food and Lucky ate every bite.

The story continues in Mike's own words. "I took Lucky in the barrel to the Bromore Cliffs. With camera ready I put the barrel on its side, Lucky refused to leave it so I turned it upside down, whipped it away from him and grabbed the camera. Free now, did he take off for the cliff? No, he shot in the doorway of the look-out post.

"When I went in to shoo him out he went up onto one of the shelves, scattering enamel mugs and breaking some old crockery. Sean D arrived at this stage and his assistance and advice was in the main part appreciated. We agreed to retreat and let him come out in his own time. What fools we were!"

We will come back to Lucky shortly, but for me the giant sea stack standing alone against the tides in the bay remains in my mind's eye when I'm far away from Bromore. Then there's the waterfall that flows back on itself and up the cliff in the winter storms.

Just a short distance away is Ballybunion Cliff Walk with the Virgin Rock, a giant sea arch, with incredible views over the beaches and on up to the mouth of the Shannon.

You can drive on to Ballyheigue and Fenit and more spectacular scenery. Even at this time of the year, north Co Kerry is often traffic free. I am not biased. I swear to you this is the most beautiful of places and it is undersold compared to the rest of Co Kerry. Do not rush by. Listowel is nearby and we are Ireland's tidiest town. Stay a while in our beloved homelands. You will not be disappointed.

Lucky will agree. He is very much at home in Bromore.

Mike's plan was to wait a while and give Lucky a chance to come out from an old World War II look-out post where the half-cracked fox was holed up after he ran away from the barrel. But Lucky stayed put.

Mike and his friends went into the look-out post. The place was wrecked. Mike had restored the post back to its WWII origins. There was no sign of Lucky. Mike couldn't figure out where Lucky had gone to.

Lucky climbed up the chimney of the look-out post and got stuck. He ate too much chicken. Poor Lucky was terrified. How was he to know Mike loved his foxes and would not harm them even if they ate every chicken and duck on the farm.

Mike climbed up on the roof and he lassoed Lucky but the fox fought and the noose slipped away just as Lucky was being hoisted out.

Lucky was lassoed again but this time he ate through the rope. Mike didn't know what to do. The old WWII lookout was an integral part of the history of Bromore. Would he have to knock down the chimney to free Lucky? Would Lucky be injured in the demolition or would the shock of being stuck kill him?

Mike lassoed Lucky, by the nose, and barely pulled him out. Lucky jumped off the roof and escaped down the cliff face.

Mike and Lucky are lucky to share such a wondrous place. Now all of you can go to see Bromore.

Lucky didn't learn his lesson. He ate another one of Mike's fowl last week. This time it was duck.

Irish Independent

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