Monday 15 July 2019

Jim has shared the wonder of Wexford nature for decades

Jim Hurley
Jim Hurley

The stretch of coastline from the spectacular tip of Hook Head to Ireland's South East corner at Carnsore constitutes an area of wonderful natural heritage.

That phrase – wonderful natural heritage – springs easily and enthusiastically to the tongue of Jim Hurley. The retired teacher is south Wexford's keenest promoter. He has lived here for more than 45 years. He has come to appreciate the flora and fauna of a region which boasts no less than 14 officially designated sites of significant scientific importance.

And it is his pleasure to invite others to share it with him rather than keeping the joys of the dunes and lagoons a secret to be appreciated only by some exclusive band of specialist naturalists. There is scarcely a bird or a flower to be found between Rosslare and Templetown that he has not rejoiced in and written about.

His love affair with Kilmore began by chance back in 1965. A recent graduate in science from UCD, the man from Drumcondra was recruited by County Wexford VEC to set up the laboratory in the new Bridgetown School. The recently established centre of education had just 44 students and five staff led by principal Joe Tyrrell (RIP) when he started work there. At the last count, the roll at had risen past the 600 mark, with more than 50 teachers.

Moving from the capital to rural Wexford allowed the Dubliner to put down roots in an inspirational part of the world. He took up residence under thatch in Kilmore and relished the teaching of a subject which entailed field work rather than being confined exclusively to the classroom up to the time of his retirement 11 years back.

His knowledge of the sea breezy environment has been shared with readers of this newspaper since 1981. Yes, it was 33 years ago that he first made contact with then editor Gerry Breen and suggested that a naturalist's column would appeal to readers. Gerry asked him to submit three sample pieces and they proved to be the prototypes of a series that has run without a break ever since.

At first, his contributions were written out in longhand and dispatched to headquarters in Wexford by post. These days, one of the longest running columns in Irish provincial journalism arrives promptly on a computer screen each week in Channing House, by email, always immaculately put together to fit the space allocated. And the thatch has been replaced by conventional slates, by the way.

In the early days of his newspaper work, strange bugs in jam jars were often be delivered to the newspaper by readers in the hope that Jim would be able to advise on their contents. Thus he saw his share of tropical insects accidentally imported to Ireland aboard banana boats. More recently, Google has replaced the oracle of Kilmore as the source of such wisdom but the column remains hugely popular and respected.

The scope of the Hurley bulletins is certainly not restricted to matters maritime. The writer allows himself free rein to review recent publications and can be relied on to produce a suitably Christmassy piece on mistletoe or holly each December. However, it is with the ecology of the Hook to Carnsore axis that he is most at home. He knows without thinking how many species of bird nest on the Saltees or precisely where the terns nest in Lady's Island.

His soft spoken services are in demand from groups that come to explore the nature of the area. The man who guides them to the mudflats of Bannow Bay or the polders of Killag is no Greenpeace warrior. His is a welcoming presence, not a strident campaigning voice. He believes that there is plenty of room for more tourists on the coast.

'I do a lot of walks and talks with anyone interested in the natural heritage,' says Jim, who loves to walk himself and is delighted to note that walking is the fastest growing sport in the country. 'There are lots of environmentally friendly activities, from painting to pony trekking.'

He is happy to suggest that Wexford should exploit its natural resources for economic gain. After all, we cannot compete with Spain for sunshine but Spaniards are happy to come to this often chilly part of the world to see the wild offshore islands. He loves to see photographers heading off to the Saltees to take pictures of the seals and the gulls. He takes pride in the way that scuba divers descend on Kilmore, coming from Kilkenny, Dublin and further afield. Nature is for everyone and should be celebrated by as many as possible.

'There is room for more people to enjoy the south Wexford coast,' he says simply. 'Some have a technical or scientific interest but for ordinary people too it is a wonderful amenity. People should be encouraged to enjoy it.'

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