The Nire Valley

The Nire Valley
The Heart of the Comeragh Mountains.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Leaves of winter.

The Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta, is a tenacious weed, the hint of Spring will bring it to life. This little plant will suddenly appear in planters, garden pots and bare ground. The avid gardener will attack it with a biblical purge, but this little plant, that produces five hundred seeds, reappears in a flash and can quickly overrun every piece of bare ground, its war with the gardener continues all year. However, were the gardener to take a slightly different course, their sweat and toil would have a tasty outcome as Hairy Bittercress is one of the most flavoursome wild salad plants you will meet and it grows for free all around you.

The Hairy Bittercress is neither hairy or bitter or a cress, but it tastes like cress and in a sandwich it is indistinguishable from water cress. The Hairy Bittercress has fresh, nutty or peppery flavour even a cabbage like taste, and so it should as it is related to cabbage. It belongs to the Cardamine family, its near cousin the Lady's Smock Cardamine Pretensis has a beautiful soft pink colour and is the sole food for the Orange Tip Butterfly.

Keep an eye out for this edible weed now as it is popping up everywhere and is easy to identify before other weeds appear. It is best collected by snipping off leaves with a scissors, you can eat flowers and leaves, add them to a salad, my favourite is a great big bunch of Hairy Bittercress and sardines.

Friday, 7 February 2014

May be we should put up pylons!

Tourism in the Nire was born over 50 years ago when the late Paddy Melody started pony trekking from his pub in the sixties, about the same time the growth in car ownership saw larger numbers of people come to the Nire to visit the lakes.  Following the opening of a number of guesthouses an umbrella tourist organisation for the area was formed in the early eighties. The group, despite its tiny size, has achieved many positive outcomes. Some positive result, though seemly small, took a lot of work, like raising £3,000.00 (€3,800.00) for a display stand.  In more recent times we got a set of looped walks on the Nire side of the Comeragh Mountains; this took years to get in place.

Now, a group based in Wicklow wants the Nire looped walks closed!  They claim there should be no looped walks above the 300m contour, there should be no looped walks taking people into the mountains, they claim these walks are endangering the native habitats.  All very commendable, on the face of it, but for some, unknown, reason they have only targeted the Nire.  There are other looped and linear walks in Ireland over 300m, but these walks have stronger tourist and political interests to protect them and this Wicklow group are not going to endanger their funding by stepping on political or industry toes. Thus the Nire is an easy place for them to get their teeth into, politically isolated and tiny within the overall tourism sector. 
This group produced a report on the Nire walks, which reads like a Transition Year project, and was littered with wild, sweeping and scatter gun statements. When they visited the area this week their mission was so secretive that they did not want to talk with anyone in the Nire. They spoke to people in WIT, none of us in the Nire has a doctorate or letters after our names, and what would we know.  

One of the arguments against pylons is the tourism potential of the Comeragh Mountains, if an East coast quango gets its way, Eirgrid might as well start building pylons and put us all out of our misery. 

Come and walk one of the Nire looped walks before they are decommissioned and the employment potential of tourism in the Nire is knocked back into the stone-age.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Hazel and catkins.

Yellow Catkins
It is early February and we are drenched and wind swept. Spring seems to be forever away. However if you look closely there is one herald of spring who is pushing ahead and announcing the coming of longer, warmer days. It is the hazel tree. To the Celts the hazel symbolised wisdom and may be this small tree is wise in preparing for spring while we are all bemoaning a never-ending winter.
If you take the time to look, the hazel's, butter yellow, catkins are hung out like Christmas decorations. The catkin is the male part of the plant and the female part of the plant is a tiny, and I mean tiny, blood red bud. The pollen from the catkin,when blown by the wind, will stick to the female bud and from this a hazel nut will grow.
Hazel stand in winter
The hazel was once a commercially important tree in Ireland as its nut was a food source and its timber was used in building. If you coppice the hazel it will produce a multitude of straight stems which make ideal materials for upright poles in wall when building in wattle and daub. They are also used in basket weaving and thatching.
Hazels grow in wetter soils and thus are believed to have magical powers to find water and are favoured by water diviners to locate underground water sources.
Today the main commercial producer of hazelnuts is Turkey, where the produce around 625,000 tonnes of hazelnuts each year this is about 75% of worldwide production.
You can walk in the country at this time of year and look for the bright yellow catkins and in autumn return to pick hazelnuts.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Nature and exercise a powerful medication.

Looped walk Nire Valley
Winter’s darkness is now receding and the promise of longer, warmer, days appears stronger with every passing day.  We have eaten, drank and slept our fill over Christmas and there is a natural urge to get outside; do you answer the call.
Over Christmas I have been reading about “Green Prescriptions” in the USA and New Zealand, a Green Prescription is using nature to rid us from stress and thus head off the onset of depression and other health issues before medical intervention is necessary.

Nire Valley Green Road
Dr. Mark Ellison, in his blog Nature and health, "5 ways using nature can help us mentally and physically."  He advises that “Exercising in nature essentially multiplies the benefits of exercise…” and more importantly, in my opinion, tell us “Don’t listen to music, enjoy the sounds of the birds, the wind, and notice the beauty of nature…” You don’t have to live in the country to get a quick walk in, you can go for a quick walk in you lunch break. But “If you have more time, plan a hike for several hours, or bike on a rail trail…”
Comeragh Mountains
The benefits are not just you personal health but as Dr. Ellison goes on to sayresearch by faculty at the University of Utah and University of Kansas found that spending time in nature can improve creativity up to 50%. Being more creative on the job means you can generate better ideas and more innovative solutions to problems….”

You don’t have any excuse not to get out there, the options are limitless. Join a local walking club, the Mountaineering Ireland web-site has a list of all walking/ hiking clubs in Ireland, find out your nearest “Way marked trail” on the Irish Trails Web site and you can even combine a holiday break and a hike there are available all over Ireland or be more adventurous any where in the world.

Nire Valley Drop
So what are you waiting for? 

Monday, 30 December 2013

Sloe gin. The 2013 harvest.

Nire Valley Sloe Gin 2013.

2013 vintage sloe-gin could be scarce as it was a very bad year for the Black thorn and its fruit the sloe. The blackthorn always flowers in late March early April and this year (2013) was cold and wet and this year the blackthorn produced very few flowers. In a good spring white blossom of the black thorn traces the field boundaries and you can pick out the individual fields. We in the South-east of Ireland take this for granted, as our field boundaries are more commonly made up of bushes and trees, but this type of ditch is not found everywhere. One of the great by-products of these banks and ditches is the the wild fruits they support. Sloes, crab apples, haws, hurts, bilberries, wild strawberries and wild raspberries as well as damsons. It is a pity not to pick some and make preserves or flavoured gin and vodka from the sloes and damsons.
Black thorn
The damsons ripen in August while you have to wait for the first frost before you gather sloes. You can pick the sloes and freeze them to "sweeten" them in September, you will need to this if you want sloe-gin for Christmas.

The sloes for this bottle were picked in Ballymacarbry and Hanora's Cottage turned it into Sloe gin.

I wrote about the Sloe in a blog in September, where you will find more information on this common hedge row plant. Here's to a good spring and a bountiful sloe harvest next September.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Mid-winter's tale.- Visit Bronze age site at sunset on Mid winter.

Sunset Dec 21st
 At Newgrange a select few will get to observe sunrise on midwinter's morning, even fewer are luck enough to see the experience on a cloud free morning.  Newgrange is not the only site where such an ancient alignments occurs, they happen in various locations all over Ireland and one such place is Tooreen in the Nire Valley. 
21st December is the shortest day of the year with only a few hours of sunlight, but even 4,000 years ago they knew that the days would soon lengthen and grow warm. They knew because they constructed a stone circle that alighted with sunset on mid-winter that indicated when they reached the shortest day of the year. 
Would you like to visit the Tooreen stone circles on Saturday 21st December 2013?
Nire & Comeragh Guided Walks are leading a walk that evening to the site, join us as we celebrate a four thousand year old tradition in our twenty-first century world. We will take in both the stone-circle and the nearby burial site which is even more spectacular, because of the trees in the forest sunset cannot been seen from the stone circle anymore, we will go to the burial site and observe sunset from this monument.

Note because of the topography sunset is a little earlier here than elsewhere, we have to be in place at about 15:20 hrs, but it may not get dark for another 30 ins. If you are interested email me at

Stone Circle - Tooreen

In history's footsteps - walk to Liam Lynch Memorial.

Route taken by Gen Liam Lynch 10th April 1923.
The Nire Valley Bogtrotters Sunday walk on 24th November will follow, roughly, the route taken by General Liam Lynch on the 10th April 1924, the day he was killed, bringing an effective end to the Irish Civil War. After reaching the Liam Lynch Memorial tower we will pick up the Munster Way and follow it back to our cars parked near Newcastle.  
The Nire Valley walking club is the Nire Valley Bogtrotters, we walk every other Sunday from September to June, we walk, mainly, in the Comeragh Mountains. We also organise the Comeragh Bogtrot in March and are involved in the Nire Valley Autumn Walking festival in October. If you are interested in joining us send me an email to -

Gen Liam Lynch Memorial Tower.