Biodiversity of an Irish Townland - Doonmacfelim

 Ian Beaney

Area Map with the townland of Doonmacfelim outlined. Data from the basemaps gallery accessed through the Heritage Maps Viewer at www.heritagemaps.ie

The theme of this short project was to look at the fauna and flora of the townland of Doonmacfelim that I encounter often daily at different times of the year. Following the philosophy of watching, waiting and let wildlife find you has, for me, always produced better experiences than going off to look for a particular species.

The Townland of Doonmacfelim

Doonmacfelim (Dún Mhic Fheidhlim, Fort of the son of Felim) is a townland in the electoral division of Killilagh in the parish of Corcomroe. It borders the Atlantic coast to the west and the Aille River in the east. It includes a tower house built in the late 15th or early 16th century.

6-inch OS map of Doonmacfelim townland c.1921. Data from the basemaps gallery accessed through the Heritage Maps Viewer at www.heritagemaps.ie

The 6 – inch Ordnance Survey map from 1921 shows the townland being divided up into individual plots and open common grazing (winterage). It is bisected by two laneways that give access to the coast. At least one lane was used to give cattle access to the Aille River for drinking water. Many of the field layouts in this map can still be seen. Some have been joined to allow mechanisation for fodder production. Some of this is silage but many are still cut for hay. These semi-natural grasslands have a good mix of plant species and add to the habitat.

Birds

Raven

Play Raven Call

Species:Raven
Scientific NameCorvus corax (Latin: corvus=the raven and Greek korax=the raven
Irish Name:Fiach dubh
Status:Resident Breeder
Conservation State:Green. Population is stable.
Description:A large black crow with a wingspan of 135cm. Known for its far carrying call in mountain areas. It feeds on both plant and animal foods and carrion. Often seen along the coast of north Clare and breeding on the cliffs just south of Doonmacfelim. Oldest ringed bird recorded 17 years, 11 months, 15 days (Cumbria, UK)
Folklore:Ravens were associated with knowledge, warning, procreation, healing and prophecy. In Ireland it was often seen as an omen of death. Its distinguished appearance also made it a symbol of intelligence and nobility.

   

Cuckoo

Play Cuckoo Call

Species:Cuckoo
Scientific NameCuculus canorus (Latin: cuculus=the cuckoo and Latin canorus=melodius (from canere=to sing)
Irish Name:Cuach
Status:Summer breeder from April until August
Conservation State:Green. Population is stable.
Description:A bird that is often heard but infrequently seen. Feeds mainly on insects and caterpillars. Females lay their eggs in the nest of the species that raised them e.g., meadow pipit or dunnock. A single female can visit up to 50 nests each year. Often heard and occasionally seen in the scrub out towards the coast of Doonmacfelim. The Burren and Connemara hold the highest density of breeding pairs. Oldest ringed bird recorded 6 years, 11 months, 2 days (Cambridgeshire, UK). Cuckoos winter in central and southern Africa.
Folklore:Considered to be a bringer of love and summertime. It was also a symbol of adultery, deception and foolishness due to its laying of its eggs in the nests of other birds. If you heard the first cuckoo in your right ear you would have good luck. If heard with the left it was a bad sign. In Clare, on hearing the first cuckoo, it was good to make a wish or a prayer.

 

Stonechat

Play Stonechat Call

Species:Stonechat
Scientific NameSaxicola rubicola (Latin: saxum=a rock + colere=to dwell and Latin rubus=bramble (from colere=to dwell)
Irish Name:Caislín cloch
Status:Widespread resident.
Conservation State:Green. Population is stable.
Description:A conspicuous bird of robin size often seen sitting on a bramble perch calling. They feed on insects caught by brief flights from perch. Mainly breeding in coastal areas, they are often heard and easily seen in the scrub, walls and fenceposts of Doonmacfelim. Life expectancy approx. 8 years.
Folklore:Their chattering call was thought to be a conversation with the devil. They were thought to carry a drop of the devil’s blood and that he would break the back of anyone who harmed a stonechat’s egg. It was also thought that the young were hatched by a toad.

Whimbrel

Play Whimbrel Call

Species:Whimbrel
Scientific NameNumenius phaeopus (Greek: neos=new + mene=moon and Greek: phaios=dusky + pous=foot)
Irish Name:Crotach eanaigh
Status:Passage migrant in spring and autumn
Conservation State:Green. Population is stable.
Description:Smaller than a Curlew but similar with shorter bill and much rarer using Ireland as a stopover while migrating north. I spotted the male bird pictured on an afternoon in April down by Poulcraveen in Doonmacfelim. Some research revelled it had been ringed by the ‘Shorebirds Monitoring Program in Pruia do Canaval, Galicia, Spain. It had travelled 1197.8km to Doonmacfelim having been ringed on 02/05/19 at 5 years old. Oldest ringed bird recorded 24 years, 1 months, 25 days (Fetlar, Shetland, UK)
Folklore:A single, long call from a Whimbrel meant fine weather was on the way, while a quivery, repeated call meant rain was on the way. It is associated with the story of the ‘seven whistlers. These were a group of six birds looking for a seventh and hearing the call augured death of disaster.

Mammals

Google Images (2021). Fox Cubs [online]. Available from: <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Fox_(Vulpes_vulpes)_(4).jpg>. [Accessed 13/06/21].

Species:Fox
Scientific NameVulpes vulpes (Latin=fox)
Irish Name:Sionnach
Description:A common sight due to its adaptability and opportunistic nature. Although a predator it has a mixed, opportunistic diet which includes carrion, fruit, berries. Small mammals are found by sound, captured in the front paws after a spring and a pounce and killed with a bite. Hearing the fox’s eerie call at night can be mistaken for a person in distress.
Folklore:Thought of as the dogs of Norsemen who brought them to Ireland, they have a reputation for skill and cunning. It was said that the fox could foresee events including the weather and that a fox barking was a sure sign of rain. If it rains while the sun is shining it means that a fox’s wedding is taking place.

Google Images (2021). Badger in Grass [online]. Available from: <https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/animals/article/european-badger-behaviour-dispersal>. [Accessed 13/06/21].

Species:Badger
Scientific NameMeles meles
Irish Name:Broc
Description:The badger was considered to be a hardworking and industrious animal. Badgers were also eaten by the rural poor. Known as ‘the pig badger’ it was said to be very flavoursome if eaten with cabbage. They are well suited to the damp and mild climate and are often seen in gardens at night taking worms that thrive on the limey soils from the close mown grass. Badgers are not often seen by day, but their latrines are conspicuous on territorial boundaries.
Folklore:A ‘demon badger’ was supposed to live in a cave near Inchiquin, terrorising the area and killing both men and cattle. Badger fat that was used in cooking or rubbed on the chest was thought to be a cure for rheumatism. Witches smeared the fat on their broomsticks to increase speed and manoeuvrability.

Hare

 

Species:Hare
Scientific NameLepus timidus hibernicus
Irish Name:Giorria eireannach
Description:An animal of open areas it is often seen on the lanes and fields of Doonmacfelim. Hares feed mainly at night and spend most of the day in a ‘form’, as depression or scrape up to 10cm deep. They are not territorial and often feed together in large groups.
Folklore:Sometimes thought of as the messengers of the underworld. It was said that eating a hare was like eating one’s own grandmother due to the link between hares and warrior queens and female fairies. It was thought that ‘wise women’ could ‘shape-shift’ into hares by moonlight. Witches would go abroad in the form of a hare to steal milk.

 

Stoat

Species:Stoat
Scientific NameMustela erminea
Irish Name:Easóg
Description:Often seen by chance when out for a morning walk. Keeping an eye along walls and fences seems to bring the best sighting results. A small but powerful predator, it is remarkable to see a stoat dragging a hare across a field. Males tend to larger prey with females taking voles and smaller prey which they find by sight and smell. They can climb well and will raid bird nests in the spring and summer.
Folklore:Once believed to be a cat brought to Ireland by Normans. It is thought that a stoat mesmerises its prey by a whirling dervish dance. Stoats were viewed as human-like as they were thought to live in families and held rituals for their dead. To encounter a stoat when setting off on a journey was considered bad luck which could be changed by greeting the stoat as your neighbour. It was believed that if you killed a stoat, its family would come and spit in your milk churn.

Insects

Red tailed Bumblebee

Species:Red Tailed Bumble Bee
Scientific NameBombus lapidaries
Irish Name:Bumbóg
Description:A large widespread and common bee up to 20mm long. It is found in a variety of flower rich habitats including gardens. It is a common visitor to dandelions in the spring, emphasising the importance of this plant as an early food source for bees. It has near threatened conservation status in Ireland.
Folklore:A bumblebee buzzing at the window is a sign of a visitor. If it has a red tail the visitor will be a man and a white tail signifies a woman. It was also thought that bee stings aided relief in arthritis and rheumatism.

 

Dark Green Fritillary Butterfly

Species:Dark Green Fritillary
Scientific NameArgynnis aglaja
Irish Name:Fritileán dúghlas
Description:A large butterfly with a powerful flight. The underwing is washed with green interspersed with large white spots. Found around the coast and in a few inland sites. Occurs mainly in flower-rich habitats and the calcareous grassland of Doonmacfelim is ideal for them. They are in flight May to September.
Folklore:The transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly is linked to ideas of death, burial, and resurrection. Butterflies were considered souls that had the ability to cross into the ‘Otherworld’. A tradition blessing was ‘May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun and find your shoulders to light upon, to bring you luck, happiness and riches today and beyond’.

Flora

Spring Gentian

Species:Spring Gentian
Scientific NameGentiana verna
Irish Name:Ceadharlach bealtaine
Description:A Burren speciality and looked forward to by many residents who are proud to claim they have seen the first gentian of spring. Locals have their own locations that they visit each spring.
Folklore:A number of superstitions surround Spring Gentians. It was considered bad luck to bring the gentian into a house, as the individual would risk being struck by lightning, and suggested that death would follow if the flower was ever picked.

 

 

 

Bloody cranesbill

Species:Bloody Crane’s-bill
Scientific NameGeranium sanguineum
Irish Name:Crobh dearg
Description:A widespread flower of the Burren from coast to hillside. The combination of the attractive foliage and the bright red-purple flowers make it stand out growing from the cracks in the limestone pavement known as Grykes. The name ‘bloody crane’s-bill’ is derived from the fact that in autumn, the leaves turn a blood-red colour and fruit capsule becomes elongated, similar to the bill of a crane.
Folklore:It was used to staunch bleeding, cure kidney problems and to ease sore throats and coughs. It was also used to treat ‘red-water fever’ in livestock.

Early Purple Orchid

Species:Early Purple Orchid
Scientific NameOrchis mascula
Irish Name:Magairlín meidhreach
Description:Found widely on the coastal grassland of Doonmacfelim. It has many variations with flowers being white through pink to purple and leaves being spotted or un-spotted. It flowers from April to June and its national population is considered to be declining. Its flowers are scented but are said to resemble the smell of cat’s urine.
Folklore:Orchid tubers were once used as an aphrodisiac and a love charm. Young girls used to make a powder out of its roots and give it to a young man they fancied. In Brian Merriman’s poem ‘The Midnight Court’ the Early Purple Orchid was one of the love charms resorted to by the women of Ireland in desperation at the lack of romance in Irish men.

References

Brendan Sayers, Susan Sex (2013). Ireland’s Wild Orchids. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Niall Mac Coitir (2008). Irish Wild Plants, Myths Legends. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Niall Mac Coitir (2010). Ireland’s Animals, Myths Legends. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Niall Mac Coitir (2015). Ireland’s Birds, Myths Legends. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Glynn Anderson (2008). Birds of Ireland Facts, Folklore. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Michael Scott (2016). Mountain Flowers. 1st. ed. Cork: The Collins Press.

Tony Locke (2017). Mountain Flowers. 1st. ed. Dublin: The History Press Ireland.

Dominic Couzens, Andy Swash, Robert Still, Jon Dunn (2017). Britain’s Mammals – A field guide to mammals of Britain and Ireland. 1st. ed. Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press

David Newland, Andy Swash, Robert Still, David Tomlinson (2020). Britain’s Mammals – A field guide to mammals of Britain and Ireland. 4th. ed. Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press.

McGeehan, A (2021). Raven Call [online]. Available from: https://www.xeno-canto.org/253133/download [Podcast]. [Accessed 03/06/2021].

McGeehan, A (2021). Whimbrell Call [online]. Available from: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Numenius-phaeopus https://www.xeno-canto.org/363207/download [Podcast]. [Accessed 03/06/2021].

McGeehan, A (2021). Cuckoo Call [online]. Available from: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Cuculus-canorus https://www.xeno-canto.org/477381/download [Podcast]. [Accessed 03/06/2021].

McGeehan, A (2021). Stonechat Call [online]. Available from: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Saxicola-rubicola https://www.xeno-canto.org/648528/download [Podcast]. [Accessed 03/06/2021].

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