The parks straddling the River Shannon are like a string of green pearls, and despite their manicured appearance, are well worth exploring, as they contain a hidden wealth of wildlife, and fabulous views of the city. Nature was not considered in their original design, but no human space is left unoccupied for very long by creatures that fly and crawl by day and night. Park by Albert Nolan.
I started my walk in Arthurs Quay Park. Here on any given day, you will meet locals and tourists feeding the birds. It starts off gently with a few crusts of bread but soon descends into a chorus of squawking gulls,with the occasional Rook or Jackdaw. In any language, this is a fun way to interact with wildlife. Bread that is very mouldy should be avoided as this is not good for people or birds. Despite our modern lives feeding the birds is thankfully one tradition that we have not discarded.
As I cross the bridge I keep a watch out for any stray Sand martin. They build their nests with engineering precision in the stone walls of the canal to avoid the high tide. There are none around as they have returned to Africa to avoid the worst of the Irish winter. Park by Albert Nolan.
I turn onto O Callaghan Strand and head towards the treaty stone. The riverbank walls have had many years to be colonized by plants. This starts with moss that slowly gathers a bit of soil. Grasses and flowering plants take roots followed by a few very stunted trees. Groundsel, Ivy-leaved toadflax, Knotgrass, Sow thistle, Dandelion and Daisy all make up a very interesting community.
Spiders make use of any man-made object and this female has built her web against a street sign. A long safety line stretches down to the wall and already there is plenty of ensnared insects.
I reach Curragrow Park and already there is a gentleman seated and enjoying the peace. I don’t want to disturb him so I move to the opposite side. The tide is out exposing a rich feeding ground for birds. Stranded creatures are easy pickings for the Herring gulls and the clever Hooded crow has also learnt about this rich source of food. Mallards are resting between the stones. Some have their heads tucked in, and this is a safe harbour, to rest away from the strong pull of the Shannon.
Two men pass by straining under the effort of rowing. This is a picture that has not changed in a thousand years nor their muffled curses. A waterside garden has grown along the sheltered lee of the wall. Tall strands of Purple loosestrife, Angelica and Marsh Ragwort have attracted a beautiful Red admiral butterfly. Park by Albert Nolan.
Buff-tailed and Carder bumblebees are out gathering the last of the summers pollen on flowers in containers. These are only their appetizers and they can move onto the native Marsh Ragwort, Angelica and Purple loosestrife for the main course.
I carefully look under the leaves of the trees for any hidden insects. My patience is rewarded after a few minutes by a two-spot ladybird. It is probably feeding on the winged greenfly that has also taken shelter not realizing the looming danger. Park by Albert Nolan.
The only life on the lawn is a couple of Daises. In normal grassland, it would be shaded out by the taller plants but our modern lawns are the ideal habitat for this dainty flower. It is a flower of spreading urban development and it will continue to follow any new houses or parks.
As I leave I see a young Magpie hidden in a tree. All immature birds need the safety of a tangle of branches while they learn the ways of the world. Across the road, by the entrance to Priory park housing estate, a Large Holm Oak is growing. These keep their leaves throughout the year and their natural home range is in warmer places like Spain.
A climber has escaped from the shackles of its owners and is tumbling over walls and roofs. Even Bindweed and Cleavers can’t compete with this climber that has reverted to its natural untidy state. The bees love the fountains of flowers and they are full of Buff and Red-tailed bumblebees. Furtive moths will come to feed when night falls but true darkness has been banished from the city by the multitude of streetlights. One of the most dramatic in terms of size is the Popular Hawk-moth but many moths don’t eat have function mouths. Their caterpillars do the eating and their role is to reproduce. Park by Albert Nolan
The front garden has been left to nature and Ragwort is supporting a colony of Greenfly. While they are drinking these exude a sweet substance and the Ants are busy milking them. In turn, they protect their animals from danger like Ladybirds by squirting them with formic acid. Ragwort is a great source of early autumn food for bees and I find a red-tailed bumblebee on the flowers.
I cross over into Robert Byrne Park. A new siege of Limerick is taking place. Invasive plants have escaped from their gardens and are challenging our native plants. I find three on my walk. The first is Japanese knotweed and it meter high stems shade out all other plant growth. Down along the boat ramp Himalayan balsam is in flower. Touch its seeds pods, and they burst open, throwing their seeds into the river, where they move onto new ground. The last is Giant hogweed camped at the base of the wall of Kings Johns castle.I get the beautiful scent of water mint each time I step on its leaves.
With time encroaching with the endless tide I push on and don’t stop till I reach the Limerick Civic Trust community garden. I have admired this secret garden through the fence for months and today I am thrilled to be shown around by Jer who works for the trust.
The garden was developed in 2011 on a derelict site. It now provides a vibrant display for tourists when they exit the car park on their way to visit the castle. Many of the beds have been constructed using willow and this keeps in touch with Limericks river heritage. This is an ancient and sustainable material and the tree benefits for regular harvesting.
We stroll between the beds that are full of a mix of native and exotic plants. St Johnswort and yellow roses compete for your attention with Buddleia and Comfrey. A sweet smelling Clematis tumbles over a trellis while ivy scrambles up a wall. Like me an early bumblebee is visiting the garden and we both get benefits from the variety of wildflowers. I much prefer this side of the fence and the sense of tranquillity of been among nature.
We cross into the edible section. Large raised beds are bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables. We pause to sample delicious Logan berries and some of the branches are reaching out through the fence to entice passer byes. Beans, Onions and Jerusalem artichoke are all ready to harvest. One of the walls has lean to glasshouses and these can be used for starting of seeds and extending the growing season. Any produce not used will be quickly devoured by birds and small creatures like hedgehogs.
This is a wonderful opportunity for the local community and schools to learn how to grow healthy vegetables and fruit or to spend part of their week soaking up the natural world.
We pop into St Munchins church and Jer explains that they have two bee hives on the roof of the church. They have plenty of flowers to feed on and can even travel along the banks of the Shannon in their search for flowers. The trust has also planted wildflowers for bees and butterflies and they brighten up a sombre patch. Sedum is flowering and this trailing fleshy plant likes the gravel on the graves. It is brilliant for bees and I take a piece to grow in my own garden. This is one of the simplest ways to learn about the different plants that are good for attracting nature. Take a walk around and see what the wild creatures are visiting and see if you can fit the plant in your garden.
My Last stop is in the visitor car park for King John’s castle. I explore the wild meadow at the back. Common fumitory, White clover, Dandelion, Red clover, Scarlet pimpernel, Figwort, Ragwort, Ribwort plantain, Creeping thistle, Yarrow, Black medic and buttercup. The residents of the developing town and castle who have been very familiar with these flowers and used them to treat various ailments. Tourists who rush by are missing out at a fascinating glimpse of our natural history. Park by Albert Nolan
As I head home I spy a cat eying up a pigeons nest in part of the old city walls. Like me he is interested in the natural world but his desire is to fill his stomach. Park by Albert Nolan
Comments/Questions to [email protected] or 089 4230502. Albert is also available to develop biodiversity plans for tidy towns and schools and give presentations and walks on wildlife to youth or community groups. Park by Albert Nolan
Read more of Albert Nolan’s stories here.