Scenic view of the River Shannon on the Plassey River Walk
The Plassey River Walk and the beauty of the Shannon is examined by Albert Nolan
Going out on nature walks with other people who are as passionate and interested in nature as oneself, can be enjoyable. You get to see the familiar landscape through their eyes, and this can reveal another of nature’s hidden layers.
Sean Hartigan, Co-ordinator of An Taisce Living Limerick, was keen to show me part of his Limerick, and I joined him for a natural history walk along the River Shannon, on the Plassey River Walk. Sean has been busy for the last few years, engaging with people and communities and encouraging them to head outside and interact with nature. Like myself, Sean believes that we need to have more contact with nature, and this has many benefits for our mental and physical health.
The day was dry, and the fresh energy of spring was in the river, trees and birds. We parked by the boat club in UL, and with my two kids in tow, headed off for an afternoon of exploring. This walk is very familiar to Sean, as he studied in Thomond College of Education and UL, gaining a Bachelor of Science in Education. His interest in the environment started at a young age, and he was a founding member of the first UL environmental society.
He well remembers cycling out along the path, and in the summer months, fishing. Sean explains that cycling or walking is a great way to experience nature, and this is something he is keen to promote and support. It also reduces the number of car trips, and this has a positive effect on reducing the impacts of climate change.
The Shannon opens out into a broad sweep producing one of the best views of the river. Sean explains that this was originally a towpath. Horses pulled cargo-laden barges and moved at a natural pace. My kids jokingly said that a hundred years later, we are moving slower than horses.
He explains that there are so many beautiful natural amenities, in and around Limerick city, and we must work hard to ensure access for all. Walks are there for all to enjoy from families to runners. The message is slowly getting through, and throughout the day we saw kids on shiny new bikes, yet to get their first baptism of mud.
The long purple catkins of alder are hanging from the branches. This is a native species and supports countless species of insects and birds. Sean believes that we need to plant more native species in our gardens and parks, to feed pollinators and birds, and his Living Limerick workshops has a theme of creating habitats for wildlife. Not every child has an interest in an organised sport, and the natural world is a great place to stay active and interested.
As we walk along, he points out the different species of birds that inhabit the trees. Wrens, robins, dunnock, chaffinch, great tit, magpie, and migrant redwing are all busy singing and feeding. Blackbirds are feeding on the ripe berries of ivy, and this natural energy is essential, as they build up for the breeding season.
The fishing used to be good here, and Sean often caught pike and bream in deeper water. Fishing is something that you pass down through the generations, and keeping the river open and accessible is essential. We paused to chat with a man fishing who tells us he has been coming here for years. As with all fishermen, he has tales of the large catch that got away.
I had often noticed a small pond on the opposite side of the path. I never realised that is as created by the digging for clay, and that it is a least 20 feet deep. Sean says that this is a great place to catch trench. It is now home to a single swan.
A small flock of birds is moving in the field, and we identify them as fieldfares. These are winter migrants who come here for the mild weather and bounty of berries. There are many cygnets along the river, recognisable by the brown on their wings.
Across the river a flock of Lapwings takes flight. Their black and white plumage changes with every wingbeat. A solitary jackdaw far from his urban home passes overhead.
Sean points out to the fresh growth of wildflowers by the edge of the path. Some people see wildflowers as weeds. Broad-leaved dock, narrow-leaved plantain and nettles all support butterflies and their caterpillars. Helping nature is all about leaving a little space for flowers to grow, in your garden or community.
To the continuous screeching of black-headed gulls, we reached the Guinness Bridge where three people are having a chat. Nature, as Sean puts it, is a real social event.
We decided to take the path towards Corbally, with only a few protests from the kids. The fresh yellow flowers of lesser celandine are just opening. While nature can be enjoyed throughout the year, this is one of the best times, as every creature and plant is stirring from its winter slumber.
A cormorant flies along the river with powerful wing beats. Sean is delighted to see that a little grove of alder and birch have been planted. These seeds of these trees with attract flocks of siskins and redpolls.
We paused at the Borough marker, and Sean shows the kids how to place a stone on the marker. This is for a safe journey, and he remembers doing this himself as a child.
This part of the walk is much busier, and we met lots of people. Most are speedily walking along with headphones and missing out on the abundant nature. In a field, we see plump woodpigeons, and long-tailed tits are marching through the branches.
Sean and Harry paused to feed a robin. He is very tame and would eat from your hand. We reckon he has been feed by other walkers. A male Blackbird is foraging through a muddy field, in search of worms.
Plants are essential for wildlife, and we find privet that is good for the caterpillars of moths and buddleia for butterflies.
We paused to chat with a man and his grandson. They are feeding the horse’s vegetable and fruit. I had never seen a horse devour tomatoes with suck relish before. With the innocence of youth, his grandson thinks that he owns the horses. More parents and kids stop to admire the horses. While the kids feed the horses and play with one another, the adults chat. This is another of the great benefits of An Taisce Living Limerick programme; it creates a safe space where adults from all traditions and backgrounds can meet, and get to know one another. Nature can help integration in our society.
While the horse is entertaining, we spot a fascinating bird in the field. Jackdaws are usually all black, but the one we are looking at is nearly all white. Jackdaws can have a varying degree of white, particularly in urban areas.
The Riverbank is lined with a linear wood of birch and alder birch. These have sprung up as natures hand, and appear far more natural than the rows of planted ash. A single hazel breaks up the ash outland. Ash trees are full of insects, and a tiny coal tit is taking full advantage.
Three oak trees have been planted, and Sean explains that this is the work of the river path volunteers. They do tremendous voluntary work, keeping the river clean, by picking up litter to planting native trees and flowers and workshops.
Giving your most precious resource of time and energy to protect nature is a great way to be proactive in your community. Sean is very involved in Birdwatch Limerick, An Taisce, Limerick Bat Group and the Green Party.
A loud splash was heard, and we could see a dog taking a dip in the water. He ran past us shaking water everywhere. Sean was raised around dogs, and his dad was a world champion at raising smooth fox terriers.
Sean produces his camera and snaps a few shots of the gulls. They are mainly black headed, with a sprinkling of lesser black-backed, common gulls and a few mallards. Photography is another great way to learn about and enjoy nature.
Sean has a keen interest in Limericks history. He points out some houses that were built during the construction of Shannon airport. They have an American style open front gardens, and it was envisaged that the managers from Shannon might be enticed to move in.
Two mature beech and sycamore trees line the path. Old trees are such precious natural resources and as they age many minibeast, birds, and fungi move in for the final graveyard shift. Lots of garden cuttings have been left by the base of the trees. While most of this is harmless and will eventually break down, Sean outlines that we need to be careful around introducing plants to the wild that could become invasive.
Plants that can be controlled in the garden, but can take on an aggressive nature, when introduced to the countryside. Japanese knotweed that was brought in and introduced as a ground cover plant is one example.
We reach the Corbally baths where Sean swam here in his youth. While the sun is out the water is freezing, we where content to admire the view from the path. Two informative signs have been put up telling the history of the area and sharing some of its wildlife.
Just before the metal footbridge, we spot a female tufted duck. He is a gorgeous looking bird and very tame. Sean points out the remains of a military observation box. It is cold and sterile and still has not been coated in lichens and mosses.
The sound of the water increases as we walk beside the mill race. Underneath the towering beech and Lime trees, the first leaves of lord and ladies are emerging. A high wall protects a secret garden, and the owner is supposed to have won several awards, for her work. It’s a real shame that we can’t get a view.
We reach the mill road and read the history and wildlife displayed on signs. Even Billy, the peacock, gets a mention, but he is not around today. There are plenty of birds, and we count 34 mallards, 15 jackdaws and several cormorants. Some are standing with wings outstretched, and this is thought to help digest their meals.
A commotion across at the far bank, has us reaching for our binoculars. Two cormorants are fighting over the remains of a big eel. The grey herons are keeping a close watch, and waiting for an opportunity to snatch the fish.
A Man appears, and he asks if we are looking at the otters. He has lived here for 57 years and loved to see the otters. He knows the Shannon in all its moods and has the most fabulous view from his sitting room windows. A lifetime ago he used to hunt ducks and asked us did we see any tufted ducks. Our answer of only a handful, brings back a memory from him, of seeing over 400 tufted ducks. The decline of common birds over the last generation is another reason; we need to highlight, the critical natural amenity of the River Shannon.
With little and big legs starting to get tired and hungry, we take the Mill road towards grove Island. The houses here are big and with gardens to match.
Many of these gardens are mature, with plenty of trees, and this creates a good habitat for birds. On the old stone wall around beech park house, ivy-leaved toadflax and Pellitory of the wall are flowering. Overhead on an elect wire, we see a starling singing, and house sparrows are calling from a garden hedge.
There is a bit of colour in the gardens, and Sean points out white/pink flowers of winter viburnum. Heather is also blooming, and if the mild weather continues, it might entice out an early queen bumblebee. Pittosporum makes a fine every-green hedge that birds can roost and shelter in.
We pass a man perched on the wall, and in the midst of trying to untangle the Christmas lights from a tree. Cotoneaster still has a few red berries, but most have been eaten by the birds. Sean encourages everyone to sow at least one berried bush or tree this spring. He will be holding workshops on creating habitats in your garden, or green space this spring around Limerick.
Before we leave the Mill road, Sean shows us two very interesting features. One is humanmade and the other the celebrating of an important victory. The first is an observatory in the roof of a Quakers house. I am envious and would love to have one in my house.
The second is an inscription, on the entrance pillar to a house. It reads Indiaville. The story goes that an old Colonel, who served in India, lived in the house. He planted a wellingtonia tree, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, at the battle of Waterloo. There are so many stories and lives, right along the city streets that we are not aware off, and it great to have someone reveal them.
We cross onto Corbally road and come across the tallest monetary tree I have ever seen. It dominates a garden and what a fabulous tree it is. Across the road, we count 20 feral pigeons on a roof. We reach Grove Island, and a meal disappears quickly.
Feeling refreshed we head back down to the canal path and the journey back home. Pa Healy’s pond is alive with coots, black-headed gulls and two graceful mute swans. A song thrush is singing, and male blackbird hops across the path.
As we potter along, we see plenty of people out walking. An old man is showing his dog to two kids and their parents. Sean reminds me again that this social interaction is central to any natural amenity.
To the singing of a robin, we reach Guinness Bridge and complete our loop. Some kind soul has put up bird feeders, and a beautiful pair of collared doves are feeding. Wrens are also feeding on the ground. On the feeders there are great and coal tit, male chaffinch and a long-tailed tit. Rooks and magpies wait patiently for us to move before they come down
We all need to be closer to nature, and feeding birds during the winter is a great way to help them. The last mile is tight for everyone, and especially for the little legs of Harry and Lucy, and they did us proud today by sticking with the walk.
This is a fantastic looped walk and thanks to Sean for sharing and revealing its wildlife, history and life stories.
There is an upcoming event with An Taisce, and Living Limerick on February 2nd 11 am taking place at Castletroy Neighbourhood Park opposite Castletroy College. Sean Hartigan, co-ordinator Living Limerick is looking to engage communities around learning how to create wildlife homes & habitats in your garden and neighbourhood that will attract, feed and shelter wildlife. These include log piles, hedgehog homes, bird boxes, bat boxes and insect hotels. Suitable for all ages. If you would like to organise an event in your area email Sean Hartigan at [email protected]
Comments/Questions to [email protected] or 089 4230502. Albert is also available to give walks/talks to schools, tidy towns, and youth and community groups.
For more nature stories by Albert Nolan, click here
For more information on walks in Limerick, click here