Monday, 9 July 2018

Carney Commons & Finnoe Church

I found myself with a little free time last Saturday, so rather than working in the garden in the heat I decided to make a foray to Carney Commons. This is a calcareous fen, which floods in the winter, but is bone dry in the summer – in other words it is a turlough. It is a remarkable place, locally renowned for its wild flowers and insects, which has never been cultivated. At some time in the past someone tried to plough a bit of it, but because below a few centimetres of organic soil it is nothing but chalky marl, it is quite useless for anything but rough grazing. As the name suggests, it is common land, and I suspect surrounding farms on better land share the grazing rights, though these do not appear to be taken up, as it is to some extent being invaded by scrub. This is a shame, as if it continues it will gradually squeeze out the species that make it so special – it is some years since I was able to find the Bee Orchids that used to be there, though Fly Orchids can still be found. It does not appear to be currently protected by any conservation designation, which it really should have.
A view across Carney Commons, with an interesting prostrate juniper, a glacial relic, one of the first plants to colonise the Irish tundra after the retreat of the glaciers
A track across Carney Commons, showing the chalk marl substrate and encroaching scrub, including self-seeding Scots Pine – I suspect if left to its own devices over centuries it would become a pine forest!

The object of my foray was to see how the orchids were doing in the dry conditions, in particular the Marsh Helleborine (Epipactus palustris) and Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea), both of which I expected to find in full flower. The Marsh Helleborine was in profusion, but no where near as lush as it usually is. I could not find a single flower spike of the Fragrant Orchid – it must really not like the heat and drought. However, I did find what I think was a seed head of the Fly Orchid, and there were quite a number of flowers of a very pale form of the Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii ssp fuchsii – not the pure white ssp okellyi, so common in the Burren at this time).

Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) – such a beautiful flower

A rather pale Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii ssp fuchsii)
As I searched for interesting plants I was rather troubled by the flies, but there were lots of other insects. I saw plenty of male Common Blue butterflies (Polyommatus Icarus) but few females, which were either hiding or emerge later. And the air was thick with Six Spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) – I photographed one feeding on a Common Spotted Orchid.

You can see the Burnet’s proboscis searching out the nectar in a flower
Elsewhere the Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum) was in full bloom, so called because of the sweet smell it gives off when used to stuff a mattress, and for the first time I found Burnet Saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga).

Lady’s Bedstraw
Burnet Saxifrage – at least I think so!
As I walked along the chalky track, a car pulled up, from which emerged a man and his daughter and a dog. As the girl picked bunches of flowers and the dog raced around I fell into conversation with the man. He said he knew rather little about the plants I was so interested in, but he knew more about animals. His farm is beside the Common, but he didn’t know whether or not he had grazing rights. He was a shooter, and often walked the Common in winter when it was flooded, hunting snipe and duck.

Carney Commons is a very special community of living creatures, one of the few wild places that remain in Lower Ormond. Human beings are part of that community, and unless we tend and keep it, for instance by maintaining a rough grazing regime, it will inexorably change and develop into a very different community. But I am sure that however the community develops God will see it to be good and will continue to delight in the diversity of life he has made.

Finnoe Church
I did not stay long at Carney Commons, because of the heat and the flies. But I also drove down the laneway to Finnoe Church, in search of the Nettle Leaved Bellflower (Campanula trachelium) I have found there in the past. The margins of the laneway even under the trees were completely dried out, and I could not find even a wizened stem of it. I do hope it has not died out there - it is protected under the 1987 Flora Protection Order as being ‘Endangered’.

I went on over the stile into the church yard of the de-roofed Church of Ireland church, which I think was closed in 1969, once united Kilbarron, and later with Borrisokane. It is not far from Prior Park, my grandparent’s house, and I have an early childhood memory of being taken to church there in a pony and trap - though my mother rather poo-pooed the idea, as they usually worshipped in Killodiernan. Some years ago, I rescued a small piece of the wrought iron altar rail from the ruins of the church, which still rests on my patio. And I have a little book listing in manuscript Finnoe church sustentation for the years 1902 to 1908, with names and amounts, including those of my grandfather and greatgrandfather.

The path through the churchyard has been kept clear, and a few graves are being well maintained, with quite recent interments, but the rest of the graveyard is frightfully overgrown. There is something ineffably sad about a ruined church in an abandoned graveyard. I imagine the many generations of faithful worshippers - including some of my ancestors - walking up the path Sunday by Sunday, the happiness of christening and wedding parties, the sadness of burials. All but a few are now forgotten and not remembered by us, but each one is known and loved by God. 

Finnoe Church exterior 8th July 2018
Finnoe Church interior 8th July 2018
May God bless and keep all who have worshipped here.

No comments: