Pulling up at Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve, you’d be forgiven for thinking the place has been deserted, such is the peace and tranquility surrounding the area.
It’s situated off the main Athlone Road in Lecarrow and this enables visitors to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful surrounds without the interruption of modern afflictions like traffic noise.
I’m met by Padraig Corcoran at the entrance to the nature reserve. Padraig and his wife Bernadette along with their four children Ciara, Rachel, Laura and Patrick own and run the reserve. Padraig has kindly offered to give me a private tour of his lands ahead of the public tour, which will take place on Thursday evening (today) as part of Roscommon Lamb Festival.
Padraig quickly informs me that as well as the farm and nature reserve, the land also contains historical gems such as an old schoolhouse and a former landlord’s stately mansion. Our first port of call takes us back to school.
“This is the old Mount Plunkett School, it was built by the landlord, Patrick Crehan, in 1858. He actually owned all the estate around Mount Plunkett and down into St. John’s. He built it for the tenants’ children and it functioned as a national school from then until 1959,” said Padraig.
The old landlord actually paid both teachers in the area at the time. He also built a sister school in St. John’s. The Corcorans have restored the old school at Mount Plunkett and have also put a roof on it.
We leave the old schoolhouse behind and make our way around the lands, which act as both a reserve and a working farm. New spring lambs graze in a field which hosts a vibrant hedge habitat including plenty of fruit bearing trees.
The hedges that Padraig has planted around his field have allowed bird life to thrive in the area and visitors are rewarded each morning with a beautiful dawn chorus which continues throughout the entire day.
Padraig is a font of knowledge and the names of trees, plants and animals roll effortlessly off his tongue.
“You have a woodland here that’s a broadleaf, semi-natural woodland. It’s very dry here but as you go through it, it drops back to wetter woodland,” he says.
According to Padraig, this wetter woodland is the most diverse woodland you can get due to the abundance of vegetation and larvae it provides for insects.
We make our way through the woodland as the birds serenade us and the sun casts rays and shadows through the canopy. I have rarely interviewed anyone in such a beautiful place.
The former estate house suddenly looms into view. Patrick Crehan’s residence may have fallen into complete disrepair but with a little imagination it’s easy to recognise the appeal of building a home in such an area. We come across a path which Padraig says was used by local people in the nineteenth century. The stiles are still very much in evidence while the stately home is protected by what Padraig describes as a ‘Ha-Ha’ wall. The wall was built into the estate’s lawn in such a way as to prevent intruders or animals from gaining entry while at the same time offering an uninterrupted view of the surrounding countryside.
As we make our way back up to Padraig’s own house, he highlights the importance of farmers working in harmony with the environment and with Mother Nature.
“We embraced a lot of new ideas back in 2005 or so on a bio-diversity project. The crops, the ponds, the bird boxes and the bat boxes were done. I suppose about 2013 when GLAS started to come in and it embraced the ideas that we were putting forward. It’s nice to see that your vision was where things where going. It’s nice to see a lot of people now are also embracing what we’ve done,” he says.
The entire family have played a part in establishing and maintaining Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve and it has become a popular destination for nature walks among local schools. That’s probably how the former landlord would have wanted it too.
Padraig insisted however, that the work is ongoing and that sustainability is the name of the game and that the focus needs to be aimed at wetlands.
“There are a lot more wetlands being abandoned and it’s leading to a huge loss of different species of birdlife. I think that there needs to be more focus on it and there needs to be more help for farmers,” he says.
Our thirty minute walk around Mount Plunkett Nature Reserve was an eye opener and it is clear that the Corcorans’ forward thinking has enabled wildlife to flourish in the area. Education is key in this regard and guided walks around Mount Plunkett serve to highlight the importance of protecting and maintaining this wildlife.
Today at 6 pm, members of the public are also invited to enjoy the unique sights and sounds of Mount Plunkett while also getting in touch with nature. The old schoolhouse may have shut down in 1959 but we still have an awful lot to learn about the countryside that surrounds it and Padraig Corcoran’s land is a great place to start.