Category Archives: Sites

Castlemorris Wood

castlemorris2resizeHidden away between the small villages of Kilmaganny and Hugginstown, at Aghaviller in Kilkenny, is a wonderful local woodland amenity. Castlemorris Wood forms part of the 2,000ha of woodland owned and managed by Coillte in the locality. It once formed the estate of Castlemorris House, one of the largest houses in the country, but was razed to the ground in 1978. All that remains now are some remnants of the stable yard and a curious assemblage of trees.

The woodland probably doesn’t support anything very exciting in terms of rare species (but I don’t actually know that for a fact), yet that is not to diminish its biodiversity value. The woodland has a nice mixture of deciduous and coniferous woodland. But the woodland does have the appearance of not being aggressively managed for its commercial value (which is a good thing!); the scrubby undergrowth and plenty of dead wood giving it a ‘natural’ appearance in places. The network of woodland paths and narrow tracks that weave their way through the  estate provide a very pleasant walk and are well used by locals. A 7 km loop walk around the wood is one of the routes promoted as part of the the Trail Kilkenny initiative.

The stable are all that remain of Castlemorris House

But the naturalness of the wood  is deceptive for much of the estate is planted with beech, a species which is not native in the true sense of the word, as it was introduced to Ireland sometime in the last 1,000 years. There are mixed opinions on the biodiversity value of the ‘non-native’ beech, but for me this is an entirely esoteric debate for it is now naturalised over much of the country.  And the patches of woodland that remain in Kilkenny add important diversity to the farmed landscape dominated by intensively managed grassland and cereal fields.

Castlemorris Woods looks really beautiful with the autumnal colours. It has been a particularly good beech mast year, with mast carpeting the woodland floor. Currently the mast is being devoured by woodpigeon, but will become increasingly more important for finches as the winter progresses. Perhaps it will attract in brambling, the winter relative of the chaffinch that arrives to Ireland from Scandanavia and Siberia each year. The woods also have many majestic sweet chestnut trees, and these too have produced a bountiful harvest this year.

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) fungi on dead wood
This year was a bumper year for sweet chestnut

Now is the time to explore the many different species of fungi that grow in abundance on the woodland floor, and sprout from rotting timber. Even up to the end of October, shieldbugs, butterflies and hoverflies were to be seen basking in the late autumn sunshine.

But the woods hold something of interest at all times of the year. For me, the chance of seeing a red squirrel is always an attraction as there is still a healthy population here. But the mammal population of Castlemorris Wood is changing. Recent years has seen the arrival of the beautifully elusive pine marten, a species which fortunately is expanding its range greatly in Ireland. It is thought that this expansion is due to the increased forest cover in Ireland, but be that as it may, it can now be seen in farmland away well away from woodland. And the pine marten expansion has coincided with the contraction in range of the invasive grey squirrel who seems to be moving out of areas when pine marten arrive. As pine marten like to eat grey squirrels, it is understandable that grey squirrels tend to find their environment less desirable with their new neighbours. But the theory is that red squirrels can live in harmony with pine martens as they are lighter and, by moving to the extremities of branches, can keep out of reach of the pine marten. Hence, it seems that the advance of the pine marten has benefited the red squirrel, to the detriment of its larger and brasher American relation. And pine marten droppings (or scats) can be seen in places at Castlemorris Woods, so the prospects for our native red squirrel looks quite good here.

And in the undergrowth things are changing too. Another non-native mammal, the bank vole, was first recorded near Listowel, Co. Kerry in 1964 and is expanding its range in a north-easterly direction. It now is found over almost half the country and has made it as far as Kilkenny city. Castlemorris Wood has been colonised by the bank vole in recent years and it is known that wood mice are being replaced by the bank vole where they invade. What impact this replacement is having on the ecology, however, is still unknown.

Castlemorris Wood, managed by Coillte on our behalf

Castlemorris Wood is a wonderful local amenity and there are always people out walking and enjoying the site, no matter the weather.  Coillte manages woodland sites like Castlemorris Wood all across the country and it is easy to take these local amenities for granted.  It is only when amenities like this are threatened that their real value is appreciated. A short time ago there was a very real possibility that Ireland’s forest resource was to be priviatised and the open forest policy adopted by Coillte would have been placed in jeopardy. Fortunately this did not come to pass, and hopefully it never will. Sites like Castlemorris Wood are valuable natural assets, and Coillte does a good job at managing them on our behalf. Long may it continue.



The Barrow River at Ballytigelea

Running along the eastern bank of the River Barrow is the old tow-path. Built in the 18th Century to tow barges plying the waterway, it has long since become redundant for its original use. The picturesque tow-path is now used by locals as an amenity, and is increasingly promoted as an amenity to encourage activity holiday-makers to visit the villages that straddle the Kilkenny and Carlow border; Goresbridge, Borris, Graiguenamanagh and St. Mullins, beautiful unspoiled villages with unique Irish charm.

Barrow Track 1 resize
The River Barrow at Ballytigelea

Ballytigelea Bridge provides access to one of the nicest stretches of the Barrow. Downstream the river flows along the wonderful semi-natural deciduous woodlands of Borris Demesne, linear patches of wet alluvial woodland backing onto to majestic ancient oaks. North of the bridge the river valley opens onto pastoral farmland with beautiful luxuriant species-rich hedgerows and areas of waterlogged ground and pools, each with their own special character. The grassy tow-path is maintained to keep it free for walkers, but the level of intervention is minimal, so it retains is natural feel.

Barrow Track 3 resize
In places the tow-path retains a natural feel
Ballytigelea Lock resize
Elsewhere it is beautifully maintained







This is a strange time of year. Winter is almost upon us yet on some pet days it still feels like summer. Today along the Barrow the temperature was in the high teens with plenty of bright sunshine. A flock of about 20 swallows were feeding over the river, a surprise, for in most years by now they would have left on their migration south.

Near Ballytigelea Lock, red admirals were basking in the warm sun and, much to my delight, I also came across a couple of comma butterflies. These look for all the world like small tortoiseshell butterflies  with badly frayed wings. But the comma is a relatively new addition to the Irish fauna. It was first recorded 2007 or 2008 in  County Wexford where it gained a foothold and has continued to expand its range. It now occurs over most of Wexford and has spread into Waterford, Wicklow and Dublin, and is expanding northwards along the river network. There are established populations along the Slaney and Barrow Rivers, and Ballytigelea seems to mark the limit to its range at the moment. I hadn’t seen a comma so far this year, so seeing one so late in the season was an unexpected treat.

Comma resize
The comma, a relatively new addition to the Irish fauna

The juxtaposition of butterflies basking in the sun and shrubs laden with autumn fruits is a reminder of the changing season. The autumn colours are everywhere; the rusty brown bracken and bramble, vivid red dog rose and guilder rose berries, the carmine guelder rose foliage and the curious vivid orange spindle seeds breaking out from their deep pink shell. Less spectacular but more abundant are the blackberries, haws and sloes, and even the crab apples are almost the size of eating apples this year. A natural bonanza for the birds this winter.

Bracken resize
IMG_2143 resize
Guelder rose
woody nightshade resize
Woody nightshade
Spindle cropped resize


The natural tow-path along the Barrow is a wonderful resource for local and visitor alike, and serves as a huge natural artery for wildlife. Walkers, joggers, anglers and boaters all use and enjoy the amenity, in perfect harmony. The low-level management of the tow-path and the discrete signage make for a experience in keeping with the character of the amenity. It came as a shock to me, therefore, to read a notice pinned on a gate at Ballytigelea, that Waterways Ireland are seeking planning permission to resurface the tow-path with limestone filling. There may be some sound reason why Waterways Ireland are seeking to do this, but for me this would be a huge act of vandalism and totally unnecessary. The Barrow tow-path is an extremely valuable natural asset for the locality – by all means help and promote greater use of the resource, but lay off changing the character of the experience. I’m sure there are better ways of spending the money.