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Slow Travel with Diarmaid Griffin

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Tóg go bog é

Diarmaid Griffin

The premise of slow travel is one that is gaining popularity across the world and it can be summarised by that old Irish phrase ‘tóg go bog é’ which translates to ‘take it easy’ or ‘take it softly’.

‘Bog’ is also a place and a Scots Gaelic/Irish Gaelic word that started to be used in the English language circa 1500. It means soft; which for those that have spent any time in the bog, makes perfect sense!

The majority of boglands in the Killarney area are Atlantic blanket bogs as like a blanket, they stretch over vast areas but are not particularly deep (2-7metres). These Atlantic boglands were formed in part by the regular, high rainfall that we get here on the west coast of Ireland. Mountain blanket bogs are found in our uplands (+200 metres above sea level) and are very similar in formation.

Boglands started to form here around 7,000 years ago and most formed around 4,000 years ago when our climate became wetter. This heavy rain, which we are all too familiar with, leached minerals from the soil over time. Amongst these minerals was iron, that washed down through the soil to form an iron pan. This pan became impermeable, so no water could escape from the surface. Waterlogging resulted and this prevented decomposition. Layers of organic material builds up, year on year, slowly accumulating over hundreds and thousands of years. This is partial decomposed vegetation that is now a carbon store and can give us an insight into the plants that grew here, thousands of years ago. Only a small amount of blanket bog exists in the world, with Ireland being the most important country in Europe for this habitat.

Boglands or peatlands are not only wet and soft but are low in nutrients, which poses a challenge to the plants that make this habitat their home. This environment has led to dramatic adaptations that are demonstrated by bog myrtle, sundew, and butterwort. Sundew and butterwort are two native plants of our boglands that survive by attracting and capturing insects. Consuming these protein rich insects provides these deadly plants with the nitrogen they need to live healthy and happy lives!

Bog myrtle, or sweet gale as it is otherwise known as, has a different strategy, one of cooperation and collaboration. It has nodules in its root system, that accommodate special bacteria that can take nitrogen from the air and ‘fix it’ to become nitrogen useful to the plant. The bacteria get a home and food, while the bog myrtle gets the nitrates that it so badly needs.

The most prolific grass of the uplands is called purple moor grass and it is this that causes the marked change of colour on our mountains and hills, from the green of summer to the brown of winter. Despite it being so successful, it too has its limits and decides to shut up shop for the winter. It dies back in winter, retreats into the ground and casts off its leaves just like our deciduous trees.

No article on boglands would be complete without mentioning sphagnum. This species of moss, like all mosses is a primitive plant, without a root system that relies on heavy rainfall in waterlogged habitats. It is so absorbent of liquid that it was used during World War 1 for absorbing blood. This important plant also has an antibacterial quality that make it a valuable resource for wounds. It is very important in the absorption of rain after heavy rainfall events, by acting like a sponge, thus preventing flooding further downstream. In fact, dried sphagnum can absorb 20 times its weight in liquid.

As spring slowly unfurls, why not take a walk in a bogland near you. If you don’t feel like an uphill trek, there are other options. The well signed Bog Walk that was established by Kilcummin Rural Development is open to the public and more details can be found on their Facebook page. Boglands are truly great places to ‘tóg go bog é’.

For more insights, or to join me on one of my tours, follow me on Instagram @slowtravelkerry or email me diarmaid@slowtravelkerry.ie.

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Valuable role of Kerry cancer support charity recognised nationally

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Cancer support charity Recovery Haven Kerry has been recognised for its vital role in supporting cancer patients and their families at a national ceremony in Dublin.

The renowned cancer support house was one of 16 such centres across Ireland that were presented with plaques to acknowledge their full membership of the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) Alliance – a group made up of voluntary and charity organisations delivering support services directly to cancer patients and their families. An additional 10 associate member charities were also honoured, including Kerry Cancer Support Group.

The Alliance advocates for, and supports, the development of integrated pathways between the cancer centres, acute hospitals, community cancer support services and primary care services. All members’ development is in line with the values of Sláintecare, seeking to provide assurance to healthcare professionals that these organisations are working to an agreed standard as set out in Best Practice Guidance published by the NCCP. 

Speaking after the ceremony, which was held at Dublin’s Farmleigh Estate, Recovery Haven Kerry Chairman, Tim McSwiney, explained that being compliant with the Best Practice Guidance for Community Cancer Support Centres is a true mark of quality. 

“It offers us a yardstick to measure what we are doing against the standards required. As a result, healthcare professionals have more confidence in referring people to our services. We are very proud to be a member of the Alliance,” he said.

Recovery Haven Kerry was represented at the event by centre manager, Gemma Fort and Client Services Co-Ordinator, Siobhan MacSweeney and were presented with their plaque by NCCP Lead for Cancer Survivorship, Louise Mullen, Clinical Lead for Psycho-Oncology Dr Helen Greally, and Minister of State at the Department of Health, Colm Burke. 

The event was also used as an opportunity to announce funding of €3m for the NCCP’s Alliance of Community Cancer Support Centres and Services through Budget 2024. The NCCP is currently in the process of distributing these funds which will directly and positively impact the delivery of services for patients and families nationally.

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‘More Precious Than Gold’ book launch

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At the official book launch of ‘More Precious Than Gold: My enduring connection with John McShain – the man who built Washington’ by Alice O’Neill-McLoughlin at Killarney House, was Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, T.D.

Alice was born the eldest of eleven children into an Irish farming family in Rosbercon, New Ross, County Wexford. In 1978, she was awarded a scholarship from John McShain- the iconic builder, philanthropist, devout Catholic with Derry ancestry, responsible for many famous American landmarks, including the Jefferson Memorial and the Pentagon.

Her book records the lifelong personal correspondence Alice exchanged with ‘The Man Who Built Washington.’ His philanthropy extended to the Irish people in the bequeathing to the State of Killarney House and the surrounding thousands of acres incorporating the Lakes, Ross Castle, and Innisfallen Island. In 2019, Alice had the honour of inducting John McShain into the Irish America Hall of Fame in her home town of New Ross in the presence of his relatives from Philadelphia and Derry. This is a tale of altruism, of gratitude, of faith and of a life lived in the pursuit of excellence.

Alice also donated her treasured correspondence of letters from John McShain for the archive at Killarney House. Also in attendance were Members of the Ignatius A. O’Shaughnessy family, who was founder of The Globe Oil and Refining Company – and part of a consortium of wealthy American businessmen who were going to purchase the lakes of Killarney as a Country Club in the 1950’s.

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