A Holy Well in Kilcash Wood?

Kilcash Wood is a Coillte site in the village on the lower slopes of Slievenamon. I guess climbing Slievenamon takes the focus away from here as a walking destination. It is a fairly typical Coillte forest, evidently focused on commercial forestry.

However just inside the entrance I spotted a well, with an enclosure similar to a typical holy well, but nothing I could find in terms of inscriptions or the like around to indicate any specific practice here.

The well water was pretty muddy with a lot of plant material inside:


‘Storms call in question the assumption that the ‘normal’ state of a tree is upright.’ – from ‘Woodlands’, Oliver Rackham


Twenty years ago people thought hurricanes occurred in other continents and killed trees. Learned writers treated ‘storm mortality’ as subtracting old trees from wildwood. Few remembered the ‘Great Storm’ of 26 November 1703 that sank the Fleet and destroyed the Eddystone lighthouse. Fewer remembered 15 January 1362, when (as Piers Plowman puts it), ‘pere-trees and plum-trees were poffed to þe erthe … beches and brode okes were blowe to þe grounde.’


Reality intruded with the events of 16 October 1987 and with storms in 1990. 1999 (on the Continent) and 2002. The chief lessons learnt (or not learnt) were:

  • storm effects were greatest in the interior of woods and plantations, less on the edges; least among freestanding trees. Crowding predisposes to both breakage and uprooting
  • Uprooting was commoner in planted than wild trees
  • Both uprooting and breakage were commonest among big, young, fast-growing trees. Ancient trees were least affected.
  • ‘Unsound’, rotten and hollow trees were no more affected – sometimes less – than ‘healthy’ trees. Narrow forks predisposed to breakage. A tree that broke one limb often broke others, suggesting a genetic predisposition.
  • There was no great difference among species, although certain exotics were … often more uprooted
  • Root systems where exposed, were unexpectedly shallow.
  • Trees nearly always survived breakage, except sometimes at the base
  • Most uprooted trees survived, especially where a swathe or area of trees toppled rather than single trees here and there. Fallen trees, responding to the change in the direction of gravity, sprouted at least from the base, and sometimes all along the trunk. If they died, this was usually due to the shade of neighbouring trees rather than drought. Thus lime (shade-tolerant) nearly always survived, whereas birch usually succumbed except in a swathe.

As in other countries, storms were an unmitigated benefit for wildlife. They broke up areas of monotonous shade and encouraged coppicing plants. They renewed the habitat of ground nesting birds and (in France) of deer. They call in question the assumption that the ‘normal’ state of a tree is upright.

Deer ears

Deer ears

My post on forest bathing on A Medical Education may have seemed a little sceptical in tone. That’s because it was in terms of the claims made for forest bathing as a therapy – as any initial response to a claimed novel therapy should be. The tone, however, hopefully didn’t conceal the interest and indeed enthusiasm I have in this activity.

One online resource Shinrin-Yoku.org which has a wealth of information on the practice. If you sign up at their site they send a starter email, including a link to a PDF of 10 “starter nature connection invitations.”

They are all interesting and, in my personal experience, quite effective tools for approaching the natural environment (and applicable beyond the forest – I used some on a trip to Slievenamon.

It would be wrong to reproduce the 10 moments here – the reader can go to the effort of signing up at Shinrin-yoku.org themselves for that! One in particular has caught the imagination of myself and my children, No. 7 – “Deer Ears.” I have found this a very effective and strikingly bringing attention to the soundscape of the forest, as well as a quick and easy way to initiate discussion with children about animal senses. It is particularly striking near a stream or waterfall:

Cup your hands behind your ears to make them larger. Walk quietly and slowly like a deer, alert for the subtle  sounds of the forest around you. Turn your ‘deer ears’ towards sounds that catch your attention. Did you notice  anything new with your amplified hearing?

Photos are from Glenbawn Woods, Marlfield, Tipperary

No green to be seen: a biodiversity desert on Slievenamon

No green to be seen: a biodiversity desert on Slievenamon

Two weeks ago I walked on Slievenamon, not all the way to the summit but simply up the path near Kilcash and then around the area just where this path meets the main route to the summit. 

There are fine views from this area – not as extensive as further up obviously but nevertheless giving a great view of the Suir valley from Clonmel via Carrick to Waterford. The Suir bridge at Waterford seemed eeriely near.
On one side of this path there is a conifer plantation. A very brief walk in revealed, starkly, a major truth about conifers packed closely. They are essentially deserts in terms of biodiversity.

Only the edges of the plantation and the very tops of the trees inside showed any greenery. The bulk of the tree trunks, and most vividly the forest floor, showed no growth. Some birdsong aside, no sign of other life.

I have read much about the negatives of conifer plantations, but this haunting and – not to be overdramatic – actually rather distressing experience brought the lack of biodiversity home vividly. 

Of course, no doubt with more expertise (and equipment) more life could be found in this habitat than my eye could find. 

But the contrast with a different approach to forest is stark.

To illustrate this, here’s two shots of mixed woodland in Marlfield Woods:

Chopping firewood – from “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” by Robert Penn

Chopping firewood can be done in short bursts – in fact, little and often is the best way to approach a large pile – yet, as the logs mount in a stack around your choppping block, there is an obvious and pleasing sense of progress after just half an hour. If I keep at it for longer, I can fall into a trance chopping wood: it is a form of meditation, albeit with a lethal weapon. Somehow my capacity to concentrate, and strike the log precisely where I want, is heightened in this state; meanwhile the general debris of daily life gently empties from my head, leaving a void. Paradoxically, in this void, I sense I am exercising my judgement and sharpening my cognitive attentiveness, a human virtue that degenerates in many otehr parts of my daily life.

From “The Man Who  Made Things Out Of Trees”, Robert Penn http://www.thisiswhyimbroke.com/the-man-who-made-things-out-of-wood