Historic Donegal wood under threat from litter louts

National Tree Week: Locals ‘stumped’ by attitude to preserving trees

Historic Donegal wood under threat from litter louts

Drumboe Woods in Stranorlar, so much to offer

Locals and visitors using the amazing trails in and around Drumboe Woods in Stranorlar have been left wondering if a new practice of stuffing empty cans of alcohol, soft drink containers and coffee cups into a hollow in one of the river walk's most impressive trees is a practice that's here to stay.

It's National Tree Week but that obviously means nothing to those defacing this beautiful scenic walk with their total disregard and laziness.

This is a beautiful and historic place with much to offer.

Even the oldest maps show some patches of woodland around the castle. The area was strategically important because of the “great Ford of Finn,” used by Red Hugh O'Donnell to cross the river on his way to the Battle of Kinsale.

Armies down the years crossed the Finn at this point – the gravel bank has since been dredged away and only the slope leading to it remains – and it is no surprise that the security-conscious Planters built Drumboe Castle nearby.

The ruins of a large Georgian home and earlier fortification on the same site, known as Drumboe Castle, can still be found in the woods. Drumboe Castle is best known as the location of the execution of the Drumboe Martyrs — four republican soldiers — during the Irish Civil War, in 1923. The large house once had three stories, an impressive bay frontage and large number of rooms and fireplaces. By the twentieth century, the house had fallen into disrepair and it was (mostly!) demolished by the state in 1945.

There is a direct link between Drumboe Woods and Thomas Pakenham, world famous author, tree expert, and Earl of Longford as the Woods were planted by a Pakenham relative.

Emily Pakenham, grand-daughter of the second Earl of Longford, did the work, along with her husband Sir Edmund Hayes who owned Drumboe Castle. The planting took place around the castle about 1860. It was a magnificent display. Drumboe Woods still abounds in towering Beeches, Pines, Horse Chestnuts, Larches, Limes and Silver Firs from that era, with a Giant Sequoia, Californian Redwood, dominant at the centre.

But the story of Drumboe Woods did not begin, or end, with Edmund and Emily Hayes.
The first Drumboe Castle was built just after the Ulster Plantation. It changed hands several times and was destroyed once, before being acquired and rebuilt by William Basil, Oliver Cromwell's Attorney General in Ireland. His descendant Mary Basil married an English doctor, Samuel Hayes, in the late 18th Century.

The last Hayes heir died in 1912. During the War of Independence, the British Army was quartered at Drumboe Castle, and was succeeded by the Free State Army in 1922. It was the scene of a notorious Civil War mass execution in 1923; to this day, Republicans pay annual homage at the monument erected to the four men who died there.

Drumboe Woods is also regarded as the best possible introduction to Irish trees, and even to Irish history, available in the country.

The woods are packed with both living and non-living relics of the past. Buildings associated with the castle are still partly intact, and there are stands of Elder, Rhododendron, Laurel, Hazel, and other shrubs associated with human activity.

But enough of the history and back to the current problem.

Cans and other containers stuffed into the hollow

Even the most casual user of the walks know when you find holes and hollows, you need to make sure that you do not damage the outer layers of the tree in the areas of the holes.

This can cause damage to the natural barrier and allow the rot to get into the essential outer layers of the trunk, which then can kill the tree.

The hollow trunk is an ideal location for wildlife. There’s protection from extreme weather and the temperature will be much more constant than outside.

A hollowing trunk can also provide a nesting or roost site for bats and birds. The bottom of the trunk can be a good location for a hibernating hedgehog. Lots of fungi, epiphytes and invertebrates will also colonise a hollowing tree.

When contacted about the problem Coillte blamed the lockdown for this latest crisis.

“Coillte has experienced a significant increase in visitor numbers to our forests during the Covid-19 lockdown. We are aware of an issue regarding littering in Drumboe Woods, and are currently working to remedy the issue with our local forest management team.

“We ask all visitors to our 250 recreational forest parks nationwide to abide by the Leave No Trace Principles, and bring all of their litter home and dispose of it responsibly.

“We are committed to the continual improvement of environmental stewardship standards across all of our forest areas. When visiting our forests please to remain within your 5km travel zone, and follow all HSE social distancing guidelines,” a spokesperson said.

Another problem brought to their attention was the fact that there was no facility to dump rubbish near the various picnic seats in the woods.

During the recent good spells many families availed of the opportunity to enjoy a snack in the woods but not everyone abided by the Leave No Trace Principles - a bin or two in the area would have been handy!

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