This week I’m in Malta. I found the last couple of months tough going and I knew I had to get away. I’ve been to Malta four times already and wanted to go somewhere different but I found that I am so tired I couldn’t face the unfamiliar on my own this time. But I am happy to be here. I love this place. It’s beautiful but also quite higgledy-piggledy which appeals to me. The building especially is a bit mad, with things tacked onto other things. Throughout all my visits I have tried to figure out how to express this in – or at least link it to – my art practice. This time, sitting on the terrace of my apartment opposite Valletta (yes, it’s pretty fab) drawing the tops of surrounding buildings and the Mish mash of shapes and lines and styles, I feel I am getting closer.
Theres a tiny beautiful park nearby that looks out over the harbour too. The first day there I saw this plant which though I’m sure April will tell me is a cordylline, I have decided to call a fuckyou plant. Well that’s what I think its mood is. Or maybe it’s my mood…
I always holiday alone, I don’t have much choice as it seems I am terminally single. I won’t lie, it can be tough. I like my own company but 24/7 me is hard going. Because of my hearing I tend to avoid striking up conversation too so the only voice I hear is the one(s) in my head. It gets harder now I am getting older too, probably because it takes a bit of energy to get up and out there.
Mind you, if I was with someone else they’d probably drive me bonkers. I was watching a young Maltese couple in a cafe today. She was well made up and simply, classily dressed and was very attentive to him, often touching his face and rubbing his back with hands festooned with red fingernails (while looking around occasionally for witnesses to their coupleness). He, smartly dressed – conservative, casual – was attentive to her too. Neither used their phones. When they stood to leave she stood still while he helped her on with her long cream coloured cardigan. It seemed to be a perfect demonstration of an old fashioned relationship. It kind of made me feel a bit ill. If a fella tried to help me on with my coat I’d probably wind up in a brawl with him…
Alone, together, it’s hard to strike a balance. I would love to have the option of travelling with someone so if you have that, don’t take it for granted. For me the best option is to work when I am travelling, or volunteer. Like the time I went to Croatia to mind vultures. That was good. But it takes time to identify opportunities.
I have been keeping myself busy though. I am doing a run challenge for February for the Irish Heart Foundation – 100km in one month. I am taking it easy initially as my knees aren’t 100% but it’s a good way to get to know the area. After one run I bought a ham and cheese toastie and a tea in a kiosk in the harbour for €2.20!Bargain. I am as usual not losing any weight. I always balloon up when I’m here.
I could wander the streets forever taking photos of the buildings, the doors and windows and carvings, in various states of decay and juxtaposed with all the street rubbish, furniture and building materials. Leaving a cloth laid out on your doorstep seems to be a thing here, I think because the occasional rain makes them slippery…not sure why they don’t use mats.
I visited St. John’s church in Valletta for the first time to see the Caravaggio there. I had not gone before because it’s 15 quid (euro) in but a friend back home had convinced me. I wasn’t too impressed with the painting but the decor blew my damn mind!Especially the “wallpaper”…and I want that pulpit!
I also went to some ruined temples at Tarxien, a contemporary gallery in Valletta, had some wine in the Barrakka Gardens (and up and down in the Barrakka lift which saves you climbing loads of stairs), had a meal out in Senglea harbour. Eating alone is always tricky as sometimes couples try to adopt you which is mortifying. Some couples are always on the look out for a single to offset their relationship. Ugh. There was a couple like that near me that evening, the only other people in the place and I could feel them looking at me so I studiously stayed stuck to my phone. He gave my a grin when leaving. The wife just glowered.
Yesterday I walked around the bottom of the walls of Valletta. The blue of the sea here always wipes me out and any time I look at the harbour I think of granddad who stopped off here in 1919. The little traditional boats he mentioned are still here – there seems to be a trend now for rowing them – but there’s lots of fancy pants yachts here too now. This is a playground for the rich of course and apparently as corrupt as hell. Not much different from home then, and warmer. I’d buy a house here in a flash. Today a run and a flea market are on the agenda…and a toastie, and some pastries and maybe some wine. I am on holidays after all.
As predicted last week,this week turned into another shitshow with a project I had founded and worked on for three years imploding…sigh. So this week was a lot about handling stress levels again. Running, resting, eating, working out, driving like a maniac to Woodies to shop for random, unneeded, kitchen utensils.
On Wednesday I ran with a heart rate monitor for the first time. I was only out the gate when a bin lorry honked me and pulled over, the driver starting to try and talk to me. Jesus wept. I could be at the north bloody pole and someone would appear to wreck my head. It’s enraging how bad times seem to attact such negative energy as if to taunt you into full battle warp spasm. I had to postpone the run until the idiot in question had left the road. It was just a 20 minute run and not very hard, but when I checked my heart rate against a chart it was my maximum heart rate for my age which I think means my heart was on the brink of exploding. Looks like I am going to have to start running like a ‘pussy’. Later in the week I did a slow 20 minutes and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. After 15 years, I think I may have cracked running – I was making too much of an effort. Story of my life.
Later in the afternoon went for a walk with my binoculars to my ‘whalegate’. Finally I started to feel relaxed. Then the dogs came. Mr. Entitled-New-To-The-Area- Arse-Face had walked his dogs up the road from his house and let them out in the fields by the cliffs. Again. Can’t be having all that shit on his doorstep I suppose nor all that pesky wildlife, not in a Special Protected Area. Maximum heart rate. Again.
The farmer passing in his car, pulled over to chat. He had been down in the woods that morning and was delighted to see how many wee birds were down there. Bullfinch and goldfinch particularly. The chaffinches he noted were making a comeback after a sparse few years. We discussed the rabbits and he said there were one or two still about but the foxes are now scarce. The foxes here like seagulls – in a culinary way – but seabirds have been decimated by avian flu in the last year. The dogs running about the cliffs where their den was can’t be helping the fox population either. I asked if we had any badgers about. I have never heard of one here, but he surprised me when he said he thought one had passed through last summer. I like the way he is a sort of concierge for the feathered and furry of the area.
Further down the road I saw three rabbits feeding on some new green shoots and in another field three, no four, more rabbits taking flight. Unusually a Red Shank, usually seen on the shore, was wandering around alone in the mucky tractor ruts. I turned back into the purple dusk and felt better than I had for a while. Maybe it was walking in the near dark, in the in-between time and feeling that here no more catastrophes can reach me. Or knowing there were still some animals about after the dogs had gone.
I know the dog owners get upset about anyone saying anything bad about their darling Fidos – “OH MY GOD!! How could anyone not LOVE MY FIDO!” – so I will say I know cats are an issue for wildlife too and there are cats everywhere around here at the moment. I love cats in a way I can’t love the ever-needy dogs but I don’t want them eating my birdies so I chase them off and yell “HEY Catso!I see you!” out various windows at intervals. Most of the cats are black and white farm cats, all probably interrelated, however I saw an unusual lady in the ditch this week. Check out the photo gallery…
A day or so later I walked to a nearby beach. On the way I met and chatted to an old friend with whom I once campaigned against a massive and very stupid development in these parts. We won but as for so many, it took a lot out of him and he is not interested any more – though the windfarms do concern him. We both are feeling at this stage that (unintelligent) development, small and large, is inevitable and basically the next generation can suck it up. We won’t be here. I went onto the beach and trying my best to ignore all the bad dog owners – offleash, shitting everywhere (and the dogs too) – I stuck my legs in the water up to my knees. So cold, so good. I have been neglecting my sea swimming and I must get back into it. On the way home I ran into another old friend with whom I used to swim and who was involved in that same campaign I mentioned. I told her about all the whales and dolphins I had seen in recent months as we strolled for a bit together and she said,
“We are really lucky to live here aren’t we?”
And in the moment I had to agree.
*I was also called out to get tissue samples from a very long dead dolphin on Friday. Sadly (not really) I was working and had to decline.
I wrote this last Monday and hoped that the day out would reset things but I seem to be in an ongoing rough spot. Stress levels up to eleven and people triggering me left right and centre. They (all the people) seem to be acting the maggot. Or perhaps it’s me. I can’t be sure. And, unwisely checking my email last night (don’t do this thing!), I know I am looking down the barrel of another stupid week. Hope you enjoy the walk at least.
On Monday I took a trip to the west of the county. I am very familiar with this road from the time of my MA five years ago – five years!I truly cannot believe it. The past accumulates faster and faster now, and the weight of it is the difference between feeling young and feeling old. Back then ( but it was only yesterday!) I split my year between Waterford and Cork to complete an intense MA in Art & Process. As I passed the petrol station where I used to stop for tea and donuts, I thought of my class mate, Breda, who would break her much longer journey to rural Wexford here. Breda, elegant, always soft spoken but precise and clear with it, was a warm and kind woman. An old school feminist with strong beliefs in women’s rights and solidarity, she could be quite fiery when it was demanded. She wanted to be a painter and she worked hard at it and I had no doubt she would follow it to the end. She was hugely supportive and with her help I was able to muddle my hard of hearing way through the discussions that year. It is to my shame I did not keep in contact. She had withdrawn, as had we all initially, shellshocked by the dismantling of our work over that year. Her husband had been ill too, and it had taken a toll on her. I left her in peace, thinking that one day again we would meet and laugh and talk as we had in the tiny, light-filled kitchen over looking the river in Cork. But Breda passed away a couple of months ago and as I drove the familiar route, I felt again the regret over neglecting her and how it was nothing to the hurt of knowing a light had gone out long before it should have.
I turned off outside Dungarvan onto the narrow rural road into An Rinn, a gaeltacht area. A ‘gaeltacht’ is where everyone speaks in gaelic, or Irish. Most of the other gaeltachts are in the west of Ireland. All the road signs are in gaelic too but thankfully here they have english translations. I was in a Donegal gaeltacht last year and trying to navigate to my B&B was a matter of chance as there were no english translations at all. Which is nuts, because if I, with 13 years of gaelic bet into me in school had trouble, how do the tourists manage? Down another even narrower road I eventually came to a car park at the start of The Cunnigar Spit, a spit of land sticking out into Dungarvan Bay.
The Cunnigar comes from the Irish word An Coinigéar, meaning rabbit warren. Rabbits must like the seaside. The dunes at Tramore beach – also a spit of land – are sometimes called The Burrows rabbits that once lived there and of course there is Coney Island in New York, said to be named after the Dutch word for rabbit – “konijn”.
I had never been there before and it has been on my to-do list for some time. Nearly twelve years ago an unfortunate sperm whale beached and died here. Euthanasia was impossible for something so large, as was refloating and it was likely very ill. People came from all over the country to get a look at the dying creature and the crowds became a problem. A man and his children nearly drowned trying to get to see it. Some of the people who did get near, carved their names in its flesh. It died after 24 hours, suffocated under its own weight. Its jawbone was stolen after its death. Incidentally, Moby Dick with Gregory Peck was filmed in Youghal, a mere 15 miles away from here.
The day was bright and cold, the kind of cold you feel in your own jawbones and knuckles but the beach was was empty and the air was calm. This is a great place for bird watching and as I walked and the tide receded I saw oystercatchers, plover, sandpipers, red shank, green shank, whimbrel and close to shore, turnstones, turning stones. There was a huddle of comorants at the head of the three mile spit, leaning together like old umbrellas. A little egret did a fly past. I saw a heron too. Apparently there are usually a lot more of them here.
The whole beach is covered in shells, cockles, some mussels and whelks, and those tiny pink ones like baby’s toenails, as well as bits of crushed crab. The most obvious shells are oyster shells which are strewn everywhere. They are harvested here. They are an odd mixture of pretty and ugly, the folds and frills striped purple remind me of the gypsy skirts that were in fashion when I was a teenager, but they are gnarled and twisted and chipped by circumstance – some even imprinted with the grid of the harvesting frames – those still with their bottom halves intact, gape and leer like toothless old crones, others protrude from the wet sand, like the ghostly, boney hands of shipwrecked sailors.
It was a gift of a day in the middle of a dark winter. A ‘pet day’ some call it here, but I can’t bring myself to use the phrase as I associate the word ‘pet’ with creepy, salacious old farmers trying it on with young girls. I sat for a while with a flask of tea and some lunch. From the beach you can see across to the edges of Dungavan town and beyond, the foothills of the Comeraghs where my granddad once served as a Garda Sergeant. My dad was born up in those mountains too. Funny how it’s taken so long for me to feel I belong here even a little. Further off I could see the snow dusted tops of the Knockmealdown Mountains on the border of Tipperary. We call them mountains but all our mountains are very small compared to mountains everywhere else. They are the best we have though so they’ll have to do.
The cloud cover crept in from the west as I walked back to the car. Driving back out of An Rinn, I skirted Dungarvan by the Ring Road which passes over the bay where, visible from this busy road, a surf board is moored. I had heard that a seal would sometimes sit here and sun itself in view of the traffic but during that year of driving up and down (and up and down) to Cork, though I would try and catch a glimpse, I never once saw it. It was just a nice story. But this day, glancing over by pure force of habit, there it was, cool as you like, lounging on the board in the chill bright evening.
I automatically thought of Breda again and laughed. Being Irish means being lumbered with an almighty urge to look for signs everywhere. Would that she were sending me a sign that everything is OK, that she knows she was valued, but that is not how it is. The dead are dead and we are here and soon we won’t be. I drove on, turning onto the coast road, driving the curving narrow road over the bridges over the rivers that bisect the county, trickling and then flowing from the mountains down to the sea. I pulled up to my whale watch point just before sunset to have a look to see if there were any about. There were no whales, alive or dead, but everywhere I looked, there were dolphins. Little groups of them here and there, big ones and small ones, splashing as their dark fins broke the surface, fishing the scarf, that place where the outgoing tide meets the larger sea. Some of them, the young and the bold, could even be seen in the fading light leaping and bounding out of the water for the sheer joy of it all.
Last Sunday, out leaning on a gate and looking for whales I was interrupted by a neighbour new to the area, who, in climbing the gate told me in what direction to look. Sigh. There is a legendary figure in Irish mythology, Cú Chulainn, who is said to have tasted the forbidden Salmon of Knowledge which made him super-intelligent (or so he imagined I imagine). I think this myth is code for the sort of men who think that by possessing a willy they know everything – the salmon is quite phallic – and I refer to these men as being a Willy of Knowledge (WoK). This WoK was following his dogs who were running about the fields and cliffs – a Special Protected Area – as they always do which annoys me no end. I walked away raging at this attitude of entitlement but wondering why I was so angry – they aren’t my fields after all. I realised that entitled people like him enrage me because I have spent my whole life assuming I am not entitled to anything. When I realised the rage was all mine I calmed down. He’s still a Wok but I think I will be taking a few leaves from the book of the over-entitled from now on and asking for my share, so watch out.
This week also I installed an experimental ‘idea’ into the gallery space I work in. It is an ambiguous installation in that you are not sure if it’s an artwork or an accident…or that was the plan until a social media person decided to post about it in a way that declared it an artwork, creating a label with my name – MY name!My f**king name! – slapped on it in block capitals without consulting me. This person, a female, is another of life’s annoying types, one so dim and yet defensive that they run rings around the rest of us. Less the Willy of Knowledge and more The Fanny of Unknowing (FoU).
Minor stuff in the scheme of things, but having, worked on it for nearly two years and seeing this post stuck on Instagram for 24 hours being viewed by my peers, there I was raging yet again. I even woke up in the middle of the night I was so annoyed. One of the only benefits of being an artist is that your work is entirely your own to do with as you like. How I haven’t had a heart attack this week I don’t know – agewise I am edging into that territory. But… the wonderful thing about the installation is that two of the Box Office Staff have come up with a story inspired by it which I hope they will illustrate and we will make into a small POD book. I’ll post photos of the installation another day.
I also had a two day install in another gallery with an artist friend. The show is a collaboration between herself and a woman with such crippling ME she is in a nursing home, so quite an emotional exhibition and as with all installs there was some stress as artists get very close to the work (see above!). The inevitable cock ups with framing/tools/labels/AV equipment etc can cause huge distress. As an artist, installing for another artist is a tricky line to walk too, as I have to make sure to have my ‘installer head’ on while using my artistic experience without giving away or imposing too much of myself. So a lot of boundary setting which I am getting better at. There was an additional challenge too – another installer from an affilated group arrived unexpectedly – a man!Would he be a Willie of Knowledge come to show me how to do it? However I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was one of the lovely ones and we all worked very well together. And because of my tiredness I was being very clear in making decisions. Bossy even. Like I said, watch out, I am starting to stake my territory. Here is the link to the show
I also managed to get an application off for an artist’s residency. I had started it before Christmas and worked on it on and off but completing it took me until 2am one morning. I was pleased to get that done. I probably won’t get it but as applications are such a massive part of the artist’s life, I see them more as ways to review my work and it’s direction. If you get awarded anything its a bonus. Refusals still sting though. I got a refusal for an online gallery last week – ouch – and am waiting on hearing about two more applications that between them must’ve taken a week at least.
As part of the residency application I managed to get a very small photobook published on Amazon. Well sort of. The paperback keeps being sent back with notes to ‘make the document larger’ – Amazon is a pain in the poopy like that, but heres the EBook. I think it may be free on Kindle. You may be very unimpressed. I am also working on a big painting of our theatre’s defunct but funky old projector. It’s such a cool machine I had to. I’ll post more on that another time.
Another setback: During the week I also received a laptop I invested in with the aid of a grant. It took me week’s to pick it out so I was happy to have it finally sorted but when I opened the suspiciously light box it (received by my neighbour) it was empty except for the charger. Sick to the stomach I spent an hour so at the end of a long day on chat to to someone in India who assured me I would get a refund when I returned the ‘laptop’ that I did not have. That’s all still ongoing. I can’t even rage about that right now because …I just can’t.
There was, unbelievably now I think of it, another couple of things going on this week that were taking up time and headspace but I won’t go there now. Today, a day off and finally a chance to Sunday stuff – after I cast some more concrete pieces for my installation – including cleaning out my car and replacing the headlight bulb. It took a good half hour to take out the headlight and when I had it all dismantled I found the bulb I had been sold (by a Wok) was the wrong one. After the week I’ve had, I didn’t even flinch, and put it all back together and went and had my dinner. I normally not this busy so lets hope next week is calmer….
After last week’s post and the great responses from you lot, I felt a renewed enthusiasm for this blog, something I haven’t felt in a while. Thank you, I should’ve asked ages ago. I went to the beach for a run the day after. I assumed everything was back to normal. It was more jammed with people than I have ever seen with a tailback into the mile long car park. As I jogged towards the less populated dunes, thinking warmly of you rant-lovers out there, I considered categorizing my rants.
Minor Rants (Inspired by one off actions that cause an explosion of disbelief in my own self): The person swerving onto a car parking space just as I am running by it…
Major Useless Rants (Ruminating strongly on things that will never change): Crowds of people crowding and seeming to find it enjoyable.
Major Useful Rants (Things that might change if we shout loudly enough): Dog owners allowing dogs off the leash to chase birds in the Special Protected Area by the dunes…arrrgggghhh!
Anyway…with the blog in mind, I have started making thumbnail sketches and taking photos. Photos. I take photos for all sort of reasons. Some are just snaps of something for itself – a stonechat, sun on the landscape – others are visual jokes like a piratey- looking bin – while others are notes or references for ideas or paintings. Heaps are a current favourite, heaps of anything, along with traffic cones, sandbags and road markings. If I die and people go through my phone they will assume I was mental.
But I miss my notebooks of old where I scrawled ideas, did quick sketches with colour notes so I am using that too.
Wednesday’s totter around about the cliffs was a “One Kestrel, One Bunny, Two Container Ship” walk. The kestrel was on a mudheap looking ruffled. Further on down the road, in a field, the bunny. On bunnies, they were never seen much around here until the great bunny explosion of 2022, probably caused by new housing pushing them out this way, but recently they have dwindled sharply once again. The local farmer told me it was because a ‘certain type of people’ (not the phrase used) have been shooting them. He is fond of the bunnies – and the birds (except the buzzard which eats baby bunnies) – so he has put up Lands Preserved and Keep Off signs all over the place. Probably too late. Hence, this was a one bunny walk.
Down towards the sea I spotted two container ships, one behind the other seemingly heading west. But checking their past tracks on the AIS Marine Traffic site, it seems they were travelling to Waterford port but being held off, probably by bad weather.
The rest of the week I was busy – painting, making an installation in gallery, purely for my own amusement (hard work though, and involves traffic cones and concrete. Maybe more on that elsewhere) and doing my proper job. It’s ony January 8th and I’m burned out already…see you next Sunday.
This is my 11th year on The Mermaids Purse and the blog has taken a lot of twists and turns, died and been born again. Most recently, this time last year, I began a series of posts called Coast Diary. The intention was to post short observations, with sketches, to preserve a small record before creeping developments change the coast here in Waterford forever. I thought it would be cute and lovely and quirky. So much for that. A proposed road upgrade for a small woodland near the sea here got me hot under the collar (again) and posts got longer and longer. I don’t think I do cute and lovely so well. The same thing happened previously when I posted on proposed windfarms.
I realised that both efforts – and any previous efforts to change the world here on the blog – had fallen far short when, in October 2022, a local journalist published map of the proposed windfarms with the caption (in CAPS mind you) FIRST TIME SUCH A MAP HAS BEEN PUBLISHED on his Instagram account. Of course the bloody map had been published before and not just repeatedly here on this blog but on social media as well as being available on the source website of a protest group down the coast for at least two years. Journalist my bottom. But it makes a point: why waste time focussing the blog on the outside world when to that world you are invisible?
Sigh. It’s one thing to be fighting a losing battle – and fighting it badly – another to realise how its disproportionally impacting your quality of life. And for what? For the children and grandchildren of those newly rural SUV drivers who, when they aren’t trying to drive you into a ditch, are driving you out of the local property market. So, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not my job to save the planet, even a little bit. I have a decade or two left at most and after that I won’t care. I don’t think I care now.
This is actually a relief (to me and you both probably) but it begs the question – why should I keep this blog going? I do like to read about and hear from my blogging pals here and in the UK, and NZ (CJ, TT, April) even if I have been erratic about contact over the last while. I also think blogging is a good way to periodically review my week, my life. It’s good for writing too, if not honing it, seeing where you are going wrong.
So I am thinking of trying again to fill the (proposed) vacuum. But I am not sure how. Any ideas? A Coast Diary reboot? Something else? What do you want to see, if anything. Let me know, if you can be arsed, in the comments below.
One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford firstname.lastname@example.org before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022.Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.
Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.
I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…
The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.
Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…
“For Fucks Sake!“
I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.
Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.
On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.
This post is a resource for those wanting to send a submission to Waterford Council in regards to Newtown Woods. It’s far from comprehensive but feel free to use this information and copy and paste what you need Submissions in writing or by email, to reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford email@example.com before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022.
Back in 2007 a lot of locals here campaigned against a big development on our coast which is a Special Protected Area (SPA). At the centre of the campaign was the chough, a bird of the crow family that lives on cliffs. The campaign group was ignored by the County Council, who supported the development, with one councillor saying on local radio that ‘Choughs could go and live in trees’ for all she cared. To which I say ‘may a rat take up residence in your underpants’. 15 years on, in response to the current proposals at Newtown Woods, the Council Heritage Officer devotes a paragraph of her memo (See References and Links below) to choughs who, as noted, don’t live in trees. Perhaps in 15 years they will survey the trees to measure impacts on dolphins…
It’s true that the rest of that memo deals with use of modified lighting with regards to wildlife, particularly birds and bats, and the conservation of trees, but time and again it only commits to protect and preserve ‘where possible.’ And in their own proposal vis a vis lighting they add the rider that ‘PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED’ (Appendix 1). All of which leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre.
It should also be noted that in the memo, the developers have been asked to keep construction within the boundary fence and not store flammable chemicals outside it but as is obvious to all they have continuously stored construction materials outside the fence and under the trees, which is skating a bit close to the line if you ask me. That’s how much such agreements and conditions are valued.
Anyway the the main points of my submission are below.
Street lighting limited to the entrance of the housing development and not continue down the roads by and through the woods.
The containing wall is vital and needs to stay.
Scrap the one way system.
Of specific concern in regarding the council’s proposals:
The proposed street lighting (even modified lighting) – disturbance to bird and bat life.
The possible planned removal of the containing wall – disturbance to flora and fauna, removal of food source, removal of insect habitat. Added light pollutions from passing cars.
The increase in traffic through the wood by the one-way system and by additional proposed apartments.
That these developments and proposals will pave the way for further developments including further lighting and impacts.
Lack of a proper survey of the woods itself, it’s flora and fauna and how they integrate.
I will also request a survey to benchmark the woods. In the best case, the woods will be ring fenced and managed for future generations. In the worst…well I have to try. As far as I am concerned, we cannot afford to lose the Newtown Woods habitat or have it changed even one iota. Below, some more information and links, including the Heritage Officers memo.
Next week I’ll be back to giving out about other stuff…
Appendix 1: Irish Woodlands and Newtown Woods in brief.
Ireland is one of the least wooded countries in Europe with only 9% wooded area and most of that being made up of commercial forests. Older woodlands are incredibly important and in fact are in an emergency situation. Newtown Woods contains Native trees such as oak and ash – which is under threat from ash dieback, a disease which came to Ireland in 2012 and is expected to wipe out most of our ash trees. Also present are sycamore and beech, considered non-natives but in fact long term resident on the island of Ireland.
Appendix 2: Heritage
This area is also part of our heritage, the woods and wall – which is also a habitat in itself as well as a provider of food for birds and a protection from traffic noise and light – being part of Lord Doneraile’s estates. Lord Doneraile was a title owned by the St. Ledger family who had estates in Cork and Waterford from the mid 1600s. Newtown House was built around 1750. By the early 1800s, Newtown was being managed by the Power family, still the dominant name in the area. Above is a map from 1840 which includes Newtown Woods. It was supposedly planted for commercial use – most likely for building carts, tools and out-buildings on the estate, and there is likely evidence of woods management from that period. It has not changed much since then however it has decreased to the northern edge where the developments are creeping in. But with the extra traffic this habitat will surely not last as long again.
Appendix 3: Benefits for Humans
Connection to nature is important for humans and this is acknowledged by initiatives like An Coillte’s Woodlands for Health program. Without going into it too deeply, Here is a recent evaluation of the program. Another evaluation (2014) noted that participants mood and sleep was noticeable improved by the program (Nairn, R,. 2020, p.58).
Appendix 4: Impacts
However, Human interaction with the woods demands knowledge and for that we need it surveys. For instance the recent building of dirt bike ramps in Newtown Woods and using branches cut from trees is a serious threat to this fragile environment and the council and others need to work harder to make sure this environment is properly appreciated.
Traffic has already increased hugely on the road through the woods. Visitors to Newtown Cove have swelled through lockdown and will increase more with the added developments. Every single visitor to Newtown Cove now leaves by car through the woods. This must have impact despite any surveys which were conducted, apparently without local consultation. As a local I would calculate the one way system could have increased traffic by the power of ten.
Knock on Effectson Wildlife
The lack of surveys of the specific area of Newtown in relation to developments means that we cannot tell what knock on effects there are because of those developments. In the past there was a badger sett at the north east corner of the woods. This has now been abandoned most likely due to the building of the Newtown Glen estate. It is also likely that the recent influx of rabbits to Westtown is a result of the new Newtown Cliff development. What impact will they have on the Westtown habitat – for hares for instance? And the increased traffic – what species will we lose? The owls, the nesting sparrowhawk? Some birds will stay but lighting has in other areas caused disruption to sleep and therefore breeding patterns. There’s some more species mentioned in previous posts.
Waterford City and County Council Memo including conservation recommendations for Newtown Woods
Anne Doyle, Executive Planner
Bernadette Guest, Heritage Officer
21/836Residential development of 27 houses comprising 24 no. detached two storey houses and 3 no. single storey terraced houses and ancillary site works. This development is an extension of the already complete Newtown Glen housing development in Tramore.
16th October 2021
It is noted the proposed development is located adjacent to the northern section of Newtown Woods.
Under Section 6.2.3 New Residential Development in the Tramore Local Area Plan 2014-2020 ; The Council will aim to protect and preserve mature and semi-mature trees where possible and will require new developments to be so designed as to integrate existing trees into any new schemes. Sufficient distance should be maintained between existing mature trees and new buildings
Policy GI 1 states; The Council will preserve and enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of Tramore by preserving as far as possible trees, woodlands and hedgerows and will consider Tree Preservation Orders in order to protect trees of significance in the Plan area.
To ensure compliance with these policies the following conditions are recommended;
The development shall establish a 5m buffer zone from the boundary of the existing treeline of Newtown Woods.
All trees within the development site shall be protected by way of a 2m high wire mesh fence and be continuous outside the canopy and root protection area. The fenced and root protection area shall be a construction exclusion zone with no storage of fuels or chemicals in this area. The RPA fence shall remain in place for the duration of construction works.
Public lighting in the area adjacent to the woodland shall be designed to avoid unnecessary light spill in the interests of wildlife such as birdlife and foraging bats. Lighting scheme shall comprise low-pressure sodium lights on low height columns and shall minimise light spills by use of shields or louvers. Lights shall be restricted in this area to ensure dark periods for foraging and commuting birds and bats.
The site is approximately 120m north of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA designated for Chough, Herring Gull, Peregrine and Cormorant. The proposed development will not incur loss of habitat from within the ecological footprint of the SPA and does not have direct or hydrological connectivity to the SPA being separated by Newtown Woods. The proposed development will not incur loss of grassland habitat within or close to the SPA essential for feeding Chough or lead to reduction in water quality. It is considered the proposed development does not have potential for significant effects on the conservation objectives of the qualifying interests of the Mid-Waterford Coast SPA and can be screened out for further assessment.
You may have seen in the news this week that Fair Seas, a new coalition made up of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), the Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland, Coastwatch, Coomhola Salmon Trust, Friends of the Irish Environment, SWAN and the Irish Environmental Network, have published a report calling for the protection of 30% of our coastal waters. Currently only 2% is protected. Theres a link to the report below but here is an image of the areas they are suggesting protecting.
As you can see, this is some good news for those who want to keep proposed windfarms 20km or more off the Waterford and East Cork coast where turbines have been proposed between 5-8km off shore. Though of course there are ways to work around protected areas. I have written elsewhere about the windfarms and intend to do some more research, primarily around how environmental impact is measured. The issues around Newtown Woods, which I have written about in the last weeks, have demonstrated how surveys are skewed. In the Newtown Woods case, the only areas surveyed were Natura 2000 sites, all between 3-30 miles away from the woods. In the windfarm’s case, most species may not be included in a survey because they are ‘migratory’ but show me a whale or dolphin or even a fish that’s not!
I do know change is inevitable and some development is desirable (imagine if it could be intelligent development!) but I find the disingenuouness – to put it mildly – that accompanies these changes really annoying. A part of me sometimes thinks I would be much happier if developers and councils and others (like the people near me who have just chopped down a load of trees in high nesting season) would just say “Look, we are going to kill all sorts of things and make everywhere look shit, get over it”. At least we would know where we stand.
But its not all bad. Waterford Council’s recent alignment with an All Ireland Pollinator Plan which allows certain roundabouts and verges to grow wild, is not only heartening but quite beautiful to behold. I have heard people give out about the council a lot and imply that destruction is only to be expected from them – I have succumbed to these thoughts too – but I don’t think that’s necessarily true and that mindset is not helpful. And as individuals I have always found them friendly and ready to help. For instance many council workers have helped me locate dolphin carcasses which I record for the IWDG.
Regarding Newtown Woods, I am still gathering information with the help of a number of people. I have been walking most days past the woods, where, at dusk I have tried playing long-eared owl calls in the hope of getting some replies. No joy yet. Might be too early for chicks. Anyway, next week I will publish as much information as I have for people to copy and paste into submissions they might like to make to the council regarding proposed road and lighting upgrades. For submissions contact Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill in the subject line.
I also picked up a book from the library this week. Wild Woods by Richard Nairn is a celebration of Irish woodlands and also the story of how he bought and learned to manage his own piece of woodland in Wicklow. I haven’t started it yet but I am looking forward to reading it.
I have also been walking along the coast, to Kilfarrasy and Garrarus, but I have not been swimming. Partly because of an ongoing ear problem but it’s also because of the change that has occurred since the lockdown – the increase in traffic to the coast, the influx of drivers, walkers and swimmers hogging the roads and the bathing spots with little care for residents. Along with the Newtown Woods plans and the uptick in (ugly) house building it has made me quite despondent. I know I am lucky though because I am very far from being able to own property in this lovely area – or anywhere. But my place here is becoming incrementally more precarious and watching the change is like being trapped in a long drawn out goodbye. But, I’ll get over it. Worse things happen at sea…
Apologies to those further afield but today’s post will again be about Newtown Woods on Tramore Bay and the possible impacts of recent and proposed developments. Perhaps it will be of use generally as a small case study.
This week I have noticed there is a further massive development planned nearby too, slightly further from the woods. 58 dwellings in apartment blocks of all things (marked in blue on the map below). However I am very late to that particular party (I admit it, I have been turning a blind eye in recent years. Environmental campaigns can be draining) and residents have organised to fight this. Last I heard its been given the go ahead but I am assuming there will be appeals, so while its worrying – the traffic alone would be impossible – I am ignoring it here. Any information or updates on that can be shared in the comments below.
I have three areas of concern around the Council proposals for the roads around Newtown woods.
Lighting: I am still unclear about what the council means to do re road lighting around Newtown Woods. Their plans only include a notice saying PUBLIC LIGHTING TO BE RENEWED AND EXTENDED WHERE REQUIRED [my bold italics] which gives them a lot of room to manoeuvre and could lead to lighting in the woods themselves. There are already lighting columns installed in the development – as marked on the first map above.
Boundary Wall: Regarding the old wall, I believe it is important for plant and insect life which in turn feeds the birds. And I suspect it also protects the lower part of the woodland from the elements and from light and car pollution. I had heard rumours months ago that it would be knocked down and as it is nowhere on the plans – even on the ‘before’ drawings – I am assuming now they are definitely going to knock it. I don’t think that should be allowed.
Traffic: The one way system introduced in late 2021 means that all the traffic leaving Newtown Cove – which is not inconsiderable – is channelled up through the woods. This is likely in preparation for the development of the apartment blocks. I think all of this should be scrapped.
I also have a concern about the so called environmental surveys and how they were conducted not only for the Council’s proposals but for the developments at Newtown Glen and Carrigeenlea. It seems likely that none of them took into account the local environment because it is not designated as a protected area. But Newtown Woods is an important habitat, deciduous woods are becoming rare and there will be species of plants and birds within the woods that are protected. However it seems those commissioning surveys only have to include areas on the Natura 2000 list which is on the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) site here. The sites for Waterford are below. They are either SPA (Special Protected Areas), SAC (Special Areas of Conservation). An additional categorization is an NHA (National Heritage Area).
Ardmore Head SAC (002123) Blackwater Callows SPA (004094) Blackwater Estuary SPA (004028) Blackwater River (Cork/Waterford) SAC (002170) Comeragh Mountains SAC (001952) Dungarvan Harbour SPA (004032) Glendine Wood SAC (002324) Helvick Head SAC (000665) Helvick Head to Ballyquin SPA (004192) Lower River Suir SAC (002137) Site Name: Mid-Waterford Coast SPA (004193) Nire Valley Woodlands SAC (000668) River Barrow and River Nore SAC (002162) Tramore Back Strand SPA (004027) Tramore Dunes and Backstrand SAC (000671)
It is notable that the only woodlands protected are in the west of the county.
Of course SPAs and SACs can quickly become irrelevant in the face of big money. In the case of proposed developments at Garrarus c. 2007 for instance, the council, surreptitiously passed an addition to a local law that allowed for construction along the Waterford Coast, an SPA that includes a UNESCO heritage site. That development didn’t happen most likely because of the crash of 2008 though there was a huge local campaign too.
So – I contacted the NPWS and explained the situation and asked how to begin the process of protecting the woods and I am waiting for further contact and have expressed interest in meeting with a local ranger. In the mean time I have been looking at what Newtown Woods actually is and why it is of value so that in my submssion can request that a proper environmental impact assessment to be done specific to Newtown Woods in relation to proposed and future developments. Questions I have asked myself are…
What area does Newtown Woods cover? (with a view to including a clearance area for light etc.)
What are the woods is made up of?
Who lives there?
I reached out to some friends and interested parties, including Tramore Eco Group, to help with a preliminary survey of the woods and below are some results…
1. What area does Newtown Woods cover?
Using an online acreage calculator and guesstimating the woods at 400m by 100m (its wider than that at one point and narrower than that at others – I have come up with 9.88 or roughly 10 acres. Feel free to correct me.
2. What is the wood made up of?
Tramore Eco Group observations: ‘Good variety of broadleaved trees: Oak, ash, sycamore, alder, beech, horse chestnut. Many elms regenerating and some quite established which is good given the devastating effects of Dutch Elm disease. Not so good that some ash may be exhibiting signs of die back. Dense cover of hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble and various species of ferns (worthy of a Victorian garden, but happily, wild!).’
3. Who Lives There?
There are foxes and rabbits in the area. Rabbits have increased suddenly in Westtown and this may be because developments have pushed them west.
A bird watcher friends tells me there is a sparrowhawk (protected) currently nesting there. Another bird watcher friend tells me there are tree creepers there too as well as wrens, robins, tits and blackbirds and possibly barn owls. There were barn owls in Westtown previously but they left after some bog was cleared about a decade ago. Tramore Eco group observations: ‘Thrushes, chiffs-chaffs, chaffinches, blackbirds, wood pigeons & possibly a blackcap singing [during a 30 minute walk].’ Along with plentiful rooks and pigeons, I have seen a pair of coal tits (the only place I have ever seen them), a pair of bullfinch (once), a grey wagtail, gold crest and gold finches. I have heard young, long-eared owls here too – they sound like a squeaky gate.
According to local environmentalist who has completed bat surveys here, there are two types of bat here, the Pipistrelle and Leisler’s Bat.
Tramore Eco Group observations – ‘Saw 3 white butterflies, 1 seven-spot ladybird, 1 Buff-tailed Bumblebee, 2 Common Carder bees [during a 30 minute walk].’
Tramore Eco Group onservations – ‘Flowering wild plants also present: wood aven, common vetch, bush vetch, Germander speedwell, thyme-leaved speedwell, wood sage, figwort, common mouse ear, ground ivy, (native) bluebell, 3-cornered leek, bulbous buttercup, field buttercup, herb Robert, cut-leaved cranesbill, trefoil (hop?), yarrow, wild carrot, cleavers, woodrush, sorrel (sheep’s ?), pennywort, bindweed, woodbine & many grasses. The above is merely a taster of the more obvious flora and fauna – there are many more species in this precious place!’
Containing Wall Tramore Eco Group observations –‘The old wall is a treasure trove of mosses, ferns and many other plants and neither it nor the woodland area on both sides of the road should be interfered with, in my opinion. ‘
This is preliminary stuff but already I have a better picture of what we have with Newtown Woods even though I have walked through it for years. I will update on any other information as it comes and on any submission I make and how to do it for yourselves. June 28th is the cut off point. Hopefully I will get some other coast stuff covered in the next posts. Have a good weekend.