Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nature Walk revives memories

Nature Walk at Camphill

The Nature Walk conducted by Dr Mary Tubridy on Friday morning turned out to be much more, writes Brian Byrne. We not only got an ecology and geological perspective on the riverside known in my boyhood as Nugent's Field, but also a trip down more recent memories of people and changes in technology.

Part of the Wild Weekend 2 set of walk & talk events related to the Biodiversity Study being carried out by Dr Tubridy for Kilcullen Community Action, the well-attended ramble also was the first 'official' tour of the new Bridge Camphill Trail, which incorporates the farm and garden activities of the community.

For those who were on the Camphill 'campus' for the first time it must have been a real eye-opener to see the extent of the activities undertaken by the community who have been here for some two decades.


Chickens, turkeys, sheep, a variety of vegetables, berries, potatoes and other produce come off the land in an extraordinary profusion given the relatively small size of the area.

And now the recently-built trail with its boardwalk over the old weir opens up a river and landscape that most residents of Kilcullen know very little about.

(Your editor does, though, as I had the good fortune to be a small and bigger boy growing up in the town, where the river banks and Blacker's Wood -- now part of Castlemartin Stud -- were our playgrounds. We all learned to swim in the river too, something not seen for decades.)

Nature Walk at Camphill

Mary Tubridy pointed out the tree-filled pond opened up to view thanks to the boardwalk, a now scarce representation of how much of the pre-history river banks would have been. In itself it is a teeming biosystem, home to a wide range of water life, insects, birds and small animals.

The ancient wild river coming down from the mountains would have been deflected by the high points that are the Valley side and the corresponding heights opposite Nugent's Field, which provides the 'S' curves that are a feature of the river today.

Nature Walk at Camphill

Nature Walk at CamphillBut there were also manmade influences from relatively recent times. Jim Collins spoke of the weir which provided his father with power via a sluice and wheel to run a milling operation that also gave his dad the lifelong nickname of 'The Miller'.

He pointed out how his father kept the very rough-built weir in place against the frequent flood waters, reinforcing it with the chassis' of discarded vans, scrap granite stones, and anything else that would help keep the water diverted through his wheel. Many of those worn-out vehicles were vans used by the postman Jim Barber, who lived in the 1930s where the Ruby Shoes shop is now, and whose transport was always so clapped out that whatever he was driving was usually described as 'The Wreck of the Hesperus'.

Jim also revisited the story of your editor's father, Jim Byrne Jr, who operated a cinema during WW2 in what is now the Town Hall Theatre among his business interests. With electricity all but unavailable for such uses, my dad organised a generator to be hooked up to Mr Collins's wheel to provide power to run the projector in the evenings. "People would come from as far away as Allenwood because there was nowhere else to see a film," Jim recalled. "And as an added benefit, because the power was coming from my father's mill, I got free entry to the cinema, so I became an authority on Gene Autry, Tom Mix, and all the other cowboy heroes of the time."

Other memories revived too. On the bluff across from Camphill there used to be trails down to the riverside, and a 'Table Rock' halfway down under which we kids could shelter if it rained. That bluff is now totally overgrown and inaccessible, the Table Rock invisible. Nature eventually takes back its own. As it did when the weir was breached in 1947, requiring Jim Collins's father to find a more modern source of power. That's a whole other story.

Nature Walk at Camphill

And nature remains fascinating, as those who followed the whole route with Mary Tubridy found. When she finishes her study for KCA the resulting information will not only be of important scientific and ecological use, but will also be the foundation for permanent guides on the nature trail now well on its way to being developed.

The full slideshow from the Nature Walk.