by ehistoryadmin on May 9, 2015


If you go down to the woods today …

Liam Kenny

Built heritage and natural heritage are two sides of the same coin. Historians deal with man made structures – castles, churches and mills being examples. Naturalists highlight forests, bogs and meadows. One arena where both interests complement each other is the mosaic of forests throughout the county where nature has been shaped and nurtured by generations of foresters. Kildare is well endowed with sylvan properties which make ideal day trips for spur of the moment holiday expeditions.  Little imaginations can run riot in the forestry properties in the county with many possibilities for picnics and hikes through the woodlands.

Take Killinthomas wood for example on the Kildare/Offaly county boundary near to Rathangan. Killinthomas is a mixed hardwood conifer forest with diverse flora and fauna. There are about ten kilometres of signposted walks in the wood and these give access to a wide variety of ecosystems. It has good parks and, best of all, is free of charge.  

Shade from the summer sun is also available free at the inspiring Moore Abbey wood outside Monasterevin. The entrance to the three forest trails on the 250 acre broadleaf plantation is located in the small car park on Kill Hill on the Athy road from Monasterevin. Each of the trails is mapped and graded on signage from the car park and the routes cover all interests from the leisurely stroller to the forest trail runner. The wood is well furnished with picnic tables and forests. The environs of Monasterevin inspired the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to write some of his most admired verse so it is appropriate that poetry verses dot the trails and pathways.

A woodland where history permeates is to be found in the south of the county where Mullaghreelan wood rises on slopes overlooking the well-farmed countryside between Castledermot and Kilkea. The forest straddles a hill capped by an ancient ringfort. And at the entrance is a stone marking the association of St Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of the Dublin diocese, with the Castledermot area. The main tree species to be found is Norway spruce, Scots pine, Douglas fir, ash and beech. And if you go quietly you just might spot the wildlife which includes the fox, badger, and squirrel species. For determined forest fans a journey to the north-western extremity of Kildare, to Rahin wood on the boundary with County Meath, will prove rewarding. Rahin or Russelswood straddles the upper reaches of the River Boyne which, although appropriated as Meath’s own river, rises in Co Kildare near Carbury. Rahin is an amenity wood with good forest paths and trails for walking. Badgers are present on the site, and otters and kingfishers are likely to be seen along the Boyne. The wildlife is rich here too with badgers present on the site and the riparian setting offering opportunities to view otters and kingfishers. There are some veteran oak trees to be found throughout.

The best known amenity forest in Kildare is of course Donadea wood. It’s popularity comes with a small price as there is a car-parking charge. However it is more than worth the outlay to gain acess to the 250 hectare celebration of forest and history with its ruined Aylmer castle, ice house, streams and lake. There are a variety of marked trails and lots of space for picnics and games. On a slightly more sombre if surprising note is the presence of a limestone memorial representing the Twin Towers in New York destroyed in the 9/11 catastrophe. The twin columns bear the names of firemen and police who perished in the disaster, among them firefighter Sean Tallon whose family roots are in the Donadea area.

Lower profile woodlands such as Dunstown on the road from Naas to Dunlavin although not as developed for visitors nonetheless offer quiet getaways.

The grandeur of trees can also be experienced outside of forestry settings. The tree lined Carton avenue which includes specimens over two centuries old takes off from the eastern end of Maynooth’s main street and is as good an environment as any in which to enjoy the summer foliage.  The grounds of Maynooth College are shaded by old trees including a majestic yew which could be as much as seven centuries old. Still in north Kildare travel east to Leixlip on the boundary with Dublin where St Catherine’s park is fringed by trees. The ruins of an old penal church, and St Catherine’s well, which is reputed to never run dry, are among curiosities within its perimeter. Those who make the journey to west Wicklow are spoiled for choice with hundreds of acres of forest in the Russborough and Hollywood environs.

All visitors to forests are asked to respect the country code … take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints. Leinster Leader 15 July 2014, Looking Back Series no: 392.


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