In Wicklow Town, that is. And this show might not last all summer long, so get down to the Murrough in Wicklow as fast as you can on a sunny day. A beauiful little accident has occurred. An area by the coast that was off-limits due to some public works taking place was supposed to be ploughed and then rolled so that the area would return to grassland. Instead it was ploughed, but due to an oversight it was not rolled. Instead of grass growing “weeds” began to appear, and many local people were very angry about it. But now the weeds have blossomed and this small area of Wicklow has turned into a little piece of heaven on earth.
It is brimful of fantastic meadow flowers as only newly ploughed ground can be. This is their rare window of opportunity and so they don’t hesitate to take advantage of it, with seeds that have lain dormant for years bursting into life, and plants bursting into blossom. Sun yellow flowers of Corn Marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) and bright white Corn Chamomile (Anthemis arvensis) dominate, but their colours are speckled by the bold red of the Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), stunning blue of the Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and the purple and pink flowers of Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis).
One of the most beautiful creatures in the Wicklow countryside is the male Ring-necked Pheasant. It is as beautiful as the most exotic birds of the most far-distant jungles, and more gaudy than even the Resplendent Quetzel. The territorial call of the male pheasant is now a fundamental part of the background noise of Ireland, but it wasn’t always the case. These birds genuinely are exotic, having been introduced into Europe from southern Asia in the 18th century by hunters. And those poor creatures certainly were hunted, to the point where it’s hard to understand how it could be considered a “sport”. For example, most hunters kept copious notebooks recording the amount of pheasants they shot during their careers. Lord Carnarvon, who famously financed Howard Carter’s archaeological excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, is said to have personally killed almost 23 million (23,000,000) pheasants! It boggles the mind. Clearly a man with too much time on his hands.
Anyhow, at this time of year the pheasants comprising the wild (naturalised) populations in Ireland can be found hiding in the long grasses of meadows, woodland and roadside verges and in the rushes around lakes and rivers in Ireland. The magnificent males are now usually accompanied by small hareems of superbly-camouflaged females. They are so well camouflaged that they can simply stand still in a field and disappear.
Wicklow has an incredibly special and impressive coastal area. Ironically one of the best wild areas in Wicklow is the expanse of heath-covered dunes at Brittas Bay (see map). This area is flooded with tourists and holiday-makers on sunny weekends in summer. It is maintained by Wicklow County Council, which allows public access to gorgeous beaches and a fantastically scenic and wildlife-filled area.
I visited in late June to get photos of butterflies, moths and wild flowers. Here are just some of what I saw:
One of the few completely reliable places on the island of Ireland where you are guaranteed a viewing of this large and handsome species of butterfly is Brittas Bay. They are absolutely everywhere, and unlike their name Dark Green Fritillaries are powerfully built orange-coloured butterflies. The “Dark Green” of the name refers to the colouration at the base beneath the hind wings, something you won’t notice unless you get close to one while it’s feeding. The butterfly is large and can be bigger than in this life-sized photograph.
On the other hand…
…the Little Blue butterfly is probably the tiniest in Ireland, and most of Europe. It is rarely seen, not so much because it is rare, but because it is so small most passers-by assume it is a tiny day-flying moth. It looks like quite a large species in this photo, but what you are looking at is actually no larger than your thumbnail.
However, the butterflies are not the only scene-stealers on the dunes. My primary aim was to find orchids, and just now the magnificent Pyramidal Orchids are bursting into bloom all along the dunes of Wicklow.
Scrambling wildly across every bush and tall plant or tree in the sunniest places of the dunes are the unmissable and fragrant candleabra-like flowers of the Honeysuckle. The plant is a beautiful creeper even when out of bloom, but when it comes into flower there are few that can match it.
But the flower that will really capture your heart is the tiny, beautiful and easy to miss Dune Pansy (Viola tricolor) which is often yellow in colour. This subspecies of the Wild Pansy can be identified simply by its presence on sand. The flowers, like the Small Blue butterfly, are little more than thumbnail-sized, and grow very close to the ground. This is one of those little stunners that requires patience and careful observation to find, but grows pretty much anywhere there is open ground and a degree of shelter amid the dunes.