Now that it’s Autumn Ireland is suffering some very damp weather, and Wicklow is experiencing a ‘classic’ Autumn, cold wet and muddy, but quite beautiful too. This is largely the result of two very warm and balmy summers in a row – not in Ireland but in Africa, in the Sahara Desert. After hot summers in North Africa huge amounts of dust are blown westwards out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the dust is carried northwards directly into the Bay of Biscay to the south of Ireland, but most goes to Brazil in South America and the Caribbean. Some of the dust lands on the Brazilian coast where it has been directly identified as damaging the rare coastal cloud forests. Much of it lands in the Caribbean where it sinks to the sea floor and smothers coral reefs, in some cases directly killing them.
The lighter dust that doesn’t land on the sea begins to do something quite different. At the heart of every single drop of rain lies a tiny particle of dust. Water molecules evaporating from the ocean are attracted to this dust and slowly begin to collect around it. The dust is carried from the Caribbean on the air currents that flow above the Gulf Stream, the same current that keeps our temperatures mild despite the fact that the island of Ireland lies very far north. When they arrive over Ireland’s southern coast the combination of cold land air and the fact the droplets are too heavy to stay airborne causes them to fall in torrents, sometimes causing terrible flood damage to coastal communities in the south west.
The rains of autumn are going to get worse over the years, for the simple reason that the Sahara is expanding at ‘an alarming rate’. How and why this desert originally began to form throusands of years ago is still something of a mystery, but the cause of its rapid expansion in the 20th and 21st centuries is not a mystery – UN studies have found that it is largely due to cattle-farming in sub-Saharan Africa.
Areas around water sources begin to suffer extreme climate change and erosion because grazing animals congregate within only a few hours walking-distance of them. These 10-12 km desertification circles around drinking wells were identified and termed “Piospheres” by an Australian ecologist, Dr. Robert Lange, as early as 1969. The width of these desertification circles exactly matches the distance that a bovine animal can travel in one night . The big problem now is that the population of sub-Saharan Africa has grown and led to a demand for more and more cattle, which has caused the Sahara to grow faster and faster.
So the secret to solving this problem can only be a change in farming practices, which will require a cultural change and the developments of new methods of irrigation to restore the damaged environments of sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the most unique heritage-related experiences you can get in Wicklow is a trip to Wicklow Gaol (or ‘jail’ as it has come to be speled today), a fortress-like building used to hold Irish prisoners from early Penal times (when Roman Catholics were legally second-class citizens in the British Empire) until Irish Independence in 1922.
What makes this combination of museum and architectural artefact most interesting is that it tells the story of the Irish Diaspora prior to, and in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion in a superb and memorable way. It is not the usual museum experience by a long way. For example, in the 18th century and in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion Irish people (Protestant and Roman Catholic) were detained here en masse before many of them were sold into slavery in the Caribbean, and sometimes also the North American colonies too.
Experts on the subject both act and educate before letting you free in the prison to experience the bleakness. The story of Irish people being punished by being sent to Australia also tells the story of the European settling of the continent and the real freedom that would eventually lead to the global Irish movement to obtain independence for the island of Ireland, an adventure that was actually started by the mostly Protestant leaders of the United Irishmen who were inspired by American Independence and the French Revolution. But the ordinary people who got caught up in all this history are give special treatment. Use of Holograms and innovative methods or education make these tales very effective.
It has to be said that the events in Wicklow before during and after the 1798 Rising have often been ignored by historians, but Wicklow Gaol goes to great lengths to put that right, and to remind us that it isn’t all that long ago. But there is a spooky bonus too, with Wicklow Gaol being considered one of the two most haunted buildings in Ireland, and the subject of many paranormal investigations and TV shows. In the very last cell you enter on the tour you will definitely see some very pooky things thanks to brilliant use of special effects, and a display of equipment used to identify spectral activity. There are also special night time paranormal tours and I’m told the occasional séance also takes place. A truly remarkable museum and a must-see.
There is car-parking available and tickets are a mere €7.90 for adults and €5.00 for children (be warned, they will see ghosts) and the Gaol is open everyday between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm, but do ask about the night-time paranormal tours (they cost a little more, but are an incredible experience. They’re a great place to take a girl on a date as hand-holding is practically a requirement…).