Friday, 20 November 2015

Drumlins and other interesting things.

Robert Lloyd Praeger

Irish Landscape. R. Lloyd Praeger. Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland, Dublin, 1961. pp 41.

This review was written on March 18th 2011.

This is one of 14 booklets published by the Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland and written by distinguished authors. I bought it in March from Greene’s second-hand list for 9 Euro. These booklets deal with many aspects of Irish art and culture, past and present. Robert Lloyd Praeger was well known as a botanist and naturalist and for his many publications. His autobiography The Way that I Went, bought originally by my father, is a classic about the natural history of Ireland and has a special place in my library. He believed that our landscape is peculiar to Ireland because of our latitude, our position facing the Atlantic and dominated by wind, rain and an equable climate, and the very ancient limestone central plain so suitable for grassland and the rearing of cattle, and surrounded by the beauty of the mountain ranges.

Praeger was born in Belfast and his early research was on the geology of the north-east of Ireland and in excavations there. The north-east is unique in this country in geological terms because its volcanic origin, unlike the rest of Ireland where the rocks are older and have a very different history. Just as the turn of the 19th and 20th  centuries marked the days of the Celtic Twilight, with its writers, poets and dramatists, so at the same time and as part of Ireland’s intellectual revival, the natural history of our country was greatly advanced and led by Robert Lloyd Praeger.

Grianán of Aileach
The booklet is designed as a travel guide with an introduction in the first 20 pages on the general aspect of the Irish landscape, including its countryside, its towns and villages, its roads, fields, characteristic high hedges and hedgerow trees; its bird life and wild life, including  alien species, such as the muskrat, and most remarkable,  the many  remains of  past  generations – Dun Aengus, Clonmacnoise, the round towers, the Grianán of Aileach and countless others still in a remarkable state of preservation. He describes the topography of the country with its central plain of limestone, often concealed by a thick blanket of bog, now sadly disappearing, and the numerous mountain ranges with their huge contribution to the panorama and scenic beauty of our country.  Nor does he forget to describe the natives of the countryside, their way of life, their occupations and their well established superstitions.

The second half of the book he goes from north to south to describe the physical, panoramic and particularly the geological features peculiar to different parts of the country. He starts with Donegal where he describes the unspoilt beauty of the area. What would he think to-day of the dreadful rural sprawl we saw when myself and Louise were last there in Rosapenna. He writes about the white washed cottages in the hollows, the donkeys, geese and dogs, and the abundance of wild flowers, all too evocative of my own days in Kerry in the 1930s. Donegal is the oldest part of Ireland geologically while the basaltic north east is the youngest part of the country.

Drumlin country in Co. Down
He moves from Donegal, perhaps with less detail, to the north-east, the mid-west, the mid-east, the south west and finally the south east parts of the country. He obviously was most familiar with the fascinating geology of the north east where he was born and where he developed his great interest in geology and natural history. The Drumlin country above the Dublin-Galway line is evident in the tortuous roads of  Co. Down and also the numerous small islands in Clew Bay in Mayo. He writes about Lough Neagh, the largest and least known of our many lakes with the pollen, and its unusual waters.  Other outstanding places of interest in Ireland are alluded to elsewhere and the black and white photographs are an additional feature. I would consider that Praeger gives a good insight into the Ireland of the mid-20th century. 

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