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Appreciating the landscape around us: The Curragh of Kildare

The Curragh is an area in County Kildare containing a flat open plain field, stretching over 2,000 hectares of common land. Although the area is most commonly known by outsiders for its large horse-racing community and its army base camp, the landscape of this region in its spectacularity is certainly something to be appreciated.

To give some context to the area of the Curragh and its plains, this area has been hailed as perhaps the oldest and most extensive tract of semi-natural grassland in Europe. The region of the plains consists of a mainly flat to gently rolling plain of 4,870 acres. The land is composed of a sandy soil formed after an esker deposited a sand load and as a result, it has excellent drainage characteristics.

The area is particularly popular for nature purposes due to its composition and the variety of plant and animal species it holds. This is a popular area for the likes of botanists and ecologists.

Gorse Bushes which take over a vast majority of the plains. Photo Credit: Kim Carroll

The Gorse bush pictured above is a thorny bush seen vastly across the Curragh plains which is ideal for protecting small birds and other mammals from predators. Much of the Curragh’s wildlife, can be found within these bushes, if you dare to enter them…

Tradition has it that the plains were handed over by St. Brigid of Kildare in 480 AD. Besides this, the Curragh and its plains are closely related to many neighbouring historical sites. To the south of the area, Dun Ailainne, a national monument dating back to 300 BC and the seat of the King of Leinster.

Donnelly’s Hollow is an area near the outskirts of the main plain area, which holds significant historical importance which is visually evident in its structure. The area is a visual homage to Dan Donnelly, a carpenter who upheld ease and poise when it came to the issue of physical altercations. Donnelly’s infamous fight against the formidable George Copper saw Donnelly win an 11 round match. Legend has it that the footsteps seen in the Hollows, are those of Donnelly’s, adding to the mystique of this small section of the plains’ landscape.

Donnelly’s Hollow – with Daniel Donnelly’s memorial displayed in the centre of the hollow. Photo Credit: Kim Carroll

Interestingly, this landscape serves an important function of holding its own water source under the plain area which is used for a vast amount of the Curragh area. Also, as many may know from visiting this area, The Curragh is home to a large amount of sheep. As you drive across the roads running through the plain area you are sure to be met by a multitude of sheep on your travels. During this time of year, lambs will be out on the plains with their mothers and this is where they will be reared along with 15 other sheep herds. These herds in question, naturally cut the grass of the entire plain which allows for specific types of insects to thrive which in turn bring in certain species of birds to get the insects.

The Curragh has been the subject of legislation as far back as 1299, when an Act was passed, to prevent swine feeding on the Curragh plains to the detriment of the sward. However, it was to be the Acts of 1868 and 1870 that were to govern the Curragh for over 100 years. In response to agitation, the House of parliament set up a Commission in 1865 to examine the Curragh. The findings of the 1865 Commission led to the enactment of the Curragh of Kildare Act 1861.  This was described as an Act to make better provision for the management and use of the Curragh of Kildare, ascertaining and preserving the use of the Curragh for the purpose of horse racing and the training of racehorses. The care, management and the preservation of the Curragh were vested in the Ranger, a nominal and honorary position with no salary attached.

Chart created by Kim Carroll.

However, The Curragh of Kildare Act 1961 repealed the 1868 Act and parts 4, 5 and 6 of the 1870 Act. A total of 196 acres was added to the Brown Lands and 352 acres to the Blue Lands resulting in the reduction of the Green Lands by 548 acres. While the total area remained at 4,870 acres the Act deemed that the Curragh be divided into:

Chart created by Kim Carroll

The Curragh of Kildare is steeped in history, but its landscape is something which can sometimes be forgotten. The natural beauty of the area creates a sense of place for those far and near and impresses anyone who sees it. The number of reasons that make this area one to be appreciated are infinite and could go on for miles just like the naturally aesthetic plains that you can see in this region. What is sometimes known as “St Brigid’s pasters” the Curragh plains and its beautiful landscape will forever be preserved in the hearts of those who spend time here soaking in the beauty and history.

Photo Credit: Kim Carroll
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