Haiti Fund and Ballycroy Park

Walk down a country lane

Mayo heroine’s inspirational work in Haiti

By Terry Reilly

We had the great pleasure last week of attending a very pleasant and fulfilling reception in Castlebar when one of the county’s – and the country’s –  really great heroines, Gena Heraty, received a magnificent cheque for over 230,000 euros for her Haiti fund.

The occasion was the opening of Mid West Radio’s new studio in Mayo’s county town, and Gena Heraty, from Westport, was home from Haiti to thank the people of the region for their incredible generosity. The plight of the people of Haiti had been highlighted by Mid West Radio (www.midwestradio.ie), and a fund was immediately established by the radio staff and listeners. Gena has been working with the less privileged in Haiti for many years and was there when the earthquake ravaged the county and its people.

“What happened on that awful day will live with me all of my life.  Haiti was in a dilapidated state even before the earthquake hit so you can image what it is like now.  People’s lives were turned completely upside down and even though its four months since it happened so many people are still afraid to go back to their homes.  I’ve been working with the special needs children for many years now and Haiti is my home.  I love what I do and I am privileged to be able to get up every morning of my life and help people in some small way.  People say I’m a martyr because of the work I do – well if being a martyr means enjoying what you do then maybe I am a martyr but believe me I don’t wish to be one and I don’t think I am,” she told the large attendance who gave her a great ovation.

Referring specifically to the monies raised, Gena said that the first priority would be to purchase a school bus to transport up to 40 special needs children to school each day and other project earmarked include building houses, providing micro-loans for families and on-going medical procedures for those directly affected by the earthquake.

Speaking on behalf of Midwest Radio, general manager Tommy Marren and presenter Gerry Glennon paid tribute to Gena and assured her of the station’s –and its listeners- ongoing support. Incredibly, on an icy and snowy weekend in Knock in January, the station organised a car boot sale which raised almost 170,000 euro, people leaving their homes in the foulest of weather to show their support for the victims of the Haiti disaster.


One sunny Sunday recently we took ourselves off for Ireland’s newest national park, Ballycroy, in north west Mayo. It is to be found beside Ballycroy village on the N59 road between Mulranny and Bangor. It was officially opened this year and is a real treasure, looking out over Achill Island and the Atlantic on one side, and over the Nephin mountain range in the other direction.

Ballycroy, our sixth National Park, is perched on the Western seaboard in northwest Mayo. It comprises of 11,000 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog and mountainous terrain, covering a vast uninhabited and unspoilt wilderness dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range. Between Nephin Beg and Slieve Carr, at 721 metres above sea level, the highest mountain in the range, lie the Scardaun Loughs. To the west of the mountains is the Owenduff bog. This is one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Ireland and Western Europe and is an important scientific and scenic feature of the National Park.

While there we happened across a delighted American visitor from California who was touring Ireland with some friends; they had been directed there, and were enjoying every minute of their visit to this wild and rugged landscape in the most gorgeous weather conditions. That night they were off to enjoy some traditional music in a pub in nearby Belmullet, and the next morning planned to do some walking on the testing Bangor Trail, within the national park.

The Bangor Trail is for serious walkers and is not to be attempted on one’s own, but is well worth stepping out on in a group. It has a long history and is thought to date back to 16th century. Landlords were responsible for the maintenance of the sections of the trail that passed through their land. The trail was used as the main route for people and livestock before the introduction of modern roads between the Bangor Erris region and Newport. Emigrants travelling from Bangor Erris to Westport port used this trail before the road network was developed.

There is evidence of previous human habitation along the Bangor Trail, near the Owenduff and Tarsaghaun rivers, where the remains of stone buildings and traditional cultivation ridges can be seen. People have fished and hunted game in the area for a long time. Fishing and hunting lodges, still present outside of the Park, were bases for these activities. Native red deer, which formerly roamed the Nephin Beg Mountains, were one of the species hunted.

Ballycroy National Park is a haven for wildlife: mammal species found in the Park include the fox, badger, mountain hare, otter, and feral American mink, pygmy shrew and bat species including the most common bat found in Ireland, the pipestrelle. Non-native red deer, which were introduced in the locality of Bellacorick in recent years, can now be found on the margins of the Park. Pine marten inhabit the conifer plantations on the edge of the Park. The Owenduff and Tarsaghaun rivers are famous for salmon and sea trout while the rivers and lakes contain brown trout. Otters feed in the rivers on eels and salmon and can still be seen on the blanket bog among bog pools. The bog pools are an important habitat for much of the invertebrate life in the Park.

A variety of interesting plants are found within the bog habitat. These include spaghnum mosses, black bog rush (a notable component of Atlantic blanket bog), purple-moor grass, bog cotton, deer-grass, cross-leaved heath, bell heather, white-beaked sedge, bog asphodel, bog myrtle, orchids, lousewort, milkwort, lichens, sundew and butterwort. Sundew and butterwort are insectivorous plants that have adapted to the nutrient poor bog environment by trapping and digesting insects caught on their leaves.

The Park also protects a variety of other important habitats and species. These include alpine heath, upland grassland, heath and lakes and river catchments. Greenland White-fronted geese, Golden Plover, Red Grouse and Otters are just some of the important fauna found within the Park.

It is truly an inspiring landscape: John Millington Synge drew on a rich tapestry framed in the stunning natural rawness of the area for his celebrated Playboy of the Western World, and many celebrated writers and painters have found similar inspiration in the quiet and beauty that abound here.

The Visitor Centre, in Ballycroy village, opens daily from 10 am to 5.30pm until the end of October. If you ever get this way, leave a day aside for a visit, and enjoy the wonders of the Park and of Erris in general. You won’t be disappointed, nor will you be run over by multitudes of visitors, for the region still remains one of Ireland’s undiscovered jewels. Take my word for it.

Until next time, slan.

Email: terryreilly20@gmail.com

Web: www.terry-reilly.com

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