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20 Jan 2022

Birr bog is "shining example" of community for nature

Birr bog is "shining example" of community for nature

John Feehan, Senator Pippa Hackett and John Kennedy, Principal of St Brendan's CS, looking at the new book "When the Nightjar Returns"

Killaun Bog, near Birr, has been highlighted in Seanad Eireann as "a shining example of a community working together for nature." Minister Pippa Hackett said she recently attended the event Thursday November 18 hosted by St. Brendan’s Community School in Birr to mark the re-launch of the Killaun Bog boardwalk, 30 years after former President Mary Robinson originally launched it.

“The story of Killaun Bog is a shining light for so many other communities across the country who are passionate about protecting nature, preserving what is there, and where possible, restoring it back to its former glory,” she told the Seanad. “There are some who wish to continue to plunder our natural resources. I want to champion those who want to protect it.” Minister Hackett described Killaun Bog as  “a rainforest on our doorstep”.

   The Killaun Bogland Reserve relaunch and the launch of  John Feehan's new book “When the Nightjar Returns” was officially performed by the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, via video link.
  A large crowd turned out at St Brendan's Community School for this very engaging launch, with a number of the students involved in filming, narrating, hosting, dancing and playing music at the event.
Principal of St Brendan's John Kennedy praised John Feehan's book, saying it will be an “indispensable guide to this unique landscape”.
Mary Robinson told the gathering that it was “refreshing to come from COP26 to this wonderful project.” Referring to the first boardwalk opening at Killaun Bogland Reserve in November 1991, she said it was “an event which I have very fond memories of. Back then few of us had heard of global warming. Now we find ourselves at a crisis point.” She said creating greater biological diversity should be everyone's aim. “The planet's biodiversity is reducing at an unparalleled rate. It is very frightening.”
She praised the Oxmantown Trust, Bord na Móna and Coillte and other players for their role in the special area of land at Killaun.
She said the “splendid new boardwalk” will be an invaluable facility for locals and visitors alike.
Mrs Robinson added that she knows Birr well because her husband Nick worked in the Birr estate for a number of years. “We know how cold Birr can be,” she joked.
John Feehan said when the School Reserve at Killaun was first established thirty years ago, one of the aims at the time was the preparation of a workbook that would provide students and visitors with information on its natural history and the story of human involvement with the bog.
“It is only in recent years, however,” he remarked, “that circumstances have made possible the Greater Killaun Project to which the book 'When the Nightjar Returns' is an introduction. The Great Killaun Project is the ambition to see the bog as a whole conserved and managed in the long term as a place where people can go to experience an area of truly remarkable biodiversity.”
The Greater Killaun Project is spearheaded by St Brendan's Community School, and has grown out of the earlier Killaun Reserve initiative of thirty years ago. A special debt is owed to the earlier project team which included Tom Foley, Brother Denis, Greta Flynn, the late Michael Dooley, Jack Feehan, Lady Rosse, Arthur Guest, Mick Spain and Eamon Dooley.
The new project is spearheaded by a group which has the same enthusiasm and expertise as the previous group, and includes John Kennedy, Tommy Hannon, Ming Loughnane and their team in St Brendan's.
Work was carried out on the upgrading of the boardwalk earlier this year and the splendid new boardwalk can act as a springboard to experience the wider Reserve. Funding for the new boardwalk came from the Peatland Community Engagement Scheme, the Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure Scheme via Offaly County Council, the Creative Ireland Stimulus Fund, the Heritage Council, Offaly County Council Heritage Office, St Brendan's Community School and a donation from the Story of the Bogs project.
The involvement of Bord na Móna, Coillte, the Oxmantown Settlement Trust and the people who live and work around Killaun are central to the long-term vision that drives the project forward.
“In discussions about the future of Killaun,” said John Feehan, “I have been especially indebted to Mark McCorry in Bord na Móna, Daithi de Forge in Coillte, and Alicia Clements at the Trust. The book would not have been possible without the support of Offaly County Council, and were it not for the drive and enthusiasm of the County Heritage Officer, Amanda Pedlow, it would never have progressed from the stage of being a good idea. The Heritage Council contributed towards Philip Armstrong's paintings in the book under the County Heritage Plan funding programme. The book also comes alive thanks to the wonderful photography of Rachel McKenna and Tina Claffey. Rachel's photographs allow us a rare glimpse of the beauty and complexity of moths.”
He said he hopes the book is “a worthy introduction to this wonderful place that has given me so much over my many years. The singing of the nightjar on turf-cutting summer evenings back in the 1960s, and the whirring of dragonfly wings around Loughnacree at the heart of the bog a decade earlier still resonate in my memory. I hope in years to come others will be able to share these experiences, when there are pools again at the heart of the bog, and when the nightjar returns.”
Principal John Kennedy said the Community School has always been progressive in its approaches to educational development. “In 1991 the visionary leaders of our school, Brother Denis Minehane and Tom Foley – along with many others – were instrumental in creating and developing Ireland's first and only school-owned Bogland Nature Reserve at Killaun thanks to the generosity of Bord na Móna. Back then our school recognised the importance of nature and the significance of sustainability, as well as the endless benefits of developing this project for our students, our entire local community, and indeed for the biodiversity that exists in Killaun. Former President Mary Robinson recognised the revolutionary potential of this project, and agreed to launch the reserve in the very early days of her presidency. Over the last number of years our former principal Ming Loughnane had the determination to rejuvenate this project and redevelop the original boardwalk by contracting Irish Recycled Products, a local business owned by a past pupil, John Tierney. The beautiful new boardwalk is now complete, and will last for many decades to come.
“We also want to create an Explorer's Trackway branching off from the new boardwalk, which acts as a springboard for exploration of the wider bog beyond. Our students and staff will be trained by John Feehan so that they can learn about all aspects of life in Killaun. Our bog and nature reserve will be available to the local community as a walking trail that will, we hope, expand in due course from a Phase 1 loop of 7.5km to a 20km perimeter trackway around the entire bog. In the last 18 months the people of Ireland have reconnected with nature. Having such a beautiful and tranquil area on our very own doorstep will allow this bond to strengthen and grow in the years ahead.”
The book 'When the Nightjar Returns' is available from the office in the school for €20 as well as in Birr Castle Gardens shop and Offaly History shop in Bury Quay Tullamore. Online orders can be accepted from Offaly History.
During Thursday evening's launch we were treated to some excellent musical entertainment by some of the students. This included trad music playing by Michelle O'Neill, Miriam O'Neill, Roisin Kinsella and Tom Holmes; and Irish Dancing by Alison O'Meara, Abbie Walshe, Ciara Hoyne and Megan Larkin.
A Photo Slideshow and a talk on the Benefits of Killaun Bog were presented by Damien Delaney, Student Photographer, and Alexandra Crowley, Student Representative, TY Environmental Committee, St Brendan's.
A film about Killaun Bogland Reserve, narrated by John Feehan, was also shown, and Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land and Biodiversity, said a few words. Senator Hackett said it had been very poignant to hear the exotic sound of the nightjar in John Feehan's film. She said she attended COP26, during which she heard this powerful quote: “If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone; if you want to go the distance, bring the team with you.”

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