Discovering Wildlife in St Mary’s Graveyard Tipperary Town

by Albert Nolan

It was a day when you could hear the alluring call of the sea echoing from every street corner as warm heat radiated from buildings and roads. Unfortunately I was not on my way to the beach, but to St Mary’s graveyard to do a nature walk as part of the Tipperary town festival. This is the oldest landmark in Tipperary town and we have been working with the committee for the last few years to increase awareness around its wildlife.      When I arrived my good friend and fellow “wildlife expert “   Dan Hogan was there and his car had already claimed the shady spot. We chatted idly about nature while we wait for the public to arrive.


After a few minuets we had assembled an eager crowd of adults and kids including a Dutch couple who reside each summer in the Glen of Aherlow. Our first stop on the walk was a newly planted woodland edge that was sown by families and friends of the church as part of national tree week. The mountain ash (or Rowan) and holly trees are doing really well and this is testament to the aftercare they have received or the well composted remains of some paupers final resting place. In a few years they will produce berries for birds and flowers for insects. Buddleia was also planted for butterflies and Honeysuckle for moths.


Growing alongside the path we stopped to examine a beautiful old rose that had a magnificent scent. It had no black spot on it (this is a very common disease of roses) and its flowers were lush and deep pink. Traditional varieties were breed with resistance to diseases and are far hardier than modern species.


On a nearby plant we find Cuckoo spit. This first appears at the same time as the cuckoo arrives in Tipperary and people used to believe that the bird had bad manners and spat on the plants. If you gently scrape away the froth you will find a tiny green insect called a froghopper nymph. Its covering of “spit” protects it from the weather (it doesn’t wash away in the rain) and from predators. Our Dutch visitor reveals that in Holland it is called the delightful name of “snotluis”. Under the conifer trees wood sorrel is growing. The leaves are edible but taste quite bitter. Its has three heart shaped leaves and is often called shamrock. There is no actually shamrock plant in Ireland and different plants are used throughout the country including clover species.


A wildflower edge has been left to grow around the boundary of the graveyard and we talked about the importance of having a wide variety of plants. These produce seeds for birds and provide shelter and food for many species of insects. Many are old herbs and were once used to treat different ailments and to keep us healthy. Does any one remember eating nettles or making wine from the fruits of the elderberry? Creating a wild edge is very easy and this is something that tidy town groups could do in a quite corner of their own garden and communities. Love is in the air and two snails are mating on the grass. They are wrapped tightly around each other and are impossible to pull apart. Snails are the favourite food of the song thrush. He has a special stone called an anvil that he uses to break open their hard shells.

Under the shelter of the mature oak tree we ask the kids to hold the corners of an old white sheet. We give the branches a good shake and creepy crawlers fall onto it. The children get very excited as they examine our catch. The most interesting is an immature ladybird with no spots. They are born without them and they like a military rank attain them after a week.


John our bee expert finds a bumblebee feeding on the flowers of bramble. He explains that they have smelly feet and when they land on a flower this unpleasant scent lingers on the flowers for around 15 minuets. When another bumblebee comes along he knows that this flower has been already visited. Our last stop of the day is to look at some moths we caught the previous night. For most of the groups this was their first positive contact with moths and they were fascinated by their different colours, shapes and sizes. Thanks to all those who came on the walk and for sharing the amazing wildlife of this beautiful habitat.

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