Wild Flowers Of Thurles Great Famine Double Ditch.

I believe it was on July 26th last 2021 that local elected Thurles Municipal District Councillor Mr Jim Ryan condemned on local Radio and his Facebook page, the illegal dumping at the Ladyswell River Walk; describing same correctly as being “disgusting” and “lacking responsibility”.

Then I suppose with not even one ‘Litter Bin’ in the area, perhaps we should be grateful that these unidentified litter louts did not dispose of their rubbish in the river Suir.

One wonders, however, why Councillor Mr Jim Ryan has failed over the past 3 years to post pictures of the illegal dumping, occurring almost weekly, on the ‘Great Famine Double Ditch’, situated on the Mill Road, Thurles, latter just 350 to 400 metres (less than ¼ mile) from Mr Ryan’s own place of residence. One also wonders why he has failed in the past, in the case of the ‘Double Ditch’ to “have it reported with the council”, as was the case with the Ladyswell river walk.

In the case of the Ladyswell river walk dumping, we should be also glad that the rubbish was not set on fire in an attempt to destroy all evidence of ownership, as is the regular case on the “Great Famine Double Ditch”.

See slide-show video hereunder.

Having watched the slide-show above, you will be very much aware of how an area, that should be declared a national monument, now depends solely on Mother Nature to hide years of illegal dumping of household and other waste.

While the first few slides shared, demonstrates Mother Earths attempt at cloaking humankind’s irremediable damage to this historic area, the remainder of the slides attempt to show the amazing flora living on either side of this public right of way.

First A Caution: Never try eating something in the wild unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is.

Alas, the Crab Apple tree; set on fire by persons unknown; latter attempting to destroy evidence of their fly-tipping. The tree while still alive, has failed to produce fruit for the first time ever this year.

Drought tolerant Lady’s Bedstraw remains here in abundance, its stems covered in frothy heads of tiny, yellow flowers appearing in dense clusters. Historically, Lady’s Bedstraw was used to curdle milk in the process of cheese-making.
Same, interestingly, gets its name from its use as stuffing in mattresses and pillows for bedding, before the advent of our modern man-made fibres. Because of its association with the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was considered good luck to use Lady’s Bedstraw in the mattresses of expectant mothers. It was also believed to deter fleas, which must have been an additional bonus back in earlier medieval times. Recognised in Gaelic mythology, it was said that a tea made from Lady’s Bedstraw could calm the terrifying battle frenzy of the hero Cúchulainn.

The entire plant named as Broadleaf Plantain in our slideshow is entirely edible. Same is slightly bitter but highly nutritious, rich in calcium and other minerals as well as in vitamins A, C, and K. The young leaves are eaten raw, while older leaves can be cooked as a green vegetable.

Broadleaf Plantain also contains many bioactive compounds and is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding. It is known to quickly arrest blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. For this reason a poultice of the fresh leaves can be applied on the skin to treat minor burns, insect bites, open wounds and stings. You basically just need to chew some leaves and apply the poultice directly on the issue.

Its close relative, Ribwort Plantain, is also a very nutritional leafy vegetable containing Calcium, vitamins A,C, and K. Its young leaves are eaten raw, but larger leaves get tough and are much better cooked. Leaves have a slightly bitter flavour, that makes them more suitable to adding them to soups or salad, rather than eating them on their own. Roots and seeds are also edible and are usually cooked, to make a stock reminiscent of the taste of mushrooms.

Purple Loosestrife is possibly the most attractive flower on the Great Famine Double Ditch here in Thurles. Bearing a valuable source of nectar it attracts bees, butterflies and other insects. In the past this plant was considered to be a useful herb for treating diarrhoea and other gastric ailments.

The late evening heavy scented native plant Meadowsweet is very much in evidence on both sides of this public right-of-way. Again the flower heads are frequently visited by bees; same attracted by the divine, evocative countryside scent given off. Interestingly in spite of its fragrance, the flowers produce no nectar. Insects are therefore fooled; however their regular visits serve to fertilise the plants, which are laden with pollen.

Attractive Knapweed is a firm favourite of our pollinating insects, bearing a source of high quality nectar. But as well as supporting our bees, butterflies and beetles, its seeds also provide food for many of our feathered friends.

In days gone by, Knapweed was used as a cure for ruptures and wounds, bruises, sores, scabs and sore throat.
For budding photographers today; Knapweed attracts all of our known 21 species of bumblebees, and those in search of ‘insect posers’ are guaranteed quality macro pictures. The images shown in our slideshow include the large White-tailed Bumblebee and Red-tailed Bumblebee.

[Back some 8 years ago a worldwide study declared that the decline of wild bees and other wild pollinators may be an even more alarming threat to crop yields, than the loss of our honeybees.]

Named after Queen Anne of England, who was an expert lace maker, Queen Anne’s Lace, with is doily-shaped blooms, is related to carrots and is also known as Wild Carrot, because it was once used as a substitute for same.
Often you will find a flower cluster with a single tiny reddish/purple floret, in the centre. Legend states that when Queen Anne accidentally pricked her finger with a needle, a single drop of her blood fell onto the lace, leaving this reddish tiny flower.

Great Willowherb, depending on light availability, can grow up to 2 metres in height. Same is visited by many of our insects, particularly bees and hover-flies and can usually be found growing near streams, in wet ditches and damp meadows.

Yellow Ragwort is very common almost to be found everywhere in Ireland. Located on ruined walls, on grassland, wasteland and on roadsides; insects and butterflies truly love this yellow, large headed wildflower. Poisonous to horses but not to sheep, its seeds are borne on the wind thus guaranteeing its future propagation. There are at least thirty species of invertebrates that remain totally dependent on Ragwort as a food source.

The Bramble Blackberry with pink and white flowers, accompanied by their vicious thorns are beginning to bear fruit, for this autumn’s hungry birds. Back some 60 years ago same were picked and sold to manufacture dye.

Common St John’s-Wort is widely used in medicine as a treatment for depression and as an ointment for skin problems such as eczema. It was available in Ireland as an over-the-counter anti-depressant, before the then Minister for Health at that time, Mr Brian Cowen, made it a prescription-only medicine.

Scented Hawthorn flowers are now turning into red berries, yet another source of food for our bird life. Same berries are known to possess antioxidants which can help neutralize unstable molecules called ‘free radicals’ that in turn harm our bodies when present at high levels. Same molecules can be brought about by poor diet, as well as environmental toxins like air pollution and the inhalation of excessive tobacco smoke.

Due to their antioxidant activity, consumption of Hawthorn fruit, known as ‘Haws’ are understood to offer certain health benefits, including a lowering of the risk of some cancers; type 2 diabetes; asthma; some infections; heart problems and premature skin ageing.

Common Vetch is a member of the pea family and flowering from June to August. It produces long, dark green coloured seed pods that replace their dark purple flowers at the end of summer. The pod becomes smooth and black as they ripen, before splitting to spread the seeds contained inside. Traditionally, Common Vetch has been used as a food for livestock, and was also used in medicine to treat eczema and other skin irritations, and as an antiseptic.

The leaves of White Snowberry are a larval foodplant for the Death’s Head Hawkmoth. Its fruit is poisonous to humans, [ Please do be aware when out walking with young children who may be tempted to pick and eat ], however the game birds such as pheasants are known to eat them. The wood of the Snowberry, in the past was used to manufacture ‘besoms’, latter used as a household implement for sweeping up leaves, akin to a witches broom.

Heal All or Selfheal is also a native flower. For centuries it has been used to cure or aid the symptoms of almost every possible malady. Common folklore informs us that it was a herb sent by God to heal any ailment of man or animal. Recent research suggests that it may have some consistent medical uses.

Convolvulus or Bind Weed, is hated by all involved in gardening, because of its ability to survive. It is not easy to remove as it persists in growing from a perennial root system. The roots are usually white and very brittle and if broken, will easily regenerate from even the smallest remaining section. It will climb using its strong twining stems and broad leaves to cover off shrubs or anything supporting its ability to climb. It will even find a route through heavy duty “Weed Block” in its effort to emerge from the soil in early spring.

If you are out and about walking near the Mill Road in Thurles, in the days ahead, do take a walk on the Double Ditch; it may be reduced to tar, cement and unwanted traffic lights shortly, that’s if our elected representatives and Tipperary Co. Council officials persist in their ignorance and destruction of our local history.


2 comments to Wild Flowers Of Thurles Great Famine Double Ditch.

  • Michael

    I will always remember the double ditch, I used it 70 years ago.

  • Liam

    Thank you George for all that wonderful information. How many of these flowers surrounded us growing openly and to now be aware of their history and usefulness. Imagine a walk along that historical Double Ditch with many or all of these blooming and markers explaining their history and potential current day uses.

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