Upon arriving in Dublin, I wandered into a bookstore in St. Stephen’s Green and picked up a copy of An Irish Nature Year by Jane Powers—a book that took me on scavenger hunts across the island’s cliffs, fields, forests, and gardens in search of elusive little details present in the Irish autumn season.
Join me for an abridged journey through October with the writing of Jane Powers:
October 6th: “In Brehon law, the yew was on the of the ‘nobles of the wood’, and there were severe penalties for illegally felling or damaging a tree. The hard wood was prized for bows, spears, and household items,” writes Powers.
The nearest yew tree was barely a few hundred feet from my residence at University College Dublin in the university’s Belfield Wood. My undergraduate university, too, was covered in bushes of yew, but those North American Taxus canadensis plants, trimmed into carefully manicured hedges, felt antithetical in character to the freely growing trees of Taxus baccata in the Belfield Wood.
Being so close to such lush woodlands at UCD has been a wonderful antidote to years of highly urban New York City life. I have found myself walking one of the several UCD wooded walking trails nearly every morning since arriving here, with still so much woods left to explore.
October 13th: “Horse chestnuts are falling and peeping shinily from their green, spiny casings,” notes Powers.
My encounter with Irish horse chestnuts came from a trip to the Iveagh Gardens behind the Museum of Literature Ireland located at UCD’s original location of Newman House. Known as Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden,’ the Iveagh Gardens boasted stunning displays of waterfall-style fountains, a rosarium, and beautifully manicured hedges. The horse chestnuts at the gardens, as promised by Powers, had shed their green casings by this time of year and closely resembled Ohio buckeyes of the same genus Aesculus.
October 26th: “The predominant tone of a rural Irish autumn is russet…Perhaps the most prevalent plant contributing to that warm glow is bracken. Pteridium aquilinum,” suggests Powers.
I experienced a rural Irish autumn in my two-hour bus ride between Belfast and Londonderry on my way to the Derry Halloween festival. The roadside was littered with the golden glow of Pteridium ferns—surprisingly, a staple of North American autumn foliage too.
The view of the countryside was delightful, and Derry Halloween with its haunted houses and City of Bones walking trail and CarnEVIL carnival rides and elaborate building projections, and elaborately costumed characters was a highlight of my time in Ireland so far.
October 31st: “Collect blackberries after Hallowe’en at your peril, for the púca will be out after dusk spitting…on them, according to folklore” warns Powers.
Thankfully my blackberry collection was completed long before Halloween. For berry picking, I took the train to the nearby coastal town of Bray where I hiked the cliffs and found plenty of wild blackberries. Even with the clouds and the rain, the view of the ocean from the cliffs was unparalleled.