We take a detour off the Wild Atlantic Way today,to visit Coole Park in county Galway. 30 km off the coast near the town of Gort, we suddenly find ourselves in city traffic. “Peak hour” Chris declares, but no, it’s just city traffic after being used to the pace of the country.
Coole Park caught my eye in a travel book, boasting red squirrels and other little creatures. It was a privately owned home from 1768 to 1927 then sold to the state. The final owner, Lady Gregory was the co-founder of the Abbey theatre in Dublin and the house and gardens that attracted the literary set including George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats. The house is long gone, but the gardens are still beautifully lush. They cover an area of 1,000 acres, now established as a nature reserve where woodlands and wetlands meet.
My hopes of squirrels spotting are dashed by the ladies who greet us (evidence of them, they say, but nigh on impossible to spot), but they do tell us that the Park is a haven for many little creatures including the protected pine martins, stoats and Irish hares.
In Victorian times, taxidermy was popular – there are number of examples of the creatures that live here, and whilst I don’t like stuffed animals, I am fascinated to see the size of the stoat. I thought they would be the size of a cat, but they’re tiny – the females are only 20 cm plus that much tail again. With little red coats and cream bellies, they have lots of whiskers and a black tip on their tail that bristles when they get excited. To say I’d love to see one would be an understatement. They are though, shy and elusive creatures living in the hedgerows and undergrowth.
Undeterred, and with a pocket full of nuts, we set off on our quest. The park is very beautiful, heavily treed and with lots of walking paths. Every so often we come across a stone wall ruin, thick with fat moss. It’s very pretty. We see evidence of chewed young pines cones, but alas no little furry things. We do see deer, two females, a baby and a male with velvet antlers.
Stoat and squirrel free, but nicely walked, we leave, only to spot a bunny on the way out. At least the bunnies are reliable!