The story told by our landscape
The landscape around us tells a fascinating story of our past. The different chapters of this story are written in our stone walls, in the curves of our fields, in our bogs and wetlands, and in our ancient ruins and later buildings. It is told too by a fossil in a stone picked off a wall, a wildflower, a bog or meadow, by a tree perhaps and sometimes it can be filled out by someone who has lived long and learned a lot.
It is a story that goes back millions of years and it is well worth knowing. A lot of it can be read by those who have the eyes to see, walking the roads between Loughcrew and Lough Sheelin.
As we approach this north western corner of County Meath we notice a marked change in the landscape; we leave behind relatively flat terrain and see before us a hilly and undulating countryside. From the vantage point of the Loughcrew hills on a sunny summer evening the diverse and beautiful features of this landscape are highlighted. To the south lie the hills around Moylagh, Dromone, and Fore, with Mullaghmeen Forest to the south west.
About ten miles to the west, the sun glistens on the surface of Lough Sheelin, while to the north the yellow furze on the distant hills around Ballyjamesduff and Virginia are highlighted in a golden blaze of sunshine. These are the physical boundaries to Ballinacree, our home, and the neighbouring areas of Mountnugent, Oldcastle, and Moylagh. This panorama of undulating countryside with its dry stone walls and many small fields with dense mature hedges and the remains of early pre-Christian settlements is comparable in interest to any part of Ireland.
To understand the origin of our landscape we must travel back thirty thousand years to the last Ice Age. Massive ice flows sculpted the frozen earth and moved millions of tons of rock and gravel from the tops and sides of hills and valleys. The different cycles of freezing and thawing and the movement of ice and water produced gravels and sandy soils that were then deposited by the retreating ice and by rivers of meltwater to produce the landscape features we see today; small rounded hills, esker type ridges, and moraines, generally oriented in the direction of the ice movement (northwest to southeast). Occasionally we see large boulders of limestone and sandstone strewn in fields across our townlands. These still lie where they were dropped by the melting ice, too heavy to be moved to the field margins.
All these features tell the story of our past and the origin of our landscape. The soils of the area are mostly of limestone, with lesser amounts of sandstone, siltstone, dolomite, and chert while the underlying bedrock is mainly a carboniferous limestone. Because of its nature the soils are well drained mainly by the Tubrid and Ballymacad and other streams into the river Inny.
Our natural hedgerows and woodlands consist mostly of whitethorn, blackthorn, ash, elder, hazel, sycamore, beech, holly, ivy, bramble, wild rose and furze, with a few old oak trees still to be found in places. Hazel is predominant in the sandy soils in the townlands to the south of the parish. Poplar, willow, and birch are dominant in low lying wetland areas particularly along the Inny river. Our hedgerows and woodland, while enhancing the local landscape, also provides an essential habitat for a diverse population of flora and fauna. The whitethorn bush supports 15 species of wildlife that can live only on the whitethorn bush. Oak and willow trees each support over 300 species of insect and wildlife.
Today Mullaghmeen Forest with its signposted walks provides a valuable amenity to the locality, and an opportunity to see nature at its best as the seasons change.
Mottes, ringforts, mounds, souterrains, standing stones, and the remains of castles dating from pre Christian times to the middle of the first millennium add to the diversity of the local landscape, with a significant number to be found in the area.
Our built environment is another dimension of our rich heritage. It is made up of stone bridges, gate-piers and stiles, ruins of cottages and traditional farm houses, corn mills and lime kilns, old churches and gravestones, estate houses with their walled gardens. Each one enriches our landscape and is a monument to the building skills of past generations.
Farming continues to be a vital livelihood in our area based mostly on dairying, suckling herds and dry stock, It is influenced by the landscape and the size of our fields. Today there are new landmarks like the Briody Bedding factories, B.D.Flood’s concrete plants, and other smaller industries and businesses that provide valuable employment. Our sense of identity with our native place is mainly acquired through our relationships with our family, friends and neighbours, and through our interaction within our community. But there are places that help that identity – our local church and cemeteries, St Fiach’s national school, the Community Centre and St Brigid’s clubhouse. They are spaces for the community activities that cement our friendship. For many of those who have left Ballinacree, irrespective of where they have gone, they have taken something valuable with them – the experience and character gained by life in a community and the identity given by landscapes of the place they once called home.
© Copyright: Ballinacree Historical Society 2019: all articles and photographs are the property of the authors