Michael Viney, long term columnist with the Irish Times wrote a wonderful article about farming for conservation in the Burren for the lates issue of Burren Insight 3.
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People in Their Place By Michael Viney
My first immersion in the wilder landscape of the Burren came twenty years ago when David Cabot and I were making a documentary film about its gifted cartographer, Tim Robinson. “Folding Landscapes”, shown on RTE and BBC, was a celebration of solitary genius – not that Tim, tramping doggedly over the grikes in mist or pouring rain and cycling from one chilly, out-of-season, B&B to another, to compose his “graphic expression of a sense of place” can always have found himself in celebratory mood.
As we re-enacted his meticulous mapping of contours and lost monuments in the mossy, Lilliputian jungle of the hazel scrub, or on the bleak and clattering heights of the hills, or tracked the squeak of his old bicycle along deserted boreens, it was, indeed, the strangeness and intensity of his lonely enterprise we were wanting to convey.
Tourists may now arrive by the busload, but so much of the Burren has been defined by individual, questing strangers – botanists, ecologists, geologists archaeologists, poets, painters, writers – all pursuing their own special versions, visions, explorations, understandings of the place. Many have been natives of the neighbouring island, some reluctant to acknowledge that “this wondrous Eden”, or however it struck them, was actually not part of Britain.
Tim Robinson, while very English, learned Irish in his years on Inis Mór, and his marvellous books and maps of Aran and Connemara have rediscovered, even for Ireland, the crowded meanings of these landscapes. His wanderings on bike and foot have not been purposely solitary, but enriched by the potential of every wayside chat. In a 1987 essay on his Burren explorations, he told of meeting a farmer on the slopes below Mám Chatha who identified a set of grassy mounds as the grown-over remnants of fulachta fiadh, the cooking-places of ancient huntsmen – this at a time when archaeologists consulted by Robinson were (wrongly, as it turned out) sceptical of their presence in the Burren.
It was in that essay*, too, that he wrote so despairingly of the prospects of conserving the Burren, citing helicopter spraying of hillsides with fertiliser, with
grants from the EEC. “The financial, legal and moral persuasions necessary to preserve the Burren from such ‘improvement’,” he wrote, “have not yet been discovered.