As a child I held a fearful fascination for the Amazon River Jungle. Growing up in the 1970’s in a comfortable town house in Cork City with electricity, central heating, music-stereo, washing machine etc. Life in a forest setting was a million miles away. inconceivable! Little did I know that just a few miles along the river Lee heading west from the City, lay the largest inland forrest delta in Europe. A carbon copy of the Amazon in Cork. No way? My only knowledge of it until the research on this film was its anglicised place name ‘The Gearagh’ which meant nothing and the visual glimpses from the car of hundreds of hacked tree stumps jutting out of a vast expanse of water west of the Lee valley bridge! A bizarre landscape I often thought, but never got further.
The invaluable information that I have since acquired was given to me by quite an extraordinary character whose family down through the generations were inhabitants of the Gearagh. Kevin Corcoran is a biologist, a painter, an environmental campaigner, and an author. He must be the most knowledgeable person you will meet on this magical part of planet earth. The beautiful Irish name for this place he explained to me is ‘An Ghaoraidh’ meaning “wooded river”. Beginning at Dromcarra bridge extending south west as far as the Lee bridge, it encompasses thousands of acres of ancient Irish Oak, Yew, Ash and Alder, sprouting from hundreds of little islands. This mystical part of the river Lee has a tragic history! Kevin Corcoran tells us the GOOD NEWS. His powerful message on the Gearagh will be brought to light in the film. Some of the interesting details that support his message in the film follow here.
The vast majority of these trees, many which were several hundred years old, were taken down by hand over a period of three years. (The jungle like terrain hindered all access for machinery). This was to allow for the back fill of water from the Lee Hydro Electric Scheme installed by the Electricity Supply Board in the mid to late 1950’s to bring electricity to the citizens of Cork. Tragically, there existed within this myriad of wooded islands and streams a closely knit community of farming folk. Irish-speaking up to the 1950’s, these folk were true forest dwellers and totally self sufficient. Fish were in abundance. These gentle meandering streams have graded gravel beds formed over thousands of years. Perfect spawning grounds for wild Atlantic salmon and the almost extinct fresh water pearl mussel. If you look down into the river during the summer months weaving and waving gently with the current you will see long dark green hair like grasses. This is known as ‘crows foot’. A native river plant that tells us the river is clean and intact. Once again, a perfect camouflaged protection for juvenile salmon, trout and eel.
Great credit is due to people like Kevin Corcoran and Ted Cook who have brought this part of the river Lee to the attention of the local and national authorities. Their long, weary struggle has established the Gearagh as an Internationally recognised Biogenetic Reserve and Wildfowl Sanctuary. More importantly the site is now protected under the international Ramsar Wetland Protection Act. This provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and WISE USE of wetlands and their resources. Here on the lovely Lee we have an absolute wonder of the world. There are only FOUR inland alluvial forest deltas in the world, and the Gearagh is the most intact. Biology experts from all over the world are fascinated by this incredible and unique natural resource. But strangely its importance and its value here in Ireland is privy to just a few.
Kevin Corcoran’s next publication is on the ancient forests of Ireland. There is a dedicated chapter in this book on the Gearagh. Aside from the fact that it is extremely dangerous territory to navigate by water, any form of public access would lead to destruction of what was once upon a time an intact ancient forest delta and is now slowly clawing its way back.
I’ll finish with Kevin’s words on our age old trees ”You can cut them down but you cannot kill them”.