Jackdaws in the Roof

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A Nature Walk V & VI Classes 13.06.1990

I started off the Nature Walk by talking about all the ordinary everyday Carnaun School birds.  The goldfinch at the front door, the pied wagtail on the wall beside the fuchsia, the jackdaw on the roof, the magpies flying low along the stone walls, the snail hammering thrushes and the yellow beaked blackbird on the front lawn.  The robin on the handle of Tommy’s spade, the swallows and the martins under the eaves, the blue tit with its nest in Rabbitt’s wall, the hedge sparrows and of course the crows and sea gulls gathering the left-over lunches as we moved out the front door.
– Paul Hynes

I picked out five wild flowers to show the class.  The daisy is a very common flower and can be found in grassy places.  The leaf of the daisy cures mouth ulcers.  The dandelion can be found in almost any kind of grassland, from dry hills to water meadows.  The roots are used in some countries as a coffee substitute and the flowers make a good wine. The nettles stung me when I was picking them and I rubbed my hand with a dock leave and the sting went away.  In the olden days people used nettles to make soup.  This was nourishing for them.  My Grandmother told me some people still make soup from nettles in the Springtime.  People say nettle leaves in water keep flies from the room.  Nettles also attract some types of butterflies.  The dockleaves are harmful to the pasture but rich in minerals for the animals that eat them. The speedwell is a very colourful plant in the school yard, this is my favourite flower because it usually has beautiful, sky-blue flowers although occasionally they are pink or white.  The children like plantain for the game of soldiers.  We see the bright red flower of the poppy from June onwards.  When it is green it is poisonous to farm animals. I explained that the wild flowers can be flowers in the garden and weeds in the pasture.  A field of buttercups is a delight to the city dweller but a nuisance in the pasture to the farmer as he sees no food value to his animals in them.
– Lorraine Kelly

Every school, in fact every house has its family of animals and Carnaun School is no exception.  If you inspect carefully you can see the sights of rats and mice drawn by the left-over lunches in the school yard. You can see where they were by their droppings and their paths.  As we keep our playground reasonably clean and do not leave litter about I am sure we have less rats and mice than many other places. I can show you the path of a fox that crosses the end of the playing field on its way from Scottswood to Castle Ellen.  The rabbits have a different type of path as they hop along.  Of course it you visit the school after hours you can see Hynes’ dog or Sullivan’s cat hunting for food.
– Francis Coffey

We have a few trees in our playground.  My favourite is the ash at the end of the front lawn.  A stately graceful tree with its winged fruit called Samaras. I like to sit and eat my lunch in its shade.  It’s so peaceful there I forget school for a while.  Another one of my favourites is the beech tree at the back of the school.  Standing among the pines in Autumn its russet leaves are a beautiful contrast.
– Keith Qualter

Of all the shrubs in the school yard my favourite is the Fuchsia.  It is in flower now.  It has beautiful white flowers now but before our teacher transplanted it, it had red flowers.  The climbing rose next to it will soon be in bloom.  The lilac and holly stand each side of the original Carnaun School 1891 sign.  There is a privet beside the ash tree at the end of the lawn.  Elder-berry and snowberry and honey suckle and woodbine are also to be found and of course we have white thorn and black thorn as this country side is dotted with them.
– Claire Mullins

Listen – I hear a birds song.  It is singing its own name, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff.  It is olive brown on its back and yellowish white underneath with dark legs (4½ inches long).  Some people say the chiff-chaffs song is monotonous but I like it.
– John Hynes

As we went around the corner of the school, two jackdaws watching us made a grumbling sound, a swallow flew off on silent wings and a blue tit called in alarm.  We also heard the call of a cuckoo from the direction of William’s or Walsh’s land but just as we stopped to listen it also stopped and all we heard was the sound of Coen’s tractor in the distance.  It was lovely to see the lambs gambling in Fahy’s field.  A wren bobbed up and down on a bramble bush and sang a few notes. Blackbirds piped up followed by the robin’s melancholy song. In the distance we heard the noise of silage machinery and we knew it was either Killeen’s or Forde’s as the noise came from the village.  Kennedy’s had theirs cut.  Willie Gill passed with a load of turf and the road was quiet again.  Nearer the wood we passed Tom Rabbitt’s lovely heard of shorthorn cattle a unique sight nowadays in this age of herefords, friesians and continentals.  We would have gone to see the calves but we were afraid of the bull.  As we entered the wood a cock pheasant startled us as it sprang from the undergrowth.  We marveled at its magnificent plumage.
– Claire Browne

The rock in Carnaun is mostly limestone, although some old red sandstone may be found.  This may have been brought here by glaciers during the ice-ages.  Chert may also be found mixed through the limestone.  It is easy to tell the difference because chert is darker, harder and when broken, it breaks into cube shapes.  Long ago it was used as axe heads because of its hardness. Limestone is found to contain a large number of fossil fragments showing that deposition was slow.  The broken nature of the fossils shows that the constant movement of the water did not allow the dead organisms to lie in any one place for long.  Most of the fossils and stones in the Carnaun area date from carboniferous times about 300 million years ago.  Most of the fossils are crinoids (sea-lilies).  These are related to the starfish and are sessile being anchored to the sea-bed by a flexible stalk.  Their presence indicates that there was once a shallow sea environment rich in floating organic food particles in Carnaun.  Many of the large limestones in Carnaun have taken on unusual shapes because the weaker parts of them have eroded. The rate of erosion in Carnaun slow, about ½ mm a year because there is very little acid in the rain.  That means a depression in a rock 15cm or 6″@ may have taken 300 years to create.
– Michael Browne


The birch is a hardier tree than the oak. The slender trunk has smooth silvery bark which peels off in thin needles.  The native conifer scotspine has bluish green needles arranged in pairs.  Single needles are only found on saplings.  The male flower produces a lot of pollen in May.  They die and fall off leaving a bare patch.
– Kevin McMahon

Detective work on the floor of a dried up pond revealed signs of night prowlers.  Two sets of footprints were plain to be seen, one a hunting fox, the other a field mouse.  We could get the scent of the fox on the herb roberts growing on the banks of the pond so we knew he was a recent visitor.  We wondered about the fate of the field mouse.
– Thelma Connaughton

News flashes on the way home….
Ash – the last of our native trees to unfold its leaves.  As black as the ash buds in March. Birch brooms are made from birth twigs. Elder-fruits are rich in vitamin C. No wonder the birds like them! Common Elm and Witch Elm – masts of ships and spokes of cart wheels are made from these trees. Both types of elm trees are dying from Dutch Elm disease carried by a tiny beetle that lives under the bark. Holly – leaves of the holly spread around your vegetable patch help to keep the slugs at bay. Oak – provides a high rise home and snack bar for more than 300 different sorts of insects. Larch – can grow to a height of 50 metres and provides timber for windows, tractor trailers and fence posts.
– Bernard Ryan

Lichens occupy some of the most forbidding regions of the earth establishing themselves in environments where few other species of living things are able to survive. They are found farther south and farther north than any other type of plant.  In the Himalalyas they have been found at altitudes of more than 5,600 metres (18,460 ft.). Lichens can adapt themselves to almost any kind of surface.  They will grow on sunbaked rocks in arid deserts, on the backs of weevils or in the bleached skulls of dead animals. One species (verrucaria serpuloides) travels in the wind.  And although lichen are on the whole highly sensitive to industrial pollution Lecaora conizaeoides has actually increased in areas of high pollution. The lichen parmelia parlata which is common on larch trees in Scott’s Wood near Carnaun School signifies the very clean air in the area.  Lichen is made up of a sandwich of fungus algae and fungus.  The lichen Caloplaca heppiana, orange, in colour, can be found on many of the limestone walls around Carnaun.
– Michael Browne

After hearing a bird sing, I spotted it with my field glasses in a prominent position
on a whitethorn.  It was easy to distinguish, a small brown bird with a cocked up tail.  It was a wren.  The wren’s song sounds like, a clear warbling, or a tic-tic-tic The wren brings back memories of St. Stephen’s Day.
– Allen Feeney

Later I heard a tsee-tsee-tsee sound and then ending in a flourish steeng-steeng-stichioi-steeng. The call note is very similar to that of the coal tit.  So I realised that it must be a goldcrest. The goldcrest is the smallest bird in Ireland so I found it difficult to see but with patience, quietness and my field glasses I spied it on a branch some distance away.  The goldcrest has an olive-green beak and its underparts are a pale olive-buff.
– Shane Feeney

Scott’s Wood is a larch wood.  The larch can grow to a height of 50 metres.  The bark is a greyish brown.  The mature cones are produced in September and can remain on the trees for some years.  Introduced from the Alps and Carpathians, it has grown as a forestry tree and gives a pleasant variation to the large otherwise evergreen plantations.  Scott’s wood is especially nice because there are deciduous trees growing through the larch.  There are some elms, alder, beech, ash and some sycamore growing there.  With whitethorn and blackthorn mixed in, it makes a very pleasant place.
– Liam Rabbitt

My favourite tree is the oak.  Even though we did not see one in Scott’s wood I was able to tell the class all about it.  It grows in Ireland.  It is found in woods and parks.  When the tree is young it has a shiny, smooth, greyish bark but with age it becomes rough, furrowed and rugged.  The buds are short and plump.  Leaves begin to appear in April and are out by mid May.  They are pinnately lobed.  Male flowers are enclosed in long hanging catkins, one to a number of five female catkins grow on a fairly long stalk.  The fruit is an acorn enclosed in a cup at the base.  We intend to plant an oak in our playground during our school’s Centenary Celebrations.
– Rose Quirke

I learned about a tree called Elder.  Elder is a common plant of wood, scrub, hedgerows and waste ground.  It is one of the first shrubs to colonise stable sand dunes and is particularly abundant around the coast.  It is characteristic of disturbed ground and fertile base rich or calcareous soils particularly where there has been some nitrogen enrichment.  A deciduous shrub or small tree, growing to a height of about 20 ft., it flowers during June and July and is pollinated by small flies.  The black berries ripen during August and September.  Elder has featured prominently in both folklore and medicine and much superstition still surrounds the plant in country areas. On our way home I was delighted to learn the name of a wild flower I often saw and admired but never knew the name of.  Self-heal-a small meadow plant with a yellow flower.  This was used in the past to heal wounds and as a medicine for many illnesses.
– Deirdre Doherty

We did not see our friends the red squirrels during our field trip as I suppose they hid when they saw us coming.  On our own we have often spied them moving about.  We love the way they make their way through the twisting branches of the beech tree, running down the bark, searching among the fallen leaves on the wood floor for beech nuts and chestnuts.  At the slightest hint of danger they freeze their bodies, then quickly scurry up the nearest tree to the safety of their prey.  An untidy lot, they all sleep together for warmth and sleep for long periods during the winter.  When they wake and feel hungry they scamper about trying to remember where they have hidden their store of nuts.
– Thelma Connaughton

We saw many wild flowers during our nature walk.  We saw ordinary thistles, creeping thistles, ordinary nettles and red dead nettles, ordinary daisies and ox-eye daisies.  We found out names of plants we did not know before such as Marsh Marigold, Toadflax, Rough Hawkbit, Meadow Vetchling, Ribworth and Willowherb. We learned we could eat certain plants and we had a good feed of wild strawberries.  The woodsorrel we ate a little of as it is not good in big quantities.  We were told how the Coltsfoot burst into flowers on the first warm spring day at the edges of ditches, on banks and in fields.  We also were told that in the olden days the ground ivy was used to cure diseases of the breathing tract, to get rid of coughs and for bathing ulcerous wounds.
– Claire Mullins

“A little bit of bread and no cheese”, that’s the sound of the yellow hammer, my favourite bird, singing in a prominent position.  Its head is yellow marked with dark grey lines above the eye and outlining the ear covets.  The back is brown streaked with black and the wing feathers are broadly edged with rufous.  The underparts are yellow, streaked with chestnut on breast and flanks. I hear a kok-kok, it’s a male pheasant.  The male is marked by a long pointed tail making up half its length.  It is a rich chestnut boldly barred with black.  The head is a bottle green usually separated from the body by a white neck ring that gives him his name, the ring-necked.  The female is similarly long-tailed but paler and creamier and streaked in cryptic colours.  Once when I was riding a pony a pheasant flew out of the undergrowth, the pony reared and I fell off.
– Raymond Treacy

Footprints showing the badger’s long claws were clearly seen on muddy ground and in another part of the woods.  The prints of the fore paws are larger than those of the hind paws and the toes of the hind paws are turned inwards.  A badger is very careful about having clean materials such as bracken, leaves and grass for bedding and is always careful to keep the set clean.  On fine days he throws it out to air.  The poor badger is in danger at the moment because many people think he carries TB. At night you know if he is about as you can hear him grunt.

We always heard from the older people, how much they knew about nature.  We also, through the guidance of our teachers in Carnaun School and the powers of our observation, are learning about nature. We have a better opportunity than our parents as we have better facilities-television, books, maps etc. and we live close to nature.  In fact as we write we can hear the mice under the classroom floor and the jackdaws in the roof.
– Claire Browne and Michael Browne

Editor’s note:  Drawings by Paul Dennison.

This nature walk was facilitated by Gordan d’Arcy, is an environmentalist working in the areas of art and illustration, writing, education, fieldwork and consultancy.

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About this record

Written by 5th and 6th Classes, Carnaun School, 1990

Published here 05 Feb 2021

Page 025 of the The Carnaun Centenary Book archive.

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