Summer meeting 1987: Westport

HomeEventsSummer meeting 1987: Westport

12 August 1987 - 18 August 1987

Meeting report

Of those attending Agneta Burton, Lillian Franck, David Long, Barbara Murray, Jean Paton, Hilary & Roy Perry, Ted Rosen, Gordon Rothero and Donal Synnott (local Secretary) lasted the full course; Mike Fletcher, Keith Lewis, Peter Martin, Huub van Melick, David Newman, Phil Stanley and Harold Whitehouse departed at various times during the week.

12 August. As the rain eased off to a steady downpour I threw the tent and its contents into the back of the car in a jumble of guy lines, poles, sleeping-bag and washing-up, heaved a brief sigh over my box of soggy specimens and splashed away through the campsite to pick up Mike Fletcher, in a similar state but, as always, irrepressibly cheerful. We had intended to stop off on the way to Westport but the weather put almost everyone off, Huub van Melick being the only one to venture into the hills, while Harold Whitehouse continued his hunt for Trichostomopsis umbrosa at the base of sodden mortared walls. The rest of the party converged on the Railway Hotel in Westport for lunch. A lightening of the skies tempted us out again, to the grounds of Westport House (not to the kiddies zoo, which was far too expensive); the stalwarts donned waterproofs while Mike Fletcher and I decided to sort out our accommodation problems – with me in a nice, dry hotel and Mike in his tiny, damp nylon shell – his fibre, both moral and man-made being of better quality than mine.

A diminished party gathered in the Railway Hotel for a meal and to discuss the aquatic adventures of the morning. The exploration of the area around Westport House had produced a number of additions to the County list (H27): – Dicranella schreberana*, Ephemerum serratum var. minutissimum*, Plagiomnium rostratum*, Tortula laevipila var. laevipila*. Cirriphyllum piliferum*, Plagiochila asplenioides* and P. britannica*. Your man, Donal, was absent but had left word that on the morrow we should do penance on Croagh Patrick, site of one of the largest pilgrimages on the Irish religious calendar, Jean Paton being deputed to lead the party. Towards the end of the evening one question was beginning to dominate the thoughts of those who had been in hotels on Achill: “What time does the music stop in Westport?”. The last chord died away at midnight, a time when Achill musicians were just getting into their stride.

Westport lies at the head of Clew Bay, famous for its oysters and its drumlin swarm of islands, like stranded humpback whales when viewed from the slopes of Croagh Patrick. Some 20 kilometres to the south lies a very different arm of the sea, the fjord-like Killary harbour and, in between the two, lies the blunt peninsula of Murrisk, the scene for most of our bryological activity. The peninsula is dominated by its blocks of high land – Mweelrea Mountains, the Sheefry Hills and the narrow pyramid of Croagh Patrick. For the most part these hills are composed of rocks of Ordovician age, mostly grits and slates interbedded with volcanic material, the latter particularly in evidence to the west of Mweelrea. Croagh Patrick is composed of Silurian quartzites, although we did find a band of rocks that were markedly schist-like; lower down were some interesting rocks containing serpentine and soapstone, associated with the Highland Boundary Fault which surfaces along the northern flanks of the mountain. Attracted both by the different geology and the poor coverage the area has had in the past, we ventured for one day into East Mayo (v.c. H26), first on to the more acid, Silurian rocks west of Partry and then to the Carboniferous limestone pavement at Keel Bridge between Lough Carra and Lough Mask.

13 August. Croagh Patrick (grid ref. 9180)

This hill dominates the southern side of Clew Bay and has a steep northern flank which falls away from the broad pilgrim’s track that wends its way up the east ridge. The weather was reasonable with some cloud hanging over the summit for most of the day but the showers being few and far between. Our route lay up the pilgrim’s path for a kilometre or so and then broke off westwards towards a craggy bluff with some block scree which proved reasonably basic. After a week on Achill we were able to be quite blasé on finding Dicranum scottianum, Adelanthus decipiens, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea ovata, Colura calyptrifolia, Frullania teneriffae and F. microphylla; with these were some more calcicolous species like Neckera crispa, Scapania aspera, Schistidium strictum and Orthotrichum rupestre.

Our next target was the shallow north-facing coire that drops from the summit. The base of the coire is fairly low, about 300m, and it contains some dry-looking block scree with patches of leggy heather; above this were some interesting-looking dripping crags. Almost as soon as we had entered the coire Barbara Murray found a good patch of Adelanthus lindenbergianus, a new station for this most extreme of our oceanic species and nearby David Long found Bazzania pearsonii – a surprisingly (?) low altitude (300m or so) for this species. After a communal lunch, we straggled off towards some low crags that had a ‘schisty’ appearance and so it proved with the occurrence of species like Gymnostomum calcareum, Orthothecium intricatum, Plagiobryum zieri, Leiocolea alpestris and Eremonotus myriocarpus. The dip of the strata was parallel with the slope giving an unstable clitter of disc-shaped rocks which, if disturbed flew away in a disconcerting and dangerous manner and only a fortuitous tussock saved the Society the task of finding another editor for this Bulletin: Roy reacted to this near miss in a phlegmatic manner and seemed more concerned about his family who had disappeared over some very impressive terrain, to reappear, happily, on the ridge above. This unpleasant steep ground did not suit everyone (!) and so the party split, some going up onto the ridge and the purgatory of the pilgrim’s path, others back down into the coire while a few of us continued up the coire wall.

The next set of crags added Campylopus schwarzii, C. setifolius, Dicranodontium uncinatum, Rhabdoweisia crispata and Radula lindenbergiana. As more height was gained the hepatic community composed of Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsiae, Pleurozia purpurea, Bazzania tricrenata, Scapania gracilis and, more rarely, S. ornithopodioides, became better developed, luxuriance depending on small scale changes in aspect, slope and substrate. Eventually the rock became so horrendous that we were forced to retreat and on the way down Huub found more Adelanthus lindenbergianus. Back in the lower reaches of the coire, Jean Paton had found Racomitrium ellipticum, Lepidozia pearsonii and Marsupella adusta*. Gradually the group coalesced as the car park was approached, to be amused by the spectacle of our barefoot penitent creating some interest amongst the more religious tourist. A final regrouping occurred over excellent tea and cakes at the nearby holiday cottage of Peter and Eileen Martin.

14 August. West of Mweelrea (02/76)

A fine morning with good views, the profile of Clare Island exerting a powerful attraction as we drove along the road through Louisburgh before turning south to wend our way down to the road-end at the mouth of Killary Harbour. The prospect from the road is of a sandy shoreline with a pleasant, knobbly hinterland leading to the steeper slopes of Mweelrea itself and the intention was to explore this area and the course of the Bunanakee river. Bryologising could begin immediately and within 50m of the road nice plants like Orthotrichum rupestre, Fossombronia fimbriata and Cololejeunea minutissima had already been seen. The small patches of windswept woodland and the north facing scarps of volcanic rocks were scoured and produced a good list including Campylopus polytrichoides, Plagiochila killarniensis, P. britannica, Harpanthus scutatus, Jubula hutchinsiae and all the British species of Frullania.

The approach to the Bunanakee river was fairly boggy with some patches of Sphagnum magellanicum, Dicranum bonjeanii and straggling stems of Cladopodiella fluitans. A stream junction near a waterfall made a pleasant lunch spot for about half of the group. A steep wall below the waterfall had a thin covering of bryophytes which turned out to be almost pure Plagiochila corniculata; other species of note here were Heterocladium heteropterum var. flaccidum*, Adelanthus decipiens and Fissidens curnovii. Above the waterfall the burn proved rather uninteresting so David Long struck out for the summit of Mweelrea while the rest of us turned to explore the lower reaches. The ravine and its associated crags sustained their interest until the sea was reached; in the ravine there was lots of Jubula hutchinsiae, Lejeunea lamacerina, Marchesinia mackaii and Radula aquilegia and on the rocks above Rhabdoweisia crenulata, Glyphomitrium daviesii* and Anomodon viticulosus*. David’s burst of energy had not only bagged him the summit but also added Ctenidium molluscum var. condensatum*, Andreaea rothii var. falcata and Leptoscyphus cuneifolius to the card. Returning to the cars over the sand dunes was a pleasant ending to the day and there were patches of Entodon concinnus to admire on the way.

15 August. Into East Mayo.

Numbers had now dwindled dramatically leaving merely the rump of the party to venture forth into H26, East Mayo, in search of additions to the county list and some limestone, both targets being met. The first port of call was a nice piece of woodland beside the Cloon River west of Partry (12/1372) where the silted rocks and tree boles produced so many new county records that I shall merely list them: Dicranella staphylina*, Weissia rostellata*, Physcomitrella patens*, Splachnum ampullaceum*, Leskea polycarpa*, Jungermannia gracillima*, J. pumila*, Scapania nemorosa*, Lophozia ventricosa var. silvicola*, Lophocolea fragrans*, Chiloscyphus polyanthos*, Plagiochila britannica*, Riccia glauca* and Fossombronia wondraczekii*. A tiny plant on the bare silt posed some problems; it looked like a dark, well-grown form of Fossombronia fimbriata but opinion switched rapidly to some form of Anthoceros, but now Jean Paton informs me that it is Equisetum prothalli!

Next stop was the shore of Lough Mask at Ballygarry (12/1471), south of Partry, which was a little disappointing. Although the boulders on the shore had a gritty texture, the calcareous ooze dominated and the bryophyte flora was sparse; however it did include Fossombronia foveolata*, Leiocolea alpestris*, Plagiochila britannica and Archidium alternifolium*. From here we moved on to the limestone proper at Keel Bridge over the river between Lough Carra and Lough Mask (12/1668), the pavement here being subject to periodic inundation thus creating conditions for a richer bryophyte flora. The first plant to attract attention here was Tortella densa, quite widespread on the bare limestone and T. nitida was also seen as was Anomobryum filiforme var. concinnatum*; Riccia beyrichiana was frequent on the dried out mud in angles of the ‘pavement’. On small, bare patches of soil in the damp grassland, David Long found Scapania gymnostomophila*, its third (?) station in Ireland.

Now we returned to the Silurian grits and shales north of Lough Mask (12/1372), where woodland and boggy moorland was explored. The coppiced woodland produced quite a good list including Heterocladium heteropterum var. flaccidum* and Lophozia ventricosa var. ventricosa*, but the moorland had the edge in terms of new records:- Drepanocladus exannulatus var. rotae*, Kurzia pauciflora*, K. sylvatica*, Cephalozia leucantha*, and Calypogeia neesiana*. Finally four of us moved north to the eastern shore of Cooley Lough, south of Ballyhean (12/1382) which, again, was very calcareous but Jean Paton, as assiduous as ever, found Barbula trifaria and Brachythecium populeum* and David Long found Gyroweisia tenuis*.

16 August. Brackloon Woodland and the Sheefry Hills.

The steep, rocky woodland that descends from ‘hill 581’ (02/9679) is typical of many western woodlands with the oceanic bryophyte flora depending as much on the blocks of rock for damping the variations in temperature and humidity as the badly over-grazed woodland itself. Perhaps worthy of note was the quantity of Harpanthus scutatus on the sloping rocks embedded in the soil, the occurrence of Plagiochila britannica with mature sporophytes and Jungermannia subelliptica. Other species here included Sphagnum quinquefarium, Dicranodontium denudatum, Adelanthus decipiens, Colura calyptrifolia, Cephalozia catenulata, Plagiochila killarniensis and Radula aquilegia. The boggy ground below the wood was interesting and here Jean Paton found Riccia warnstorfii* and Pleuridium acuminatum.

As you cross the Owenmore bridge, there is a dramatic view into the Caheraspic coire (02/9271) at the eastern end of the Sheefry Hills; the craggy north-facing wall is particularly enticing (if you like that sort of thing). Unfortunately the promised basic rock is only patchy but even so a good card was pieced together. Rocks low down had Adelanthus decipiens, Plagiochila killarniensis and Marchesinia mackaii and odd outcrops of basic rock higher up in the coire provided Radula lindenbergiana, R. aquilegia, Oxystegus hibernicus and David Long found Leptodontium recurvifolium and Schistidium strictum. The return to the cars provided an example of one of the pleasures of botanising in Eire; we had jammed our cars into a small parking space (including the vast ‘Perrymobile’) in front of a small cottage – anywhere else in the British Isles and the owner would have been fuming, but not here – here you are a target only for curiosity.

17 August. Mweelrea above Doo Lough (02/8167-68)

Mweelrea is the highest mountain in this part of Ireland and presents a very steep aspect to the Doo Lough Pass. Donal’s plan was to ford the burn between the two large loughs near the road and explore the huge coire above. Now, there had been talk of ‘stepping stones’ across the burn but these failed to materialise and crossing techniques varied from the ‘flying leap’ and the ‘sedate wade’ to what appeared from a distance to be a double backstroke complete with squeals. Still, we all got across, some wetter than others. Unfortunately from this point onwards the party became somewhat widespread as we each seemed to have a different perception of where the best ground lay. David Long, Agneta Burton and I covered much the same ground initially, working over block scree low down on the right of the coire; this had water percolating through it and would probably repay further attention. As it was, deep delving in amongst the rocks turned up Jubula hutchinsiae and Lejeunea hibernica*.

David and I moved up next to the subsidiary coire that leads up to Point 2610′ looking at both the huge block scree and the turfy slopes to the east. Good finds in this area included Dicranodontium uncinatum, Campylopus schwarzii, C. setifolius, Oxystegus hibernicus, Leptodontium recurvifolium, Bazzania pearsonii, Anastrepta orcadensis, Mastigophora woodsii, Scapania ornithopodioides and a single cushion of S. nimbosa. There was a good development here of the “mixed hepatic mat” (Ratcliffe D. A., New Phytol. 1968) and again the importance of microclimate was evident in the distribution of the best examples of this community. Donal joined us after an isolated lunch and almost immediately David found Bartramidula wilsonii* growing in unstable mineral soil amongst loose scree, indicating again that there is no shortage of habitat for this elusive plant. Donal, in his role as leader decided that he should return to the lower coire to assist with the re-crossing of the burn, and this unselfish act was rewarded after a few downward steps, by the discovery of Ptilium crista-castrensis**, new to Ireland. Its site here, in turfed-over scree, is typical of many sites in Scotland and it is a habitat that must also be widespread in Ireland, but it seems doubtful that such a distinctive species could have been passed over.

The weather had by now turned really foul, visibility was reduced to a few yards and it was raining heavily but it was still early so David and I decided to press on in an attempt to refind Plagiochila carringtonii (seen here previously by Jean Paton) and also, I suspect, because we both enjoy wandering around on this kind of terrain. Interest was maintained on the way up by plants like Bryum riparium, Grimmia donniana var. donniana, Hylocomium umbratum, Gymnomitrion obtusum and Lophozia opacifolia*, the latter species in perhaps its second site in Ireland. Eventually we emerged onto the ridge and into the wind and sped on for the summit; as we neared the cairn, figures loomed out of the mist, unusual in itself on a subsidiary top of Mweelrea on a wet Monday. Having exchanged pleasantries and mentioned what we were doing, one of them said, “You should talk to my neighbour, Donal Synott”! We plunged off the ridge on a compass bearing, virtually giving up hope of seeing Plagiochila carringtonii, when David stumbled across it within a few yards, masquerading, as always, as Bazzania tricrenata. We squelched downwards, regardless now of bogs and pools and emerged out of the mist a good deal further west than we had anticipated, looking down on a superb, turf- roofed cottage, dark, dank and reeking of peat, a real step back in time.

Back in the coire, Jean Paton had already found Plagiochila carringtonii as well as Pohlia elongata var. acuminata* and Kiaeria blyttii*, a long way south for this species which is rare in Ireland, and Agneta Burton had found Jungermannia exsertifolia var. cordifolia*. The burn between the two loughs was even more of a problem now, involving a thigh-deep wade, but we were all so wet we could approach it with tolerable equanimity. This excellent day was rounded off by a superb meal at the seafood restaurant on Westport Quay -highly recommended.

18 August. Sheefry, Ben Gorm and the Devilsmother

The objective for the day was some of the ravines in the southern part of the area. Donal, Lillian and Ted opted for a coire in the Sheefry Hills and Barbara and Roy went to a ravine in the same area while the rest of the party headed for the southern slopes of Ben Gorm above Killary Harbour. One ravine here (02/8663), despite its small size, provided ideal conditions – wet enough and deep enough to negate its southerly aspect, near sea level and getting a lot of sunshine so presumably frost free and with a ‘touch of base’. Here we found both Radula holtii and Lejeunea flava* as well as Hygrohypnum eugyrium*, Plagiochila killarniensis, P. corniculata, Marchesinia mackaii, Oxystegus hibernicus and Fissidens celticus.

In the afternoon we motored up the valley between Mweelrea and Ben Gorm looking for suitable ravines with little success; Roy and Barbara were already well established in the best looking option. So we retraced our steps to the Devilsmother (02/9164) and wandered up into a ravine where Jean had seen Acrobolbus wilsonii on a previous visit and apparently where it was seen by H.W. Lett in 1901. The Acrobolbus was duly refound and right next to it David found Daltonia splachnoides*; Jean found more Radula holtii and there was also Oxystegus hibernicus and Scapania scandica. Getting out of the ravine proved nearly as exciting as the bryophytes, 50° grass being somewhat disconcerting; however, we were soon able to enjoy ambling down to the cars in the later afternoon sunlight.

And so the end of another of Donal’s Irish meetings with lots of good memories of plants and people – a new site for Adelanthus lindenbergianus; Bartramidula and Geocalyx at long last; lovely Lejeunea flava; so much Colura on a damp black crag that it resembled tiny Arabic script, Donal brandishing a stem of Ptilium, Harold Whitehouse’s wonderful enthusiasm in his search for Trichostomopsis …. and, especially, the wild, empty hills.

Gordon Rothero