The 1990 Irish field meeting was held in the province of Ulster from 1st to 15th August. The first week was spent in Northern Ireland in counties Antrim and Londonderry and the second week in Donegal. It is interesting to note that the first ever Irish BBS meeting was held in Northern Ireland in August 1928 with Belfast as the centre. Since then the six counties have not been formally visited by the Society but they are, nevertheless, relatively ‘well-worked’, having been fertile hunting ground over many years for the late J.W. and R.D. Fitzgerald, both of whom hailed from this corner of Ireland.
Membership attendance was disappointingly low. Six members were present during the first week: Mr D. Synnott, Dr D. Kelly, Mr P. Hackney, Dr R. Weyl, Dr K. Lewis and Mr P. Martin, the latter being the only member from the British mainland. Dr P. Lightowlers and Mr T. Blockeel attended the second week in Co. Donegal. Some local naturalists with a special interest in bryophytes joined the excursions during the first week and we are indebted to the NI Countryside and Wildlife Branch for supplying useful details on the sites visited. A special tribute must be paid to Donal Synnott for his unfailing inspiration throughout the meeting. Despite an early setback which resulted in a temporary loss of voice and a subsequent dental mishap, he struggled on valiantly, effectively communicating his expertise with a finger in the book, a nod of the head and a wink of the eye.
Participants convened on the evening of 1st August at the Londonderry Arms, Carnlough. In addition to the members mentioned above, Miss M.D.B. Allen and Miss J. Shipp of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club were present. County Antrim that evening was basking in beautiful sunshine; it was experiencing one of the hottest heat-waves of the century and no rain had fallen for almost a month. Poor bryophytes, we thought! We retired that evening pledging ourselves to pray for a drop of rain. Alas, within a couple of days, our folly was regretted.
Thursday 2 August
Glenarriff (VC H39; D 2120).
Some 12 participants gathered in the car-park at the foot of the Glen on a sweltering hot morning. Glenarriff is the best known of the nine glens of Antrim; it is a deep, wooded gorge of mixed oak woodland through which the river tumbles in a series of cascades over hard basalt rock. The deep shade and wet basic conditions result in a luxuriant growth of bryophytes comparable to the woods of Kerry. A team of experts would doubtless have recorded an impressive list but as it was, the attention of the experts (mostly D. Synnott) was largely devoted to pointing out and identifying specimens for the benefit of less-experienced members. Abundant Jubula hutchinsiae was seen on wet rocks beside the river and we also recorded Blindia acuta, Mnium marginatum, Isopterygium pulchellum, Plagiochila spinulosa, Scapania nemorea, Riccardia multifida, R. chamedryfolia and Metzgeria temperata. Leiocolea heterocolpos, seen here by Jean Paton in 1969, the only known Irish location, was not spotted.
Friday 3 August
Garron Plateau (VC H39; D 2620).
By the second day a sudden change of weather had occurred and a soft Irish drizzle was falling as the party climbed the steep track to the Garron Plateau. The Garron is a vast expanse of peatland and lakes, sharply delimited on its eastern side by the basalt cliffs of the Antrim coast and commanding uninterrupted views across the North Channel to the western coast of Scotland. It is a remote, inaccessible area of considerable botanical interest with rare vascular plants such as Carex pauciflora (its only Irish station), C. dioica, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, Hammarbya paludosa, Groenlandia densa and a few scattered growths of Cryptogramma crispa, so rare in Ireland. We were expertly guided over this difficult terrain by David Ledsham, a local naturalist and Carexologist with a special interest in the area.
The more noteworthy bryophytes seen were Metzgeria temperata, Splachnum sphaericum, Tetraplodon mnioides, Calliergon sarmentosum, C. giganteum, Thuidium delicatulum, Pleurozia purpurea, Sphagnum compactum, S. contortum, S. cuspidatum, S. girgensohnii, S. magellanicum, S. palustre, S. papillosum, S. subnitens ssp. ferruginea, S. capillifolium, S. russowii, S. auriculatum var. auriculatum and S. tenellum.
Saturday 4 August
Murlough Bay (VC H39; D 1942) and Fair Head (VC H39; D 1743).
Murlough Bay and Fair Head are well-known for their botanical and geological interest. Murlough Bay faces north-east and is enclosed on three sides by steep calcareous cliffs. Fair Head, two miles further north, rises to over 600 feet above sea level; on its coastal side huge columns of dolerite form a vertical precipice, below which a massive boulder scree has developed stretching down to the sea.
The morning was spent exploring the mixed deciduous woodland on the scree slope overlooking Murlough Bay. The more interesting finds here were: Dicranum fuscescens, Grimmia trichophylla var. stirtonii (?), Glyphomitrium daviesii, Barbilophozia floerkei, Bazzania trilobata, Lepidozia cupressina, Plagiochila spinulosa, Riccardia chamedryfolia, Scapania nemorea, S. umbrosa and S. gracilis.
After lunch we took the cliff-top path to Fair Head crossing open moorland with exposed outcrops of glaciated rocks. We were delighted to find Hedwigia integrifolia growing in quantity intermixed with H. ciliata on a rocky outctop close to the cliff edge. Several species of Sphagnum were seen including S. palustre, S. subnitens, S. recurvum var. mucronatum, S. capillifolium, S. tenellum and S. teres. Three members scrambled down the Grey Man’s Path to explore the block scree at the base of the cliff, known to harbour subalpine species such as Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsiae, Bazzania tricrenata, Lepidozia pearsonii, Marsupella sprucei and Gymnomitrion concinnatum. Disappointingly, none of these was found but Pohlia muyldermansii* was found on detritus beside the path and abundant Glyphomitrium daviesii was seen on the shaded rock surfaces.
Sunday 5 August
Craigagh Wood (VC H39; D 2232), Loughareema (VC H39; D 2035), Breen Wood (VC H39; D 1233).
Sunday 5 August, was a cold, wet, blustery day and only six participants turned out. The morning was spent in Craigagh Wood, a mixed oak woodland on a steep, rocky slope with a southern aspect overlooking Cushendun. Both species of Hymenophyllum occur here and the bryophyte flora was abundant but lacking in variety. Apart from the usual woodland species the more interesting finds were Bazzania trilobata, Plagiochila spinulosa and a small patch of Lophocolea fragrans.
After lunch we proceeded to Breen Wood stopping en route at Loughareema to examine the muddy bed of the transient body of water, known locally as the ‘vanishing’ lake. Barbula hornschuchiana, Hygrohypnum luridum, Hypnum lindbergii and Philonotis rigida were soon added to our list. On arrival at Breen the weather had deteriorated sharply. Breen is one of a small number of native oak-woods still extant in the north of Ireland and well worthy of bryological investigation. But a scramble through wet undergrowth and a deluge from above curtailed enthusiasm and we did not tarry long. The following species were noted: Pohlia muyldermansii, Sphagnum quinquefarium, Lejeunea ulicina, Lophocolea fragrans and Metzgeria temperata.
Monday 6 August
Magilligan dunes (VC H40; C 6936).
No excursion was planned for the morning to allow for moving headquarters from Carnlough to Castelrock in County Londonderry. A brief non-bryological stop was permitted en route at Bushmills on the north Antrim coast to witness the art of fine whiskey distilling. The party re-convened at 1.00 pm and proceeded to Ballymaclary Nature Reserve. Ballymaclary contains the most varied and unspoilt area of the extensive Magilligan Dunes and is not normally accessible to the public. In addition to the usual dune species Thuidium philibertii was seen and the less common T. recognitum and T. abietinum ssp. abietinum as well as ssp. hystricosum. Of special interest, however, was Rhytidium rugosum, unknown from elsewhere in Ireland, but growing in profusion here and covering extensive areas of the dry stabilized dunes. Some of the wetter regions of the extensive dune slacks yielded Drepanocladus sendtneri and contained an abundance of Calliergon giganteum.
Tuesday 7 August
Binevenagh (VC H40; C 6831).
Binevenagh is a north-east facing cliff of basalt, 1200 ft high, overlooking Magilligan Strand. Lough Foyle and the Inishowen Peninsula of Donegal. It is a protected area with an arctic-alpine flora containing Saxifraga oppositifolia and Silene acaulis. The party explored the block scree at the base, parts of the cliff face and a deep crevice which extended to the top of the cliffs. Here Donal Synnott found Eremonotus myriocarpus*. It also yielded Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea ovata, Lejeunea lamacerina, Frullania microphylla and F. fragilifolia. The most noteworthy species seen was Rhytidium rugosum of which a few scattered stems were found on the grassy slopes below the cliff. David Riley proposed a theory to account for its spread from this point to colonise the dunes of Magilligan Strand. Other species of interest were Antitrichia curtipendula and Plagiochila spinulosa.
Ness Wood (VC H40; C 5211) and Banagher Glen (VC H40; C 6704).
The Ness is a deep gorge of mixed, semi-natural, oak woodland with a prominent waterfall and encroaching Rhododendron thicket. The most interesting area was in the vicinity of the waterfall where Peter Martin found a bank of Fissidens celticus*. Also seen were Rhynchostegiella teesdalei, Tetrodontium brownianum, Blasia pusilla, Lophocolea fragrans, Marchesinia mackaii and Nowellia curvifolia.
Banagher Wood near Dungiven is some 12 miles west of the Ness. Banagher is a large native woodland composed of oak, birch and ash with several rivers running through it. It was late afternoon by the time the party reached here and the time available was mainly spent searching the paths and clearings. An abundance of Jungermannia gracillima was seen with quantities of Oligotrichum hercynicum, Phaeoceros laevis, Riccia sorocarpa and Scapania irrigua growing through it.
Thursday 9 August was set aside for moving headquarters to Co. Donegal. Some members paid a visit to the National Trust property at Downhill a little beyond Castlerock. Here they encountered Miss Eccles, eminent plantswoman, gardener and custodian of the domain of the late Earl-Bishop of Derry, and a veritable institution herself. She delighted them with tales of ‘Belching Magilligan’ and showed them Phaeoceros laevis ssp. laevis growing on her doorstep! Others made their way to Derry City to walk the walls, change money and buy provisions before crossing the border. The party re-convened that evening for dinner at Arnold’s Hotel, Dunfanaghy, where we were joined by Philip Lightowlers and Tom Blockeel.