The Summer Meeting in Ireland ended with five days based in the village of Dunfanaghy in north Donegal. The county was previously visited by the Society in 1962, and Dunfanaghy was also the base on that occasion. That meeting occupied a full fortnight, and it achieved a good coverage of West Donegal, so that we did not expect to make many surprising discoveries. We were well accommodated at Arnolds Hotel, and we specially looked forward at the end of each day to the excellent and wholesome dinners to be had there. The hotel grounds even obliged with two new vice-county records, Orthotrichum diaphanum on the car park wall, and Dicranella staphylina on bare soil under trees.
Unfortunately, the meeting was not well attended. Only six members were present (Paul Hackney, Keith Lewis, Philip Lightowlers, Peter Martin, Donal Synnott and myself), but we had guidance and support from two local naturalists. Dr. Ralph Forbes from Belfast, who guided us in Glenbheagh, and Ralphe Sheppard from Raphoe.
Friday 10 August
This day was devoted to Glenbheagh. Although this valley was visited during the 1962 meeting, a return trip seemed justified because the area is now a National Park. and it contains interesting fragments of Oak and Birch woodland. Unfortunately it is also infested with Rhododendron, and the intractable nature of this problem was obvious to us both in the woodlands and on otherwise bare hillsides covered with extensive and impenetrable thickets. We hoped that Telaranea might turn up by way of compensation but we were not so lucky. In the morning we explored Glenlack near the head of Lough Bheagh. This side valley contains some of the best of the Oak woodland, though none of the lower part that we visited was free of the Rhododendron. At the foot of the valley the trees were covered with the commoner western hepatics, principally Scapania gracilis, Plagiochila spinulosa and P. punctata. Rotting stumps and peaty banks produced T ritomaria exsectiformis, Odontoschisma denudatum, Kurzia trichoclados and Cephalozia catenulata. The rocky stream had plentiful Jubula hutchinsiae and smaller amounts of Hygrobiella laxifolia, Radula aquilegia and Aphanolejeunea microscopica. Also recorded in the vicinity of the stream were Dicranum scottianum and Harpanthus scutatus on boulders, Lepidozia cupressina on rocks and logs, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia on hazel, and Eurhynchium praelongum var. stokesii on the ground.
Later, we looked at the area of bog at the head of Lough Bheagh, but this proved unproductive. There were occasional patches of Pleurozia purpurea, but other species were sparse. Hedwigia ciliata and Ulota hutchinsiae were on boulders at the edge of the bog, and Donal climbed high enough to find Anthelia julacea and Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsiae.
Glenbheagh Castle occupies a spectacular location on the shores of the Lough, and late in the afternoon we returned to look at the woodland above the gardens. Much of our interest, however, was held by the walls and man-made structures. These produced Gyroweisia tenuis, Plagiochila britannica and, on paths and flower beds, Phaeoceros laevis ssp. laevis. A fine flight of stone steps leading up through the woods had been colonised by numerous species, including Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia. In the woodland there were some particularly good patches of Harpanthus scutatus on boulders, and Leptoscyphus cuneifolius on trees. Metzgeria temperata was on ornamental trees near the lough side.
Saturday 11 August.
We decided to devote this day to the Horn Head peninsula immediately to the north of Dunfanaghy. The area held promise of base-rich rock, and there are extensive sand dunes and slacks adjacent. We parked the cars at Claggan, on the south-west of the peninsula and made our way across the ridge of Anloge Hill. Initial indications were good. Funaria obtusa, F. attenuata, Haplomitrium hookeri and Riccia beyrichiana were found at the side of the track leading towards the hill, and Leiocolea cf. bantriensis (sterile) was in a wet flush. Neckera crispa on the rocks held out a promise of rich pickings, but the promise was not really fulfilled. The rocks proved fairly unproductive, though small amounts of Gymnostomum calcareum, Orthotrichum rupestre, Pterogonium gracile, Lophozia excisa and Plagiochila britannica were seen.
After lunch in a field occupied by inquisitive donkeys, we continued south towards the dunes. The route took us across some marshy ground with Plagiomnium ellipticum and Brachythecium mildeanum, to the higher dunes some distance still above sea level. At the edge of the marsh was the most interesting ground of the day, a small but very productive patch of damp sand. Close scrutiny on hands and knees revealed the presence of Distichium inclinatum, Amblyodon dealbatus, Catoscopium nigritum, Thuidium abietinum, Leiocolea badensis and Moerckia hibernica. Though reluctant to leave this excellent place, we felt we had to explore the extensive wet slack at the foot of the dunes. In descending the sandhills, we found Barbula reflexa, Entodon concinnus and Gymnostomum viridulum, the latter forming crusts on stony ground blown clear of sand. The large slack, which contained some standing water, proved to be densely vegetated, with much Scorpidium scorpioides and Calliergon giganteum, but we could not find any more of the damp sand community that we had seen on the higher dunes.
Sunday 12 August.
We decided it was time for a day in the hills. The weather for the next three days was to be changeable, and we feared it might deteriorate. In the event, this was the worst day we could have chosen for the high ground. Persistent dense mist covered the ground above about 300 m. and frustrated our plans. The hills we hoped to climb were Aghla More and Aghla Beg, positioned between the better known Errigal and Muckish, and a little lower than either. Nevertheless there was promise of the northern hepatic mat, and Adelanthus lindenbergianus. Our approach was via the northern end of Altan Lough. We parked the cars near a trout farm, and made for the stream running down from L. Feeane. The boggy ground had much Pleurozia purpurea, and as we ascended the stream we began to encounter small quantities of Herbertus aduncus ssp. hutchinsiae, Bazzania tricrenata, Lepidozia cupressina and Mylia taylorii. Other species included Kurzia trichoclados, Sphenolobus minutus and Tetraplodon mnioides. Eventually we reached the scree below and to the north-west of L. Feeane. The Herbertus and Bazzania were abundant here, but at scarcely 400 m. we were not high enough for the rarer hepatics. The mist was thick, and we thought it unwise to attempt the steep summit slopes, which were covered with sharp, broken quartzite scree. The afternoon proved a bit miserable, partly because of the mist and the disappointment of not reaching the high ground, and partly because of the dreary acid terrain which occupies the middle slopes of these hills. We would have been more cheerful had we known, as it turned out, that we had collected Grimmia atrata new to Ireland, both on the shore of L. Feeane and on the ridge between Aghla More and Aghla Beg, and nearby on the ridge Anthelia juratzkana. Other finds in the same area included Dicranum scottianum, Campylopus schwarzii, Pohlia bulbifera, Ulota hutchinsiae, Racomitrium sudeticum, Jungermannia subelliptica and Hygrobiella laxifolia.
We arrived back at Dunfanaghy relatively early, and Donal and I were keen to make something more of the day by visiting the well-wooded Ards Peninsula. Although much of the forest consists of planted conifers, the trees are mature and attractively interspersed with native species. We stopped at the main car park and walked to the dunes nearby, on the north side of the peninsula. These were much overgrown with coarse grass, but we found Distichium inclinatum, Gymnostomum calcareum and Brachythecium glareosum on a rocky bank with blown sand, and Ulota phyllantha with sporophytes on a scrubby Sycamore. We returned by a track through the woods. Riccardia incurvata was on a piece of disturbed ground by the track, and epiphytes included Harpalejeunea ovata and Cololejeunea minutissima. The lichens were quite spectacular, too.
Monday 13 August.
Even before the frustrating day on the two Aghlas, there had been talk of an ascent of Muckish, where Adelanthus lindenbergianus and other oceanic-montane hepatics are known to occur. However, Donal was due to leave us at mid-day, and although the cloud cover was higher than it had been, the summit plateau of Muckish was still enshrouded and there did not seem much prospect of the cloud lifting. The morning was therefore spent in coastal habitats on the Rosguill peninsula. No especially rich sites were found, but the list of species seen included Distichium inclinatum, Tortella flavovirens, Barbula reflexa, Thuidium delicatulum, Entodon concinnus and Blepharostoma trichophyllum.
Ballyarr Reserve, east of Kilmacrenan, had been identified as a site with bryological potential, and we moved on to there in the early afternoon. The Reserve is a fine piece of old Oak and Birch wood set in undulating pasture land and it was known to harbour the ferns Hymenophyllum tunbrigense and Dryopteris aemula. We parked in a narrow lane on the north side. Soil by the roadside here produced Dicranella staphylina, Bryum klinggraeffii, B. sauteri and Riccia sorocarpa. To gain entry to the wood, we had to cross a field with much Juncus, where Pseudephemerum nitidum, Pohlia camptotrachela and Fossombronia wondraczekii were growing on damp peaty soil. Bryophytes were luxuriant in the wood, but there were surprisingly few Atlantic species, the most plentiful of these being Plagiochila spinulosa. Not a lot of rock is exposed, but there are several low vertical faces where the Hymenophyllum grows. This habitat produced Lepidozia cupressina and Kurzia sylvatica. Other records included Plagiochila punctata and Metzgeria temperata on Birch trees, Hylocomium brevirostre very fine in the ground flora, and Sphagnum girgensohnii in damp hollows.
Tuesday 14 August.
This was the last day of the meeting and most of the party were heading home in the evening. This gave us the opportunity to take in areas in the south of Donegal which involve a very long return journey from Dunfanaghy. Two coastal sites had been identified where ultrabasic rocks outcrop. The first of these was west of Lettermacaward on Gweebarra Bay. The rock here certainly did not advertise its basicity in the composition of the flora, but there was a nice piece of wet ground in one of the pastures with plentiful Anthoceros punctatus, together with Ephemerum serratum var. serratum and Pohlia camptotrachela. The next site was at Sheskinmore Lough, a Reserve on the Rossbeg peninsula noted for its birdlife. As we walked down from the road to the north of the lough, it soon became obvious that this was a better kind of rock. Orthotrichum rupestre, Pterogonium gracile, Reboulia hemispherica, Frullania microphylla and F. tenerif fae turned up before we reached the reserve boundary. Additions by the lough included Fissidens pusillus, Marchesinia mackaii and, in the marsh, Scorpidium scorpioides and Calliergon giganteum. This was a beautiful place and the far side of the lough, backed by sandhills, was enticing. By now, however, it was mid afternoon and we were anxious to visit L. Eske – nearly an hour’s drive away – to see what we were assured was the best Oak wood in Donegal. Our records would assist in ensuring protection of this very important wood.
We were not disappointed. We entered the wood by the lane on the west side of the lough. There is a rocky stream here, with abundant Jubula hutchinsiae. There must be traces of base in the rock, since other records on the stream bank included Neckera crispa forming ruffs about the bases of small trees, Rhynchostegiella teesdalei, Blepharostoma trichophyllum, Cololejeunea calcarea and, on damp ground, Trichocolea tomentella. The epiphytic flora was very attractive, and included Leptoscyphus cuneifolius, Plagiochila spinulosa, P. punctata, P. exigua (very fine male plants), Frullania fragilifolia, Drepanolejeunea hamatifolia, Harpalejeunea ovata and a little Aphanolejeunea microscopica. We certainly had no time to do justice to this habitat and only penetrated a little way into it. Further investigation would certainly be rewarding both here and in the ravine to the north of the lough at the base of the Blue Stack mountains.
In his report on the 1962 meeting, Ted Wallace remarked that most of the species likely to be encountered in the north-west of Ireland had now been recorded, and our own experiences confirmed this view. Certainly there are still unexpected finds to be made, and many details of distributions to be filled in. Be that as it may, the landscapes of Donegal are a real pleasure, and for me the biggest joy of all in the torrid summer of 1990 was the moist Atlantic climate!