I hadn’t heard of The Gearagh until I received this book. I can be forgiven for that, perhaps, because it is in Ireland and essentially this superb site for wildlife was destroyed a few years before I was born, in the 1950s. This book describes what we lost and how we lost it. The Gearagh was western Europe’s last primeval river forest and as well as hosting rich wildlife its human communities depended on the forest to a large extent. Now I know of it, I mourn its loss.
It is said, that people passing by this riverine forest would stop in amazement, day and night, at the bird song that flowed out from its trees. I wonder whether they did? That’s the trouble with the species and places we have lost, you can’t go back to check how amazing they were and if you don’t have memories stored in your own brain then it all seems a bit like tall stories and hearsay. But maybe, quite likely, it wasn’t.
This is a fine book. I enjoyed meeting the author’s grandmother and her tales of the Gearagh prophecies, the culmination of one of which we encounter in the first chapter. The legend of Dorcha and Annu and their grappling for our view on how to live on Earth these days is a very strong second chapter. And then we’re off into the natural vegetation of Ireland, the history of land use change, the reasons for forest loss and the ultimate fate of this special site. The Gearagh was lost as it was flooded when two hydro-electric dams were built to supply Cork with electricity.
It’s difficult writing about nature that doesn’t exist anymore, imagine writing about a species that has been extinct for 100 years, but here the author makes it work. I now know about the lost marvel of The Gearagh and I feel sad that I cannot visit it myself. Kevin Corcoran does well to put the loss of The Gearagh into a wider context and goes some way to sketching out how we should live to minimise more losses in the future.
The current (April 2022) issue of British Wildife has an article by the author of this book with a summary of the issues covered here.
The cover? I’m not sure about the cover, and, in particular, that Otter doesn’t look quite Otterish enough for me. The illustrations by the author are very attractive, and adorn the book, but that detail from that illustration wouldn’t have been my choice of cover. I’d give it 6/10.
Saving Eden: the Gearagh and Irish nature by Kevin Corcoran is published by the Gearagh Press.