Brave New World- Are Carlow verges the new Flanders fields?

The Carlow bypass is open and while it may bring relief to the beleaguered citizens of Carlow town who now can cross the road without having to apply for annual leave, it also has provided a wonderful feast for the eyes of the motorists who are in the act of  circumnavigating the town. Or at least the cutaway raised verges of the motorway are.


All during the month of July these have been rampant with colour – sheets of scarlet poppies, white ox-eye daisies, and shepherds purse, yellow ragwort, and wonderful stands of flowering grasses – their seed heads waving on the skyline as the cars flash pass on the road below. Such dazzling stands of flowers are free from nature and will only last for this year so make the most of it.

Our soils contain millions of wild flower seeds per cubic metre but they cannot germinate if they are too deeply buried. Some species can remain viable for over forty years – most typical of this group is the poppy. When soils are cut open as in the making of the motorway these buried seeds come to the surface and germinate on the bare soil. Only a few species can exploit the conditions so quickly – hence the dense stands of flaming red, dazzling white and vibrant yellow.

Nobody is buried there – the earth is not bleeding, but science and sentiment got mixed up when sheets of poppies bloomed over Flanders fields as a result of all the digging done during the Great War 1914-18 to bury the slain. And so the poor poppy was landed political significance that has lasted down to our times – they could just as scientifically be wearing an ox eye daisy to commemorate Armistice Day.

Roadside verges are wonderful habitat too for small rodents – a fact that has not escaped our sharp-eyed bird of prey, the kestrel. Observant travellers are practically guaranteed to see at least one hovering over the verge with its wings moving so quickly as to be a blur, as it lines up an unsuspecting mouse for dinner. The Irish name Pocaire Gaoithe - or more graphically Bod Gaoithe-  reflects what the native speakers thought it was doing up there. If your cúpla focail don't rise to understanding this, a trip to your dictionary would pay dividends!

Mushrooms grow along these verges in Autumn – many of them no doubt edible. However it would be the brave mycologist or gourmet that would risk death stopping to gather them as 120km/hr seems to be the required speed of passing traffic. Next year, other slower-growing species will have ousted these early pioneers, so enjoy the spectacle while you can.