August 17th - Maghera, Carntoghter, An Carn


Leader; Pol Mac Cana

The sun came out as our coach arrived at the Carntogher Community Association Centre where we were met by Dr Pol Mac Cana, co-ordinator of the Envision Community Heritage Project. Carntogher is in an Area of Natural Beauty in the Sperrins near Maghera, and the local community is involved in many projects to preserve local culture and history and to encourage tourism. After welcome coffee and scones, Catherine Bertrand and our members Shiena and Doris identified the moths caught overnight.

Beside the pond is a statue of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his hound Bran who had plunged into nearby Lough Bran. Pol described attempts that have been made to eradicate Curly Waterweed (Lagarosiphon major), an invasive South African aquatic plant, probably released into the pond from a garden pond or aquarium.

The Bio-diversity project is encouraging wildflower-growing on roadside verges and we admired a colourful display of Corn Marigolds (Chrysanthemum segetum), Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum) and Corn-cockle (Agrostemma githago), which is now extinct in the wild.

In May 2001 BNFC had visited Drumlamph ancient woodland, part of the once extensive forest of Killetra, where the Woodland Trust and the Carntogher Community Association (CAA) were working to restore the woodland. Now with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the CCA has acquired another 130 acres of ancient woodland and ecologically important grazing meadows, fen, transitional mire and quaking bog. The management plan will meet the requirements of the UK Bio-diversity Action Plan.

We walked across some of this unimproved wet grassland, rich in various sedges and rushes. One of the most conspicuous flowering plants was Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) which has larger flowers than the more familiar Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and Orchids (Dactlyorhiza spp.) were in seed so less recognisable.  James Rainey, who is studying Biology at Oxford and lives locally, was an enthusiastic mine of information on the area and the different habitats. After lunch we visited grazing meadows and Pol explained the methods of layering hawthorn to improve hedges in order to prevent cattle straying. We were glad to learn that some of the County Down Red Kites (Milvus milvus) had been nesting in the Sperrins.

Pol and James were thanked for leading us in this most interesting area, to which the Club is due to return in September for an archaeology excursion.

Margaret Marshall


Zoology

The day was cool and windy and so we were not expecting to see many butterflies. However we were pleased to find and catch Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) adult butterflies which could be passed round the group to allow them to see them at close quarters.

Also some caterpillars (unidentified) were reported in the area of the meadow on the fen. All of these are good signs that the habitat is improving for a range of wildlife.

Pamela Thomlinson

Archaeology

A bus full of members assembled on a rainy morning and set out for An Carn visitor centre just north of Maghera. The rain was relentless for the first few hours but the welcome refreshments at the centre gave courage and we were kindly afforded hospitality there again later as our picnic venue.

The first stop was Knockoneill court tomb excavated in the 1970s by the late Laurence Flanagan, former Keeper of Antiquities at the Ulster Museum. This is an impressive Neolithic tomb dating to the third millennium BC. The considerable skill of the builders was in evidence both in the choice of large boulders used for construction and in their splitting and placement following a pattern recognisable in the more than 400 known court tombs principally found across the northern part of Ireland. The burial chambers are contained within a long cairn with an open court at one end. So prominent was this tomb in the locality, probably in use for several hundred years, that when the Neolithic gave way to the early Bronze Age a circular cairn was constructed on the back end of the cairn to bury people from this new culture. Members discussed the geology of the stones and mused about the Neolithic community which established farming in this area some 5000 to 6000 years ago.


We moved on to visit Tirkane sweathouse built of drystone in recent centuries into the side of a steep hill with an airhole in the roof. It is traditionally thought  to have been used for sweating off rheumatic pains. A fire would have been lit within the structure and damp rushes laid on the embers to create steam. Significantly , the group identified an artificial pool immediately adjacent which is fed by a channel from a stream and this is likely a ‘plunge pool’ for cooling off after the treatment, traditionally associated with such sites.


Tirnony portal tomb on the side of a minor road came next and is probably broadly contemporary with Knockoneill court tomb. Here a single-chambered tomb was excavated by NIEA in recent years towards reinstating the slipped capstone.

The cultural remains were slight, indicating that the site had been cleared out in the past. The most important object found was a fine flint knife.


The final visit was to St Lurach's medieval church ruin church ruin in Maghera to view the elaborate 12th-century carved lintel over the west door which is protected from the weather by a later tower. Here a well-peopled crucifixion scene, requiring a torch to view, is one of only three in Ireland. The others are at Raphoe in Co Donegal and Dunshaughlin in County Meath.


Claire Foley

 
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An Carn

Unimproved grassland

Bog Asphodel Seeds