Selected Wild Flowers of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

These fourteen photographs form part of an exhibition of wildflowers. They were taken for the most part in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown in the spring to late autumn of 2002. One of the main difficulties I encountered was trying to locate the flowers. Many of the habitats had changed dramatically over the past 20 years since I first studied the flowers for my book Healing Herbs in Ireland published in 1997.

Every year more and more woods and green areas are disappearing – some to new motorways yet others due to the persistent use of weed killers and pesticides on roadsides and public parks. All this creates little more than a 'green desert'. Authors of a new book called Cluain Chumhne in County Limerick have stated that "what the plant world most needs is a chemical cease fire with pests and weeds – as wildflowers have no voice".

We as humans share this world with many diverse forms of life. We are all dependent on each other for existence. We need the natural world to survive. If our native plant life continues to be destroyed a whole chain leading to a deterioration of the ecology system begins, affecting birds, bees, butterflies etc. As it is many farm animals are reared in totally artificial surroundings and have lost the ability to heal or feed themselves by grazing on herbs.

Today if you visit countries such as Norway or Switzerland and see the profusion of flowers in the mountains you can get an idea of what Ireland was like when grass verges were cut with scythes. Until the 1970's Dublin County Council used scythes for cutting grass. This practice was replaced by spraying with weed-killer. Green areas if left without the use of artificial fertilisers and properly managed would soon support a wild flower habitat.

These photographs are a reminder of what is being destroyed. Not only are they picturesque they also have medicinal uses – some of which are still used today in areas less than a hundred miles from Dublin. Recently I met an old traditional herbalist who told me how he prepares Chickweed for people who call to him with carbuncles and boils to be treated. According to ancient Irish manuscripts there has been a long tradition of using plants for healing such as when this herb and dandelions were used by the Tuatha de Danann. Yarrow, Meadowsweet and Water Mint were held in high regard by the Druids and later by the "fairy doctors" who existed in rural Ireland until recently. Often these were used with various incantations and rituals. Later in the eighteenth century Caleb Threlkeld, a Scottish doctor and botanist living in Dublin, was critical of these superstitious practices.

Herbs were also used by the Monks for healing. Evidence exists through the Irish names such as Purgoid na manach literally meaning Monk's Purgative, Lus Choluimcille (St John's Wort) meaning Herb of St. Columcille. Earlier Irish monks tended to emphasise repentance with prayer and self-sacrifice.

Until the introduction of antibiotics cures like these were the norm for people living far away from doctors or those who could not afford the treatment. It is assumed that modern medicine with its arsenal of drugs is the panacea for all ailments. We see this in particular with TB, which was once a scourge in this country. Perhaps enough credit is not given to those who survived by using herbs such as Mullein or Chickweed/Watercress. We forget that most medicines today are synthetic versions of the original plant such as Aspirin containing salicylic acid, which originally was discovered in Meadowsweet formally known as Spiraea Ulmaria. Another medical drug Digoxin is derived from the Foxglove.

Very often it is the weeds some people consider a pest in their garden that are the same wildflowers being threatened. These plants may prove our most powerful ally in time either for food or medicine. During the war years herbs such as Couchgrass, Dandelions, Foxgloves etc. were collected at various depots around the country and fetched high prices.

Despite the destruction of native wild flowers and trees around the country resulting in a scarcity of butterflies and honeybees this is not always the case. In the suburbs surrounding Dublin there has been an increase in the number of bees this year. This is not surprising, as I have discovered many people leave wildflowers growing in their gardens rather than destroying them. Perhaps the hope for wildlife exists in the increased awareness of the need, uses and beauty of wildflowers and their important role in our lives.

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