The group who attended the launch of the new nature signage at Bailieborough’s Castle Lake and Forest Park. Photo: Damian McCarney

Swan deaths shocked community into action

The death of a family of mute swans on Castle Lake last year inspired a group of Bailieborough residents to come together to protect and promote the beauty spot on their doorstep.

The affection the community holds for Castle Lake can be measured by the dozens who turned up on a truly miserable Sunday afternoon for a tour of the signs.

The atmosphere was celebratory as the group has achieved much already and are on the right trajectory to help the site reach its full potential both as a public amenity and a wildlife haven.

Horticulturalist Barry Kavanagh is a prominent voice amongst environmentalists making a difference in Co Cavan, notably in helping the Catholic Church with their commitment to allocate 30% of their land to nature. He also has his own biodiversity oasis, Nature’s Patch.

Here Barry was commandeered to lead the guided walk, alongside Birdwatch Ireland member Elizabeth McKenna and former forester Noel Cassidy. Barry promised that as well as the “good bits”, he would highlight the “fair few bad bits”.

“I don’t want to depress everybody, because there’s always hope, and the hope is this group - all you who are interested,” he assured.

To the untrained eye there weren’t many bad bits, save for the laurel elbowing its way between mature trees. Those mature trees are typical of the type you find in old estates. Castle Lake’s forest park was originally owned by Lord Lisgar, before it was taken over by the Marists religious order before ultimately it became the responsibility of the Forest Service in the early years of the 20th century.

This is where Noel Cassidy’s link with it comes in. His father was a forester who moved to Bailieborough in the early 1950s and brought his family and Noel, then only a gasún.

“This was the fifth forest in Ireland to be taken over, it was always known as Forest Number Five, Bailieborough,” Noel explains.

Noel used the forest as a short cut to the Vale School in his youth and recalls how the gates were closed to the public in those days.

“You never saw anyone in here,” he recalls, save for the odd English anglers who fished the lake.

“The forest was closed, people weren’t invited in, nor were they welcome in. That was the way at the time.

“In 1970, it was European Conservation Year and at that time the Forest Service decided they’d open up the forests to the people, and that was the start of the forest parks - Killykeen, Rossmore, Avondale and all the others - they were all opened up in the early ’70s.”

Noel became a forester himself and would return to Bailieborough as a harvester for jobs, and then on a permanent basis in 2012 as business manager.

With his foresters’ hat on he can’t help but admire the majestic beech trees forming an avenue.

“All planted around 100 years ago,” he says with a hint of wonder.

It was a decade ago when he first came into contact with members of the Bailieborough public who had the interests of the lake and forest park at heart.

“From my point of view it was very easy to work with groups like Lee’s, because they were very positive and they wanted action,” he recalls fondly.

He says that Coillte is certified as an environmental company and manage their forests sensitively. He assures they will respond positively when groups come together to try to advance particular forests.

“When there’s active people, and people are interested, that’s when Coillte will get interested and get involved in this type of work.”

The Lee Noel referenced is Lee McDonnell. She was instrumental in the Castle Lake Development Committee - a sub committee of Bailieborough Development Association (BDA) - that drove

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