The woodland which overlooks Carndonagh from Cnoc nc Coille Daire (which translates as the hill of the oak wood), is one of Inishowen’s few remaining ancient woodlands. The designation ‘ancient woodland’ refers to those woods that have had a continuous history of cover since the mid-1600s, before the period when planting and afforestation became common practice.
It is clearly a great asset in ecological terms, providing a home to a wide variety of native trees and plants, but it also has significant historical and cultural value as well. The wood is the home of a Mass Rock, as noted in an earlier post. The ‘Fair of the Wood’ took place every summer on bilberry Sunday, when the local people would search hillside and bogland for bilberries.
John Norris Thompson noted the following in 1884:
“This district, once so thickly wooded, is now very deficient in trees. The old wood (a remnant probably of the primeval forest) which skirts the left of the road leading to Clonmany after passing Tiernaleague, was cut down by Robin Cary somewhere about 70 years ago and the present trees have grown from the roots of the old ones. It was mere brushwood ‘till a few years ago but now some of the sprouts are beginning to merit the term “trees” and as Wm. Rankin has lately got the wood thinned, and let the air through it, it may yet become a respectable little wood.”
A report on the woodland describes it as “durmast oakwood – a feature of poor, acid, loam soils. Comprises 30 acres of great ecological interest north west of Carndonagh. This is an old oakwood containing mainly sessile oak (or durmast oak) and also some rowan in the high canopy. The understorey is formed by rowan, hazel, willow and holly. Greater woodrush (luzula sylvatica) and bilberry are abundant in the ground zone vegetation. A fine stand of old oakwood much modified by man in the past, is now in a natural condition.”
Other historical records include an account presented to the House of Commons in 1808 to cover the cost of cutting down the wood:
ACCOUNT PRESENTED TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, 1808
No. 73: To Rev. J.P. Kennedy & Thomas Armstrong, to cut down Carrick-hill on the road from Carn to Buncrana – £10.0.0
Another record notes that the wood was “Sold to local farmer and much timber cut down recently to provide charcoal for gas production plants for motors.” (no date – understood to be around 1914/18)
Today, the wood is a Proposed Natural Heritage Area. Hopefully it will receive protected status soon and we can let this ancient woodland thrive for generations to come.