28 March 2021

An island walk along
a nature trail near
the Shannon Estuary

The Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail is by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Aughinish Island is one of the many islands within this group of parishes, and is an island near Askeaton in the Shannon estuary, Co Limerick.

With the development of Aughinish Alumina and Rusal Aughinish, Europe’s largest bauxite refinery, the island has effectively become a peninsula. The site includes a deep-water jetty in the Shannon through which the refinery imports bauxite from Guinea and Brazil and exports alumina to be refined into aluminium metal.

Although most of the island is occupied by industry, it is also the site of Ireland’s first butterfly sanctuary, located in an abandoned quarry.

Earlier today, after the Palm Sunday Eucharist and before the rains came down again, two of us went for a walk along the Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail, by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary.

The Hunt Lough on Aughinish Island is a unique dragonfly sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

This nature trail, 30 km west of Limerick City, provides an excellent opportunity to view a wide range of wildlife. It is a self-guided nature trail through wild countryside, and it includes a bird hide, Ireland’s first designated sanctuary for butterflies, meadlowland and a rare heath habitat.

This was my first time to walk this trail, but I am told it is equally fascinating in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The Butterfly Sanctuary in a disused quarry is Ireland’s first sanctuary for butterflies, with a habitat management programme specifically for the benefit of native butterflies. It has a carpet of bird’s foot trefoil and kidney vetch, the food plants of the dingy skipper and small blue butterfly. Bee orchids are common here, while ravens nest on the cliff ledges.

The meadowland is a habitat with areas where the grass is kept short to attract various thrushes and wintering curlew.

The heath is now a rare type of habitat in Ireland. Grasses, herbs and wild flowers grow in abundance, with the promise of a colourful display in summer.

The Hunt Lough is a unique dragonfly sanctuary, and the constant singing of the skylark can be heard along with the meadow pipits and cuckoo.

It is wonderful what you can see in your own parish and within your own 5 km radius when you look for it on a Sunday afternoon.

Walking along the nature trail on Aughinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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