Rare bats find ‘heaven’ in County Limerick park

BATS of various disguises may have been scurrying our cinema screens all summer, but now locals are being given a chance to see them an altogether different environment – the Abbeyfeale town park.

BATS of various disguises may have been scurrying our cinema screens all summer, but now locals are being given a chance to see them an altogether different environment – the Abbeyfeale town park.

Next Wednesday, to mark national heritage week, a special ‘bat tour’ will take place on the grounds of the park’s 30-acre wildlife reserve, which is home to six of the ten species of bat living in Ireland.

James Harnett, a local undertaker and wildlife expert who could claim to be Abbeyfeale’s very own ‘Batman’, will conduct the tour around a park which he describes as “Abbeyfeale’s best kept secret”.

“A healthy bat population is an indicator of a healthy environment. Bats won’t be found anywhere that doesn’t have clean water; they won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t have a healthy insect population.

“Bats can eat up to 3,000 insects a night. But you won’t have insects without a good variety of plants and grass, without pesticides. It’s an indicator of a good, clean environment. This place is like heaven for bats”.

The ‘bat tour’ will be the main attraction in the ‘Wild About Nature’ event which will take place at the park between 7pm and 9.30pm next Wednesday night.

The event is the brainchild of Jim O’Connor, who oversees the day-to-day running of a park which is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations for everyone from parents of young children to wildlife lovers.

Though the park is known for its two playground areas at the front, Mr O’Connor said that more and more people are now starting to discover the lush wildlife sanctuary beyond.

“Nature has its own intrinsic value, regardless of the value people put on it. That’s why titled our evening, ‘wild about nature’. There’s 40 bumblebee monitoring stations in Ireland, and this is one of them. Then there’s the bats; there are three amphibians living in Ireland, and we’ve two of them – frogs and newts. We’ve a crannog, the duck pond, the wildlife sanctuary”.

Today, the Abbeyfeale town park is one of the most diverse, scenic areas of its kind anywhere in Limerick. This quiet, idyllic patch is the result of years of hard graft by the part of local volunteers and enthusiasts.

The park can trace its origins back to 1994, when over 1,000 workers at the local Kostal plant were surveyed and asked what amenities they felt were lacking in Abbeyfeale. Following this, it was decided that work should start on creating a new park with a children’s playground. A 30-acre meadow between the river and the Killarney Road was purchased for around £100,000, and fund raising for the development of the park began in earnest.

As well as contributions from a host of benefactors, from Limerick County Council and West Limerick Resources to Coilte and the National Lottery, the park has also received in the region of €400,000 in donations from within the Abbeyfeale community. Helmut Kostal himself contributed £25,000 to the development of the first playground, which has since been replaced with a new, state-of-the-art facility with an FAI-funded mini soccer pitch.

But the key, now, is to maintain and nurture the park’s wildlife. Mr O’Connor said that the park was specifically designed by Sandro Cafolla of County Carlow to become a “wild” place where nature could thrive.

“You look around here, it looks overgrown” Mr O’Connor says, waving at some of the dense grass and shrubbery along one of the park’s loop walks. “But these are the kind of conditions that insects and animals love”.

Mr Harnett said that the fruits of years of painstaking conservation work are becoming clear. “You can see the wildlife building up year after year. We attracted the moor hen for the first time four or five years ago, and we get up to eight of them now. We found two dead shrews recently too. Shrews are the smallest mammals in Ireland – you never know if they’re living somewhere until you find dead ones.”

Mr O’Connor said that the park is constantly evolving to reflect changes in the environment, as well as the ideas of visitors who want to help the area have an even more lasting impression on the community.

“We take suggestions, just so people can have an input into it and have ownership of it.”

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