The Arts Interview: Albert Nolan

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

Although, born in Co. Tipperary my mother’s family were staunch Limerick folk.

Although, born in Co. Tipperary my mother’s family were staunch Limerick folk.

All my family were builders but when I was on roofs myself, I spent most of my time looking down at the wildlife, rather than concentrating on repairs.

My Mum and her family have more of a natural affinity with the countryside than my father’s side. These two influences have shaped my attitude and approach to the study of wildlife. We are all born with a deep curiosity about the natural world so it is important to encourage more contact with nature.

I am now living in the beautiful village of Rearcross with my three kids, John (15), and twins Harry and Lucy (6). Sadly, my partner Louise, who was born in Rossa Avenue, in Limerick, passed away four years ago, after a brief battle with breast cancer.

Educated in Tipperary town, I studied Organic Horticulture while in Dromcollogher.

However, later on I trained as a youth worker with Limerick Youth Service and University College Cork (UCC) focusing on young people and nature. While, I struggled with formal education I loved writing, science and history.

Indeed, I have enjoyed every minute of my adult education. I was always interested in the natural world and this probably came from my grandfather and my uncles. They had a deep knowledge and understanding of the countryside and its wildlife. Skilled in fishing and hunting they could recognise bird songs and various calls.

I loved going to stay with them over the summer. We would go out, in the early morning, for walks or to the river to watch them fish. Alternatively, I would explore a hedgerow to look and listen for birds. These interests have continued throughout my adult life and I have learned just as much from these activities as from books.

People often say to me that young people today have no interest in nature or in the environment.

However, I have found that when I bring them out on nature walks they are full of interest and enjoy learning about our wildlife. Indeed, we are not exposing this generation to enough of our own wildlife. Although the Green Schools’ Program is doing fabulous work and young people are learning valuable skills, we also need to keep raising awareness through the media.

Indeed, we need to encourage residents’ groups to bring an appreciation of nature into their own communities. For example, we can plant beneficial plants for birds and insects to use. The ‘Tidy Towns Competition’ and the recent urban ‘Bio Blitz’ are other excellent examples of projects that can get the wider public involved.

The great thing about nature watching is that you can do it from your own kitchen window.

Nature is literally all around us and we can choose those activities that we want to get involved with. Your basic equipment can be a pair of binoculars, a note book and pencil. All your records are important and you can submit these (online) at the National Biodiversity Ireland website.

Making people aware of the importance of our wildlife, and how its helps to create a healthy environment, is really important.

Trees help to clean the air and people find that the ‘great outdoors’ also helps them to relax and unwind. I have been involved with Birdwatch Ireland for many years and work with schools to make nature as enjoyable and interesting as possible. I love writing and combine this with a passion for wildlife.

Newspapers like the Limerick Leader are a great way of reaching out to the wider community, raising awareness of the natural world in the process.

I am not pessimistic about the health of our environment but I am worried.

We need to recognize that important connections exist between habitats. For example, nettles are used by the Caterpillars of several butterfly species and if we remove these, the butterflies will disappear. We certainly need wild areas for a healthy natural world to exist and to reduce our dependency on chemicals. Tourism is also a key factor in any economic recovery.

Indeed, Limerick’s green image is helping to attract visitors here, including fishermen. We have historical tours, so why not wildlife walks? Local authorities can help by drawing-up biodiversity plans.

However, it is important that these are implemented while awarding grants to local groups for environmental projects, through the local Agenda 21.

Always having a deep connection with nature I love sharing my experiences with others.

Indeed, we are spoilt for choice in Limerick today. The Shannon Estuary is full of visiting species in winter while Westfield’s Nature Reserve is ideal for butterflies and birds.

Lough Gur and Curraghchase Forest Park are also well worth visiting, at any time of the year. Even your own garden, local hedgerow, pond or graveyard, will contain many interesting species of wildlife.

Nature studies are a healthy family activity and, more importantly, they are completely free.

Take a walk in your local wood and bring a picnic to try it out. Indeed, you can start on your own doorstep by learning about the trees, birds and plants that exist all around you. There are some excellent websites to help their identification.

It is also great fun to join a local group and to learn from other people’s experiences. You will be amazed by what you can find out about the interesting lives of our nearest wildlife neighbours. From the migration of birds to the small tortoiseshell butterflies, hibernating in the folds of your bedroom curtains, nature is the most amazing journey that you will ever take!

For more information about Albert Nolan please e-mail: or phone: (089) 4230502. You can contact the National Biodiversity Database Centre at