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1. Coole Park

Gort, Co. Galway

Fax: +353 91 631653

Web: http://www.coolepark.ie

Coole Park was once the home of Lady Augusta Gregory (1852 - 1932) -- a famous dramatist, co-founder of the Abbey Theatre in Ireland and a friend of the poet William Butler Yeats.

Coole Park is now a national park open to the public all year round.

Marked nature trails weave through many different specimens of trees and plants, many of which were imported from abroad by the Gregorys. A map for self-guided walks in the estate is available at the Visitor Centre for a nominal fee and guided tours can be arranged for pre-booked groups.

The grounds are is also famous for the autograph tree in its grounds, with signatures of John Masefield, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O'Casey, John Millington Synge and Douglas Hyde.

The park is located approx 3km north of Gort on the N18 road. A coffee shop provides light lunches during the summer season. Admission to the park is free. Admission to the visitor centre (2006 prices): Adult EUR 2.90; Concession EUR 2.10; Child EUR 1.30; Family EUR 7.40.

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2. Lough Key Forest Park

Lough Key Forest Park, Boyle, Co Roscommon

Fax: +353 71 9663266

Comprising some 350 hectares of mixed woodland, a lake and a number of islands, Lough Key constitutes one of the most extensive and picturesque Forest Parks in Ireland. Included in the Park's amenities are a well landscaped Caravan and Camping Park, nature walks, a bog garden, observation tower, ice house, wishing chair and underground tunnels. The lake, Lough Key, one of the most beautiful lakes in Ireland, is navigable from the Shannon via the Boyle River, and the jetty at Lough Key harbours Pleasure Cruisers from that great river. Boats are available for hire within the Park. Guided tours are available for groups and school tours by arrangement. Contact: Mr Seamus Duignan

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3. Connemara National Park

Letterfrack, Co. Galway

Fax: +353 95 41005

Connemara National Park encompasses some 2,957 hectares of rugged quartzite and schist terrain of north Connemara, stretching from sea level at Letterfrack to some of the peaks of the Twelve Bens mountains (Benbaun, Bencullagh, Benbrack and Muckanacht). The landscape is mantled by blanket bog and wet heath vegetation with characteristic and varied wildlife.

The park features two self guiding nature trails. The visitor centre features an information desk, tea room, shop, audio-video show and an exhibition on the Connemara landscape.

Guided nature walks leave from the park centre at 10.30am Monday, Wednesday, Friday (June 2005) and each week day Monday - Friday during July and August 2006.

Visitors planning to attend these walks should bring appropriate footwear and rain wear.

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4. Rinville Park

Oranmore, Co. Galway

Rinville Park is located near Oranmore village. The parkland amenity is created around an ancient castle, a stately home and a fine estate demesne which dates from the 16th century. With an extensive network of walks through woodland and open farmland and by sea, the park offers a recreational facility of outstanding quality and beauty. It also features some superb flora and fauna. The park has picnic areas and a children's adventure playground. It is open all year round and admission is free.

Rinville is not to be confused with Renvyle which is located in Connemara.

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5. Clonbur Wood

Clonbur Wood is about 1.5 km north of Clonbur village towards Cong on the R345 road, on the south shore of Lough Mask. There is an entrance at Burkes Garage of Clonbur.

These lands were formerly part of the Ashford or Ardilaun Estate. The trail skirts the local cemetery, Teampall Brendan, which also has an ogham stone standing nearby.

There are approximately 5.6 km of walks along the banks of Lough Mask. These walks pass some limestone pavements similar to what you will find at the Burren in County Clare.

Habitat: Final resting place of the scree from Mount Gable and Partry mountains. Walk leads to White Island Isthmus and Big Island Isthmus into Lough Mask. The site is beside the Clonbur River and on Lough Mask itself.

Flora and fauna:

The main tree species are coniferous plantations of Norway spruce, Sitka spruce and Scots pine interspersed with beech, red oak and Western hemlock.

Fauna include deer, pine martin, otter, hare, rabbit, badger, wild goats, stoat, red squirrel, widgeon and mallard. Clonbur is famous for its annual woodcock shoot in December/January.

Car parking available at the church. There is also fishing, orienteering and walking available at Clonbur.

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6. Portumna Forest Park

Portumna Forest Park is adjacent to Portumna on the northern shore of Lough Derg.

The name Portumna derives from the Irish Port Omna, meaning the landing place of the oak tree. Portumna Forest Park was acquired in 1948 and covers almost 600 hectares (1,500 acres). It was formerly owned by the Clanrickarde family.

Within the park there is an old abbey that dates back to the 15th century. The castle nearby on which considerable restoration work has been carried out dates back to the 17th century and was the seat of the Earl of Clanrickarde. An earlier castle was located on the lakeshore, east of the harbour, while yet another was constructed in the late 18th century where the main car park is now located.

Facilities: At Portumna Forest Park there are forest and lakeside walks, car park, toilet facilities and observation points. There is a viewing tower along the nature trail where one can get a bird's eye view of the forest, lake and lakeshore. Adjacent to the Park is a marina giving access to the Shannon waterway system.

Habitat: The park is easily accessible by water and road. The forest is mainly coniferous but also contains a wide variety of broadleaved trees, both native and exotic. In addition to woodlands there are wide open spaces, green fields, scrub, marsh, water and numerous off-shore islands. This inter mix of forest, open area, water and islands gives a wide choice of habitat to support a great variety of flora and fauna.

Tree Species: The main conifer species are Scots pine, larch and Norway spruce. There are knarred old oaks which have been here for centuries, majestic beeches which dominate the skyline, giant evergreens from Western North America, colourful larches from Europe and Japan, blue Atlas cedar from Africa, maples from Canada and Europe and practically all of the native tree species, including our two native conifers yew and juniper. The latter is widespread throughout the area, but only in the prostrate and shrub form.

Biodiversity: Fauna - Sixteen species of wild mammals reside within the Forest Park, of which the smallest is the pigmy shrew. The largest and most conspicuous is the fallow deer of which there is a large herd within the forest. Less conspicuous is the otter and probably the most elusive mammal of all is the pine marten (known locally as 'the cat'), a native tree-dweller which, until recently, was on the verge of extinction. The red squirrel, stoat, badger and fox may also be encountered. Bird life abounds in and around the Forest Park and 85 different types breed here, while many others pass through. The mute swan may be seen on the lake while the tiny goldcrest is a permanent resident of the forest. The lake and the shore are official sanctuaries and here wildfowl in the thousands can be viewed from some of the observation points within the forest.

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7. Pigeon Hole Wood

Facilities include picnic site, seats and car park area with over 2km of walks.

Habitat: A number of wolves skulls were found by spelaeologists while exploring caves in the area - the region was evidently a haunt of these animals. Subterranean streams and furloughs abound, and the deepest gorge is a geological phenomenon.

Main Tree Species: This is mixed woodland and includes such species as Douglas fir, Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, beech and ash.

Other Flora: Harts tongue ferns, mosses, spindle wood, gilder rose and laurel.

Fauna: The pine marten flourishes in this area along with the stoat, fox, badger and red squirrel. As it is a sun-trap, the site has many song birds as well as pigeons, woodcock arid pheasant.

History: This popular attraction is the subject of much interesting folklore and Mass was often celebrated here in Penal times. The Guinness dynasty built a private path with a pedestrian viaduct under the public road from Ashford Castle.

Geology: Limestone outcrop with many dangerous fissures and gorges.

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8. Ardnageeha Wood

Ardnageeha is located about 3.5 km south west of Cong on a minor road via Ashford Castle (off Cong/Cornamona Road).

This was an area much loved by Lord and Lady Ardilaun which prompted Lord Ardilaun to build a chalet here for his wife. She returned the complement when he died by building an obelisk. There are many archaeological features on the island of Inchagoill which is accessible by boat from Ardnageeha.

Facilities: Picnic site, seats, fishing, bathing facility and car park.

Length of Trail: There are walks of over 4 km at Ardnageeha. Starting at the car park you can walk along the shores of Lough Corrib where there are island studded views. You can swim at the local swimming area, where there is also some seating provided. From here you can view the famous Island of Inchagoill. A new trail will also be provided soon after some of the conifers are felled in 2004.

Habitat: Both coniferous and deciduous trees are present. The area has the finest inland shoreline in the country washed by the waters of the Corrib.

Main Tree Species: Mixed forest with Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, Scots pine and Japanese larch intermixed with broadleaves - Spanish chestnut, ash, beech and oak.

Other Flora: Rhododendron, bilberry, bog myrtle, woodbine, mini bamboo and laurel.

Fauna: Fox, hare, rabbit, red squirrel, stoat and pine marten. Cong Forest is internationally known for its driven woodcock shoots. The cormorant, water-hen, coot, heron and swan can be found on the lake.

Geology: Limestone and sandstone demarcation.

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9. Cong Wood

Location: Adjacent to Cong village near the Abbey grounds.

The last of the High Kings of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, lived across the river in the old abbey for the final years of his life and reign. This area incorporates a place called the 'wilderness' traversed by a maze of roads, a substantial tower and huge stone walls. Cong and Ashford grounds are well known as the location for the film The Quiet Man.

Facilities: Car parking is available at the grounds of the old abbey and the church. Pine seats are placed along the walk and fishing is plentiful along the Cong River which is famous for salmon and trout. The area is very peaceful with the silence broken only by bird song. There is an entry fee if entering through Ashford Castle grounds.

Length of Trail: There are walks of almost 2km at Cong Wood.

Habitat: The area is honeycombed with furloughs and subterranean streamlets with natural spawning beds for pike on the bays of Cong River which runs through this area. Lough Corrib lies close by.

Main Tree Species: The wood has a wide variety of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Main species include Sitka and Norway spruces, Scots pine, silver fir, American redwoods, oak, beech, lime and ash, you will also find some Yew trees especially in the grounds of the Abbey at the start of the walk.

Other Flora: Meadow sweet, horse's tail, bullrush, common reed, water lilies and dogweed periwinkle.

Fauna: The area is famous for woodcock. Animals found in the locality include pine marten, red squirrel, fox, hare, rabbit, badger and stoat. Coot, moorhen, mallard and swan can be found on the river.

Geology: Limestone with remnants of former quarrying holes where stone was cut for use in the construction of local castles.

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10. Mountbellew woodland

Mountbellew Demesne is about 1 km west of Mountbellew. The Bellews family received this old estate in 1684 under the Act of Settlement. They erected a flour mill in 1775 which is now in ruins. Facilities here include walled gardens enclosing a herd of Sika deer, an old forge - now a museum containing local artifacts - a tug boat (around 900 years old), the Herd's House and a flour mill (now in ruins).

Facilities: Car park, forest walk and picnic site. A new Coillte office was recently built in the Demense adjacent to the Galway road.

Length of Trail: At Mountbellew Demesne you will find about 5 km of forest trails.

Habitat: Coniferous forest with old oak woodland adjoining Mountbellew town. The Shevin River flows through the demesne and an artificial lake adjoins the plantation.

Main Tree Species: The only remnants of early plantations are the oak plantation, and the elite stands of Sitka and Norway spruce. Later plantations include poplar, beech, Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, ash, Scots pine, Lawson cypress, Western hemlock, silver fir and Douglas fir.

Other Flora: Ferns, reeds and mosses.

Fauna: Deer, red squirrel, fox and badger. Birds include pheasant, woodcock, jays, tree creeper, kestrel, mallard, teal, duck and mute swan.

Geology: Limestone rock with brown earth and grey soils.

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11. Kilcornan woodland

Kilcornan is near the village of Clarinbridge, south of Galway on the N18 to Limerick road. The site was formerly part of Reddington Estate. There are ruins of a church and a monument on the site.

Facilities: Kilcornnaun has a car park and forest walks.

Length of Trail: Here you will find about 8 km of forest trails.

Habitat: Coniferous and deciduous forest area. The Clarin River runs nearby.

Main Tree Species: Norway spruce, Sitka spruce, some beech and Scots pine. There is a programme in place to plant broadleaves as conifers are felled.

Other Flora: Ferns and briars.

Fauna: Common woodland mammals including the red squirrel, badger and fox.

Geology: Limestone crop with mixed woodland over shallow brown earth.

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12. Monivea woodland

This public woodland adjoins the east side of Monivea village. Facilities include about 5km of forest walks and shooting by permit.

The Illaclogher River runs nearby. A number of trails lead off the road to the mausoleum. The main tree species are coniferous forest of Norway spruce, Sitka spruce and Scots pine with a small quantity of broadleaves, mainly ash. As the conifers are felled over the coming years, they will be replanted with broadleaves to enhance the area. Other Flora include Briars, ferns, mosses and rhododendron. Fauna include the Red squirrel, fox and badger.

This woodland was formerly part of Ffrench's estate. On the death of Miss Cathleen Ffrench the lands were bequeathed to the Irish nation. The Ffrenchs built a mausoleum on the estate in 1900 and there is an ice house underground which was used for storage of meat and perishables.

Geology: Shallow brown earth over carboniferous limestone.

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