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NATURE Michael Viney’s ‘Wild Mayo’

Outdoor Living
Michael Viney Author of  ‘Wild Mayo’ at his home in Thallabawn, Louisburgh.?

Capturing ‘Wild Mayo’


Book Review

Aíne Ryan


IT is a eulogy to an evocative landscape. It is a poem to a place still relatively untouched by parasitic pollution. It is a colourful compendium of man’s tentative intrusions on an ancient landscape. From limestone lakes to turloughs, moorlands to machairs, blanket bogs to woodlands, rocky shores to silk sanded beaches, ‘Wild Mayo’ both captures the broad brushstrokes of this county’s epic natural history and unfurls its ongoing dialectic.      
For more than 30 years, the author of this beautifully illustrated book, Michael Viney, has been associated with sustainability and ecology, nature and the windswept reality of living ‘Another Life’ on the edge of County Mayo.
His iconic column in The Irish Times has undoubtedly inspired many people to embrace alternative lifestyles or, at least, tune in more sensitively to the seasonal pulses of nature and its many habitats.
Now, the recently published book, ‘Wild Mayo’ – commissioned by Mayo County Council – provides yet another lens on this cross-millennial narrative. 
As is explained on the fly-sheet: “Out of the windswept, oceanic edge of Europe the 5,400 square kilometres of County Mayo offer an experience of nature still rare in a crowded world. In a landscape boldly coloured by climate and dramatically worn by the Ice Age, a remarkable variety of habitats weaves from mountain summits, through rolling peatland, to a pristine shore, across a terrain rippling with lakes and rivers.”
This is a terrain that magically merges farmland with bog, forests with mountain, lakes with rivers. This too is a primeval landscape where some of the oldest rocks in Ireland are secreted under the blanket bogs of Erris. These great geological dinosaurs are almost 1,900 million years old and only one chapter in the county’s fascinating natural heritage.
Unsurprisingly, the author deduces that the David and Goliath dynamic between nature and its most persistent coloniser, man, ‘sits lightly on Mayo’s ancient contours, so that much of wildlife is still free to follow paths and patterns shaped over thousands of years’.
However, Michael Viney also warns: “The uncertain ecological future makes it all the more important to appreciate what habitats are about, and to value their worth to nature – and to the human world.”
In ‘Wild Mayo’, we discover a gallery of species whose exotic etymology uncovers layers of cross-cultural influence. There’s the Lesser horshoe bat; it was once called the Rhinlophus hipposideros or the Crúialtóg bheag. Or take the Stoat, it was also known as the Mustela erminea hibernica, or simply the Easóg.
The dedicated work of writer, painter and naturalist, Michael Viney has over the decades added significantly to the pantheon of illustrious naturalists who have studied and chronicled areas of this peripheral county. Among the most recent and outstanding were the famous Edwardian naturalist, Robert Lloyd Praeger and later Professor Frank Mitchell. Both men ensured that the intriguing microcosm of Clare Island was put on the world stage for the benefit of a broad range of scientists.
Living and working for more than three decades in the shadow of Mweelra and on the edge of Clew Bay, Michael Viney has brought the legacy of that land to a new level.
Moreover, the vision and commitment of Mayo County Council’s Heritage Officer, Deirdre Cunningham, has ensured that the publication of ‘Wild Mayo’ in such an accessible and appealing book will reach a wide audience.

‘Wild Mayo’ by Michael Viney, is produced and published by Mayo County Council, as part of its Heritage Programme. It is available in most Mayo bookshops for €15 (hardback).