Up to 25 Old Irish Goats are leaving the hills of Mulranny and its spectacular views of Clew Bay to take up residence in the salubrious surrounds of Howth Head.
The relocation of the goats to Howth Head is part of a groundbreaking conservation grazing project that will see the return of Ireland’s native breed of goat to the capital for the first time in over half a century.
The landrace breed of the Old Irish Goat will be deployed in the Dublin Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to reduce fire risk to homes and enhance the biodiversity of the priority heathland habitats.
Up until the 1940s, Howth Head was traditionally grazed by livestock, and goats in particular. However, with the decline of traditional grazing, wildfires have become a regular occurrence on Howth Head, as gorse, scrub, bracken and heather vegetation has increased in height. This has resulted in a highly flammable landscape, with a high fuel load.
Aside from tackling gorse, the goats will be used to create linear firebreaks to protect homes, increase structural diversity in the heather, eat invasive tree seedlings and reduce bracken cover. Initially, the goats will be deployed to high-wildfire-risk areas, to open up the dense scrub vegetation.
Decade of work
The scheme, which starts this year and runs for a three-year period, is a partnership project between Fingal County Council and the Old Irish Goat Society.
Some 25 Old Irish Goats, from the national herd in Mayo, are earmarked for the initial phase. The project will utilise traditional methods of management, a goat herder and sheepdogs. It will also trial, for the first time in Ireland, the Norwegian ‘no-fence’ system which employs GPS tracking.
The challenging endeavour builds on over a decade of work to save Ireland’s native goat breed from extinction. The volunteer-led Old Irish Goat Society, based in Mulranny, pioneered a captive breeding programme in 2014 to conserve the goat and enable its return to domestication and utility.
A five-acre sanctuary has been developed in Mulranny to support the National Herd of Old Irish Goats. The society also reopened the Old Irish Goat Visitor Centre in Mulranny in August 2020 after extensive renovations. The centre features a unique art, history and science exhibition, an audio-visual room with documentary and the Gift of Hands, craft shop, featuring local handmade crafts from Mulranny and Mayo.
Did you know?
Howth Head is the location where Leopold Bloom proposes to Molly in James Joyce’s Ulysses.