A dry stream for the first time in my life … climate change is now

We were there last Thursday, two of us, wearing clean rubber boots, standing in a river, and ag caint Gaeilge a t-am ar fashion. There was a three-person film crew on the river bank and they were recording everything.

It’s all part of a film project for a six-part series about the environment and agriculture and the changing nature of all aspects of biodiversity and climate change.

My chances of being nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy Award are pretty slim, mainly because I don’t act at all, I just say it as it is.

The basis of the series is to highlight different types of hunger in Ireland and try to demonstrate some of the positives that are currently found on farms.

In all fairness, agriculture is taking quite a hit, with cows and cattle erupting and emitting methane from various animalistic orifices. Yes, agriculture is part of the climate change problem, but at the same time it will also be an important part of the solution.

Just one example of climate change on a very small scale: the river I was on last week is Knoppogue. Two streams join the Tom Ryan Bridge near the Grotto: one comes through our farm and the second from Keame, Cronovan and Ballinwillin.

When I was very young, I remember a distant cousin of my father, a man named Jamesy Daly of Midleton – it is good that I remember him fishing at the little bridge near School Cross, and there he caught some nice trout. Almost 60 years have passed and never, never until this year has that stream dried up.

Until the rains of the last fortnight, that riverbed was dry as a bone for over a month. It’s a change I never thought I’d see, but it happened.

Anyway, it was a year ago that I was asked to get involved in this Irish language TV series. Now, I’m not as fluent as a “native speaker”, but ta me abalta caint cuiosach maith – I can have a pretty good conversation in Irish, even if my grammar is brutal! The producers just wanted to talk about the daily happenings on the farm and how what we do here can be harmful or hopefully beneficial to our tiimpeallacht – our environment and the environment.

Earlier this year, they filmed the cows being milked and also the creation of a “bee scraping”, which encourages the lone bee to stay in Ireland in a place to stay and not on sticks and head for the warmer countries.

I suppose the water quality of our seas, lakes and rivers is a sure indicator of whether or not there is pollution. In many places, raw and untreated wastewater is still being discharged into the seas, a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, but fortunately this situation is changing.

We could often scold and give views on the EU’s ‘Big Brother’ attitude, but in all fairness its EU legislation is helping to ensure that we adequately protect our waters.

So, back to last Thursday, what we were doing at Knoppogue was “sampling football” for water quality. In every stretch of river or stream there are literally hundreds if not thousands of insect larvae, slugs, beetles, slugs and other tiny aquatic creatures. Some are the size of a miniature, others just a fraction of that size. These creatures live above and under water, some in sand and gravel beds and others on the underside of stones. They are extremely sensitive to water pollution and similarly if very high levels of nutrients are present they tend to disappear.

On the other hand, polluted and nutrient-rich water can still be a habitat for some microorganisms. Therefore, there are positive indicators and negative indicators.

Football sampling is basically what it says! Last week, we got a great net on a post. We then raised the stones and gravel onto the river bed for about two minutes. I was pleasantly surprised by the huge number of creepy crawlies present. Anything that floated in the water was caught in the net and the contents poured into a basin of water on the river bank. Careful examination can then identify the little “good” and “bad” creatures.

I was happy with our results. The presence of mayflies, stone flies and other identifiable species meant that the water was classified as “good” – OK, I would have preferred “excellent”, but at least now I have a baseline to work on in the future.

If the sample contained a large number of leeches or caddis flies, it would indicate a higher level of pollutants present, as these guys are quite tolerant of dirty water.

We were a caint Gaeilge a passing fad as we kicked the water, but I have no idea if the little invertebrates can understand Irish or English, or even not hear at all!

The film An Cailín Ciúin grossed nearly a million in theaters, so maybe next year we will be famous.

Just thinking about my “career” on the big screen to date – it has been long and uneventful, to be honest. It’s been 30 years since I was on The Late, Late Show – when the local post office was closed here – and then later with Gaybo talking again about the plight of rural Ireland. That time I was trying to keep post offices open.

A few years later, I was trying to keep “Croke Park closed” to the so-called foreign games – I remember a great debate with the late Eugene McGee on some TV station that time. Then, one of the Kerry Keanes presented a series in which several people received a camera for a week to film “ordinary life” in an Irish family. We filmed everything from feeding the pigs, a game under 14 with one of the boys playing and a Munster final in Thurles, I think. About ten hours of filming and when it hit “on screen”, it was distilled in about ten minutes!

The series we are doing right now has seen visits to farmers in Aran, Burren, Co. Meath and here in Cork. I think they will return again in the late fall to “take back” the quiet land during the quiet season as the pace of agricultural activity slows down.

For now, I feel empowered to do a simple water quality test. The big advantage of this is the power to be proactive rather than reacting to something when it happens.

A long, long time ago, especially in the American Wild West, the term “taming nature” was a widely used term. Modern thinking is about working with nature and cultivating with nature. Cooperation is the name of the game to ensure a bright future for everyone on this planet.

The Knoppogue River which flows through our farm is a tributary of the Flesk River. The Flesk in turn joins the River Bride. At Camphire Bridge in County Waterford, the Bride joins the Blackwater on her way to the sea.

We all have a responsibility and hopefully this film project will bring out the truth of Irish seanfhocail – “ar scath a cheile a mhaireann na daoine” – people live in each other’s shadows – we need each other of the other. The action or inaction of each person has an influence on others.

“Lights, camera, action – shoot there, John.”


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