moors are all the poorer for the absence of the grouse
For anybody who rambles the heather covered hills there's
a moment of great enjoyment if they hear a cock grouse crowing
nowadays. Theres an added moment of ecstasy if by
chance they catch a glimpse of these lovely birds skimming
the turf banks.
The grouse is not alone an endangered species in this country
now, it is in fact almost extinct, at least in many places
in this region. And our moors are all the poorer for the
absence of this great gamebird.
Traditionally, August 12 was the opening day of the grouse
shooting season but many years ago way back in the 1960's,
in the hope that young birds would be stronger on the wing
it was put back to September 1. That was the time when the
Department of Justice issued your shotgun licence along
with the listing of the dates of the closed season, a practice
that should never have been suspended for it ensured no
excuse was acceptable for shooting birds when the season
A fine plump bird, the size between a bantam and a farmyard
hen, the grouse has dark chestnut speckled feathered, black
barred, with a deep red wattle over the eye. Pushed to take
flight a pack of a half dozen or so will lift, discharging
wild excitement with the old cock alarmingly crowing bec,
bec, go bec, go bec, bec, bec, bec. This explosion is mixed
with a dynamic sound of enchanting feather music.
Like many other sportsmen I too cherish some wonderful memories
of years long ago when we traipsed miles and miles of heathery
moors in long August and September days.
My friend, Tim Daly of Ardnacrusha, hail and hearty in his
mid-eighties holds the record for a grouse shoot on the
Windy Gap/ Woodcock Hill range. Sadly there are now no birds
on this mountain, once the August 12 destination for most
Limerick sportsmen. That time they travelled at dawn by
bicycle with setter close to the wheel. On my last visit
to Gallows Hill there wasnt a sign of a grouse on
A man with an exceptional knowledge of grouse, its future
and indeed with all the causes of its decline was the late
John Nash of Oola, with whom I often discussed the problem
when we met at gundog trials before his tragic death in
John was a doyen of the gundog world and his pre-fix Moanruadh,
which he told me was taken from " a bit of red bog"
near Palasgreen was world famous. Moanruadh setters and
pointers and Springer spaniels too, commanded an international
reputation and John, himself was a respected field trial
judge of international status. In his youth as a footballer
he was one of the greats to wear the Limerick jersey.
In Derry, Argues wonderful book, Setters and Pointers,
he says it would be difficult to write about the Irish setter
without mentioning John Nash. He first met John in 1962
and spent many summers with him training dogs on the Irish
Confessing that he learned a lot from John and possibly
as much from Dinny Fitzgerald, very much the unsung hero,
who took on any dog John had problems with but who never
received due credit as far as Im aware. Argue,
recalled that he and Dinny would sit on some high
point with half a dozen setters while John, gave a prospect
All the while, Dinny, would give me a running commentary
on what John was doing, what the dog was thinking and what
would happen next. Geneally he was right, Argue, recalls
with great admiration.
With the author Ill wholeheartedly agree. Dinny, who
also lived in Oola, had a natural talent, bordering on the
uncanny on all matters canine. He was a kind and wonderful
person and truly an expert on the field trail scene.
There are a number of reasons for the drastic decline in
grouse numbers. Even in Scotland, where the moors are meticulously
managed and tourism shooting revenue is estimated at several
hundred million sterling, grouse populations seem to dip
for some unaccountable reasons some years.
Here there was never any serious heather management programme
and grouse require healthy young heather shoots on which
to feed along with a supply of grit to help digestion. There
was a small redundant slate quarry on a very small moor
not far from where I once lived and a pack of grouse visited
it every evening for ruffling their feathers.
From my own observations at least three of the seven moors
with which I was very familiar over the years suffered extremely
from over shooting. It must be remembered that when myxomatosis
wiped out our rabbits in he mid 1950s, some sportsmen turned
to grouse for their sport.
Once, too, urban sportsmen enjoyed only a day or two on
the mountain during a season but from the 1960s many acquired
cars and the 10 or 12 miles that previously had to be made
on the bike just became a regular evening visit taking about
15 or 20 minutes. This continued until whatever grouse were
on the mountain were wiped out.
You wouldnt need to be an Einstein to understand the
devastating effects of this outrageous situation.
Courtesy of Tom Browne and the Limerick Leader