Lots of words and expressions that call to mind the open air have entered our modern lexicon. Wild Nature, the Great Outdoors, Mountaineering and even Hiking Trails; all that sturdy, outdoorsy terminology came into play in parallel with the growth of the 19th century phenomenon that is the National Park. If municipal parks are defined in terms of tedious recreational safety (walking the dog….), the National Parks brought in a sense of wild landscape and wilderness, of escape, risk and even demise. To paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, in the wilderness you risk a sudden exposure to the food chain and ‘not always at the top-end either…..’
Aligned with frontier values and a yearning for manifest destiny, the great parks forged an appetite for outdoor risk that had a peculiar and lasting attraction for Middle America. The concept originated with the designation of Yellowstone by Ulysses S Grant in 1872. The movement in the US expanded and now extends to over 200,000 square kilometres of territory. Many of the parks function as recreational playgrounds and urban escapes, easily accessible from the major cities. But the essence of the parks has always been in their wild wilderness character, as rugged theatres of the American sublime. Eventually the concept crossed the Atlantic and, In Britain, four areas were granted National Park status in 1951. Once established, a good momentum was maintained with new areas designated at a rate of about one in every decade. The Sussex Downs national park was established as recently as 2010 when the boundaries of a number of parks were also significantly extended. It’s extraordinary to think that, in Wales, the three national parks cover 20% of the principality’s land area!
Ireland never rates very well when it comes to enlightened landscape management, as the natural instinct of officialdom has persistently leaned in the direction of protecting the propertied classes. A small area of Wicklow acquired national park status in 1991 and the movement here has ‘progressed’ to the extent that we can count a total of six National Parks extending over 750 Sq Km. By international standards this is minuscule in terms of scale – for example representing only 4% of the total area covered by national parks in the UK.
Turning our attention to Dublin, because we have only a partial civil service account to go on, we may never know for certain how close the capital came to securing Lambay Island as a new National Park back in the early Eighties. A file recently opened for public access in the National Archive suggests that, while discussions were in earnest, the process never reached the stage of serious negotiations. It isn’t even clear if the other side were committed to the deal and up to now the family involved have maintained a judicious silence.
What we can say is that the notion of Lambay as a state acquisition was very much a prospect at the commencement of discussions and the failure to complete in no way reflected a lack of interest on the part of the Taoiseach of the day, one Charles J Haughey. We can conclude that having put his, close to bankrupt, Island Estate into play as a potential state acquisition, Lord Revelstoke, as owner, had second thoughts. All political careers are attended by failures and even CJH, the ever energetic pragmatist, lacked a capacity for miracles. So his IFSC political testament thrives down in Docklands while lovely Lambay stayed. private and largely inaccessible. It’s been described as ‘Howth’s Humpback Whale’, lounging provocatively on their seaward vista. It’ll lounge out there for some time yet…
Words: Reg McCabe
Reg McCabe is a tour guide and local historian and was formerly a business lobbyist. You can follow him on Twitter @timethemetours
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