I wrote this piece for the May issue of the Connemara Journal, which will be available shortly.
April brought unexpected heat as well as more predictable showers this year – a boon of warmth and rain that has resulted in a rush of growth all over Connemara. My own back garden seemed to come alive with colour overnight – new leaves and blossoms swelled in perfect haste, you could almost hear the growth. The gorse transformed itself invisibly from a few scattered flowers into a sea of deep egg yellow that steals a little further every day. Also known as furze, the scent of this impressive plant is subtle but heady, something like the delicate sweetness of coconut. Along with our native fuchsia, it is the shrub that most people associate with this part of the world and it’s hardiness and vivid beauty describe this place like no other. It is also one of our longest flowering plants, coming into it’s own in April (although blooms can be seen much earlier) and lasting right though the summer and into early winter.
Late summer gorse and heathers at the roadside in Errislannin by Deborah Watkins
It is hard not to miss the gorse in Connemara at the moment, in thick banks along the roadsides and in great mounds and ridges that brighten the landscape. It is closely related to the brooms species of plant and they share similar characteristics with their dense slender stems and very small leaves. Gorse distinguishes itself with it’s sharp thorns ( which can measure up to four centimetres long ) and it’s bright showy flowers are always yellow.
Gorse thorns and blossoms by Deborah Watkins
Gorse has a long history as a fuel because it is easy to burn and it burns very well, reputedly giving off as much heat as charcoal. The ashes it produces are rich in alkali which are very enriching for the soil so it is often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, a practice which is hazardous in dry weather.
Historically, the bark and flowers have been used to produce a yellow dye and gorse flowers have also been used to add flavour and colour to whiskey. In homeopathy the gorse is used as a remedy to give people courage. It’s evergreen leaves and long flowering blossoms are a reminder of the returning sun after short winter days, it’s cheery colour a promise of summer.