Walking festival to celebrate rhododendron

A plant, vilified by many for being invasive and allegedly causing damage to woodlands and the environment, is to be celebrated in a Co Tipperary community.

As the National Wildlife and Parkland Services battle to control the rhododendron in Killarney’s National Park, communities around the Knockmealdown Mountains are planning a Rhododendron Walking Festival.

The festival centres around the villages of Newcastle, Clogheen, and Goatenbridge.

Introduced to Ireland in the 18th century, the rhododendron ‘arrived’ in the Knockmealdown Mountains in the 1960s. It immediately took a shine to the acidic sandstone soils and settled.

The plant has since expanded its conquest to an extensive area of mountainside around the famous Vee Gap and, in recent years, this has become a tourist attraction. In May and June, people travel from far and wide to gaze upon the photogenic vista.

Now the canny denizens of the surrounding foothills have come to realise the value of this great annual blooming.

Similar to the successful tulip festivals of Holland, cherry blossom festivals of Japan, and the foliage festivals of New England, they have created a unique celebration. Built around exploring the Knockmealdowns, the first Rhododendron Walking Festival takes place at a time the mountainsides are in fullest bloom.

Liam Fleming, founder of Siúl Eile walking club, is a member of the festival committee and believes the event will become an annual fixture and put the Knockmealdowns firmly on the tourism map.

“The Vee is black with people at this time of year coming to see the mountains in full bloom, but most just see them from the road.

“The guided walks, which are part of the festival, will allow people get much better perspective on the stunning beauty of the area,” he said.

Committee secretary Catherine McCraith says the festival is not only as a celebration of the beautiful displays provided by the rhododendrons, but an opportunity to build awareness of the superb walking opportunities the Knockmealdowns have to offer.

“The mountains here allow easy access to superb scenery and this is undoubtedly the best place in Ireland for viewing the rhododendron display,” she said. “I am confident visitors will come to sample the physical, social and mindfulness benefits of walking since this is an area of outstanding natural beauty.”

For information on festival events, visit vee.ie


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