The fire services in West Cork were stretched as they faced a weekend of illegal gorse fires.

The fires lit up the night sky across the region’s peninsulas and left many home owners fearing for their properties. Fire crews throughout the region tackled the raging fires.

A home owner on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula praised the fire services for saving her home.

“The fires are a yearly occurrence. They get started in the same fields, always around the same time — a Friday evening, always by the same people.

“The locals know who is responsible, but they will not name anyone,” said Alice van Gallen who lived on the peninsula for 10 years.

“No one wants to be a snitch. The land is mostly commonage, so not owned by anyone in particular. The excuse is ‘clearing the ground’.

“Why? I have no idea. Also, people are fast to blame the farmers, but that is not always the case.”

Meanwhile, the woman said the Sheep’s Head and neighbouring Mizen Head peninsula were ablaze for four days.

“Fire brigades have been working non-stop. God only knows how much damage has been done.

“The wildlife has certainly suffered terribly but also signposts, fencing, cables, trees, people’s gardens. Tourists, visiting the Wild Atlantic Way are welcomed not by our famous green fields, but by black scorched mountains, hills and fields,” said Ms van Gallen.

Meanwhile, Dermot Kelleher of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association said many farmers are forced to burn the gorse, due to the risk of Department of Agriculture penalties.

“The burning of gorse is forced on farmers who are in dread of severe penalties imposed if the department deems their land is not in good agricultural condition,” he said.

“Many farmers in the West Cork region suffer savage penalties as a result of having gorse, trees, and bushes on their land.

“The ICSA believes that farmers who graze land in the same manner as they have always done should be exempt from such penalties but the difficulty is that EU agricultural and environmental objectives are often in conflict with each other.”

Cork South West TD Michael Collins said that burning gorse at this time of the year is not only illegal and dangerous but must stop immediately.


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