Johnny O’Donoghue – in Dromore Woods

The first time Johnny O’Donoghue worked in Dromore woods he was just 14 years of age and cut timber with a cross cut saw with Micky Sullivan from Cahermacrea. 

This was his introduction to what was to be his life’s work of 47 years in Dromore woods, commencing with the Department of Forestry and Fisheries in 1960.  He retired in 2007 and a specially commissioned stone bench and table were installed on Rabbit Island in his honour.  

There are aprox. 1000 acres of forestry in Dromore.  It was originally part of a private estate belonging to the Crowe family and was acquired by the state (Forestry Division) in the 1940s.  At this stage it was a native woodland with oak, ash, beech and sycamore. Some of the beech trees are about 400 years old.  The Forestry Division managed the property as a commercial forest and planted beech, larch, scotts pine, syscamore and spruce.  Only the beech and sycamore did well as the lime stone soil did not suit the evergreens.

During the 1980s The National Parks and Wildlife Service took over the management of Dromore with an emphasis on the regeneration of native species.  The wood was declared a Nature Reserve in 1985 and it is also a Special Area of Conservation.

Dromore Woods – the early days

 The Dromore wood that we know and enjoy today was made possible by the hard work and dedication of many people, including:

 Jocker Crowe (Foreman)                                Jimmy Kelly

Namer Keane                                                  Sean Mór Callinan

Pat Callinan                                                     John Waring

Jimmy O’Brien, Caherlough (Known as “the filer” because he was always edging tools)

Jimmy McGrath, Moyhree                             Dan Casey (known as London)

Vincent Howard                                              John Kirwan

Pa Crowe                                                         Tull Crowe

Michael Meere                                               Paddy Corless

John Kitson                                                      Jack O’Donoghue

John Howard                                                   Bill Hassett

Tom Vaughan                                                  Patrick Whelan, Moyhree

Patrick Whelan, Barefield                              Jimmy Whelan, Barefield

Robbie Butler, Crusheen                                 Paddy Scanlon, Crusheen

 Many of these men were later transferred to other woods in the area i.e. Arthur’s Wood, Ballygriffey and Lees Road.

 There were only 3 horse cart tracks in the woods at that time.  All other roads were cleared by hand, using slash hooks and hatchets.

Johnny remembers trapping rabbits, snipe and woodcock in the early days.  These were taken into Lanes of Ennis for export.

The workers fenced off approx. 30 acres of wetland around Bally Line lake for the animals to graze and they planted alder and poplar in this area.  These trees are suitable for wetland and help to dry it up.  Sitka Spruce and Norway Spruce were planted in heavy soil.  European and Japanese Larch were planted on stony ground.  Oak that was already in the wood was felled using the cross cut and used for fencing the forestry boundaries.  At Christmas every worker got a load of timber as a bonus.

Planting Dromore

The trees were planted approx. 1,000 to the acre, using a peg line.  

Peg Line diagram

 The man putting down the peg-line worked a week ahead of the planters.  The distance between peg lines was 33 feet.  The planters then sub-divided the space between the peg lines by a line of trees down the centre.  They would then use these lines as markers to ensure that all trees was 5.5 feet away from each other.

The following year they would plant again where trees had failed.  The also did “beat up” which was clearing weeds around young trees.

Larch was used for commercial purposes.  It had to be drawn to the road side with 2 horses.  The horses were harnessed with the winkers, head collar and hames.  There was a rope from each side of the winkers to the back of the horse.  This was known as “slinging”.  This method was used for all timbers as tractors didn’t exist for that kind of work until the 1970s.  The type of tractor that was used was known as “the county”, it could travel any part of the wood and take out any type of timber up to 2 ton.

All the poplar trees were taken out of the wood in the 1990s as they are not native.  The long term plan is to remove all non native species.

In later years Johnny was asked to build the stone walls at the entrance to the wood and he also repaired other stone walls in the park.

Dromore Woods  – the later years

Paddy Sullivan from Beara in West Cork worked with Johnny for 20 years in Dromore.  The work was varied and interesting.  They worked on many projects with the wildlife in the wood i.e. woodcock, pine martins, bats and badgers.  They also used to ring and track the migrating birds.  There are many animals in Dromore; pine martins, red squirrel, badgers, stoat, fox, hares, shrews and woodmice.  Birds include jay, magpie, crested hawk, sparrow hawk, cuckoo as well as many water birds such as swans and duck.

In 1990 Johnny helped three Ruan students at Ennis Community College to do a project entitled “The Diet of the Pine Martin in Dromore Wood” for the Aer Lingus Young Scientist Exhibition.  The project took a prize in its category.

When Paddy Sullivan left, Johnny worked on in Dromore for almost 30 years.  Others who worked there during this time were:

David Gilmore, Dysart

Des Courtney

Mike Whelan

Paul Norton

Thomas Daly, Carron

Hughie O’Donnell

Jerry McNamara, Ballyalla

Karl Butler (Shannon student on work experience)

 The appendices below illustrates Johnny’s vast knowledge of the flora and fauna of Dromore Wood and he believes that if the wood was kept more open it would allow for more fruit to grow such as strawberries, crab apple, blackberries and cherries.  This would create more food for butterflies and bees and would encourage birds and insects to come into the wood, making nature more visible to visitors. 



Scots Pine, Norway Spruce, Sitka Spruce, Alder

Hazel – hazel nuts are used in chocolate and the branches are used to make walking sticks.  Hazel scollips are used for thatching.  Hazel nuts are also used to feed many animals that inhabit the wood, such as pine martin, squirrel, badger, bats and mice.

Hornbeam, Beach, Oak, Horse Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Evergreen Elm, Wich Elm, Sycamore, Field Maple, Holly

Ash – this is used to make hurleys.  It was also used to make handles for many farm implements like slashhooks, forks, rakes, ladders, hatchets, shovels, hayslides and hammers.

Roan, Crab Apple – used for jam making.  Wild Cherry, Blackthorn – the fruit can be used to make sloe gin

Hawthorn,  Elder – the elderberry and the elder flower can be used to make wine and cordial. 

 There is a brown mushroom which grows on dead elder which can be used in fish dishes

Silver Birch – wine can be made from the sap

Willow, Sally, Larch


Orange peel, White Helvella, Candle Snuff, King Alfred’s Cakes, Orange Spot Fungus, Chanterelle, Blushing Bracket, Dryads Saddle



River lampary, Eel, Salmon, Brown Trout, Pike, Roach, Rudd, Perch, Tench


Mute Swan, Cormorant, Grey Herron, Moore Hen, Coot, Mallard Duck, Short eared Owl, , Long eared Owl, Wood pigeon, Wren, Robbin, Blackbird

Sparrow Hawk, Kestrel, Blue Jay, Kingfisher

Migrating Birds

Tea, Shoveller Duck, Widgeon, Gadwall Duck, Wild Geese, Pin Tail, Tufted Duck, Hooper Swan


Large White, Small White, Green Vained White, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Pearl Bordered Fritillary


Oak moth, Orange moth, Speckled moth, Winter moth, Peppered moth, Brindled moth, Mottled moth


Badgers – the male badger is called a boar and the female is called a sow.  The young are called cubs.  The home is called a sett.  Brochach is the Irish name for a badger sett.  Badgers eat plants and animals so they are omnivores.  They eat beetles, snails, slugs, frogs, frog spawn, blackberries, apples, acorns, mushrooms and earthworms.  A badger can eat up to 200 earth worms in one night.

 Squirrels -  Despite a decrease in red squirrel numbers countrywide, there remains a healthy population in Dromore and they are regularly observed as they feed on beech nuts, hazelnuts, acorns and Scotts Pine cones.  They have 1 litter each year.

 Brown Rats - A single female can give birth to up to 5 litters of 3 to 10 pups each year.  The badger, pine martin or fox will kill but can’t eat a rat as it sickens them.

 Pigmy Shrew -  Pigmy Shrews don’t live very long, about a year in the wild.  The female has a litter of about 7 babies, once a year.

 The Irish Stoat -  The stoat makes its den in hollow trees or a rabbit borrow.  It will sometimes use old buildings.  It is a playful and very agile animal.  They use visual signals and scent to communicate with each other.  The stoat is solitary and territorial.  It may use a number of dens in its territory and will eat whatever is available, including rabbits, rats, mice, shrews, pigeons, song birds and insects.  Young stoats are called kits.  A female stoat has between 3 and 10 kits per litter.

 Otters - The otter digs a borrow in the river bank called a holt.  The male is a dog and the female is a bitch.  The female will choose a quiet area in her territory for her breeding holt.  Cubs are covered with fur when they are born and their eyes are closed for 5 weeks.  There are usually 2 or 3 cubs in each litter and they are fed by their mother until they are 4 months old.  They stay with their mother until they are 6 months to a year old and then they disperse to find their own territory.  Otters are carnivores and eat fish and water birds and mark their territories with black droppings called spraints.

 Pine Martins, Fox,  Field Mice


Pipistrelle, Lesser Horseshoe, Daubenton’s Bat, Brown long eared, Whiskered Bat, Leisler’s Bat, Natterer’s Bat
Bats usually roost in buildings, behind fascia boards, in attics, under roof tiles, in holes in trees and cracks in walls.  They hunt over fields and water and feed on insects such as midges, moths, caddis flies, crane flies and dung flies.