A repeat visit to Johnstown castle just west of Wexford at the weekend was brightened by two immensely colourful sights.
The first is the common or Indian peacock (Pavo cristatus)* which really does come from India and both sexes have a crest of ‘bobbing’ feathers on their head. Even in an age when TV documentaries bring is amazing images of exotic fauna I am always in awe at these large, truly incredibly beautiful birds. My admiration of them grew, many years ago when I discovered that they could even fly when I saw them roosting in the spreading and majestic limbs of cedars at Scone Palace in Scotland. With their huge size, intense colours and loud calls they bring such exoticism to a garden that it seems almost unbelievable that they are hardy and can survive anything the British or Irish climate can throw at them.
Charles Darwin was also amazed at these natural showoffs and he famously wrote to Asa Gray that he was ‘sick of ‘ the peacock’s tail (though in fact these eyed display feathers are not actually tail feathers. Why would a bird have such showy feathers that must be a drain on resources and hardly an evolutionary advantage. But their display is obviously an attraction to a mate and the healthier the cock, the better the display will be and therefore it is probable that it ensures that only the strongest and healthiest males and those best adapted to the environment, will be able to maintain a good tail, will breed.
Whatever the reason for the peacock’s splendid tail it is just a privilege to witness it.
BTW: A group of peacocks is called a muster
And then on to something equally colourful. Not far from the castle in Rathaspeck is a building I have been meaning to stop at for a year. A colouful, ‘Disneyesque’ gate lodge has caught my eye every time I have passed and I finally took photos. Positioned as the gatehouse to Rathaspeck Manor, it was built here in 1900 but the building may be older. Although its origins are slightly uncertain it is thought that it was built for the Paris Exhibition of 1900 and shipped, piece by piece, to Ireland and rebuilt.
A grant helped restore the roof ten years ago and in the past three months the whole house, which is known as ‘the Doll’s House’ or ‘the Chalet’ has been given a fresh lick of paint.
It is thought that the owners may be planning to use the buildings for holiday letting and I can’t think of a more amazing place to stay, as long as you don’t mind being the centre of attention!
* pavo meaning peacock is evident in some plant names such as Tigridia pavonia.