Week 40: Ewes Going Somewhere?
Ireland is a stunningly beautiful island, full of contrasting landscapes: ancient ruins intermingle with fully cosmopolitan venues in Dublin; lush coastal vistas give way to miles of craggy, desolate rock formations; well-tended farmland turns into the wild and harsh grazing territories of various wildlife.
Nowhere on our travels through Ireland was the latter transition more evident than on our drive through Connemara, a region in the western part of County Galway. As the journey unfolded, Oscar Wilde’s words, “a savage beauty,” echoed in my mind and seemed the best way to describe this area. The road was a portal through scenery that included bogs, heaths, grasslands, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Mist shrouded the foothills making the peaks of the Twelve Bens mountain range appear to float magically in the grey sky. Idyllically grazing on the gently rolling slopes could be seen wild ponies, donkeys and sheep… lots and lots of fluorescent coloured sheep.
We were surprised to see the brightly painted (mostly pink and blue) sheep dotting the otherwise unspoilt natural rangeland. We wondered if the Irish had somehow trained their sheep to play paintball. Thankfully, before we could embarrass ourselves by asking that question outside the privacy of our car, we learned that the sheep roam freely through vast expanses of fenceless hills and valleys, so the fluorescent dye on the sides of the sheep makes it easy to spot, and identify, the different herds. That made sense to me, until I noticed that some sheep had multiple colours on them, and the markings were not just on their sides. I learned that some farmers tie bags of dye to the chests of rams. This is so they can tell which of the ewes have been ‘tupped’, or mated, with a ram. Other markings might be made to indicate which have received medicine or vaccinations.
Regardless of the reason for the dramatic splotches of colour on the ever-changing backdrop, they certainly do enhance the savage beauty of the landscape.