The motive force behind the foundation of An Taisce in 1948 was Ireland’s most famous field botanist: Robert Lloyd Praeger. Today he is best known for his marvellous book The Way That I Went. This was essentially a celebration of the Irish landscape based on his 5 years of exploring its hills and bogs, caves and islands during the 1930s in an era when most of the environmental pressures of today had not yet emerged. Essentially, he fell in love with the Irish landscape and was determined to devote his life to protecting it. He was acutely conscious of the need to create an independent non-governmental body to represent the wishes of the ordinary people to progress this, hence his role in founding a National Trust to protect and conserve Ireland’s ‘treasure trove’ (An Taisce).  

Praeger’s focus on inspiring and educating current and new generations to recognise and care for Ireland’s natural and built heritage rings equally true today and, just as in 1948, has 3 foci: Advocacy, Education and Properties. Praeger’s manifesto, well described in this transcript of an RTE broadcast he made shortly after he became An Taisce’s first President, remains the mission statement for An Taisce today and guides all its activities. Below is the full text of his inaugural speech as President of An Taisce, presented on RTE in 1948.


IN ALL but the more backward countries organizations exist which have for their object the protection and preservation of things of natural beauty or of human interest within their boundaries. These need protection against dilapidation, against injury, whether caused by carelessness, ignorance or ruthlessness, against sequestration for private ends, and in recent times often against the action of public bodies.

Here in Ireland one aspect of the subject has received attention-the preservation of the more important ancient monuments, historic or prehistoric, in which the country is so rich. But many other aspects-for instance, the provision of open spaces, large or small, for the health and enjoyment of the people, the care of much that is of national interest, the prevention of disfigurement of the towns and country-side by injudicious building, by advertisement, by the ruthless claims of industrialism-these have as yet received little attention in Ireland, and have had no organized body to watch over them. It is to provide such organization that An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, has been established.

It has been founded by a number of persons varying widely in rank of life, in school of thought, in social and political outlook, but all holding the belief that the Trust can and will perform a useful national service. Its origin was two years ago, and now after much preparation, largely of a legal character, it has been launched.

It may be thought that we are rather late in taking the field, for in many countries bodies engaged in this work have been active and vigorous for years past. But Ireland, with its comparatively small population, its few great urban areas, and its limited industrialization, has not been much in danger of spoliation from the causes mentioned. A few miles out from our larger cities we find ourselves already in unspoiled country side, and our towns have suffered little from undesirable modern tendencies. But things are changing, and it is time a solid body of public opinion was organized to safeguard our treasures both of the past and of the present, for the benefit both of ourselves and our successors.

As regards the larger aspect of the question—the provision of national parks or reservations, as has been done on so vast a scale in the United States for instance, and to a growing extent in the English Lake District and Wales, anxiety may be felt among present holders of land that this may mean serious interference—indeed anything up to confiscation of their holdings, large or small. But there are no grounds for such fears. The object is merely to safeguard against disfigurement of any kind— to preserve the chosen areas in their present condition as regards population and land utilization, with only such action as may add to their amenities. Nor need such areas be fenced in, or in any way be less free of access than at present. Patrolling or watching may to some extent be desirable to prevent injury— especially from fire; but there need be no interference with the ordinary activities of the countryside. The taking over of a historic house again, does not necessarily involve its evacuation. The owners or tenants may continue their occupation as may be arranged, subject to the condition that the public have access at certain times and to certain parts.

We have already one national park in Ireland—the large demesne of Muckross near Killarney, which is of special value as comprising an area that, in addition to unsurpassed natural beauty, is a home of that peculiar southern vegetation which renders Ireland so remarkable; and its remoteness will tend to keep that interest unsullied. If a national park on a larger scale nearer the metropolis be considered desirable then portion of the County of Wicklow, lying at the very gates of Dublin, would be an admirable choice—say the central part, including Glenmalure, Glendaloch, Loch Dan, Luggala. That area would need little supervision or outlay except the exclusion of the bungalow-builder, and the curbing of undue energy on the part of the Forestry Division—for “regimented rows of incongrous conifers” are no desirable substitute for the welcome freedom of the heather where human enjoyment is concerned.

Other breathing spaces that might well be secured for the nation would be selected areas in Connemara or in Donegal (though in little immediate danger from any source), or the lovely Loch Gill hard by the town of Sligo, or Ireland’s holy mountain, Croaghpatrick. Close to Dublin, the Phoenix Park is a possession beyond price; and it is a thousand pities that the Hill of Howth was not reserved before private interests have enclosed so much of its breezy surface. The North Bull, with its three miles of glorious sandy beach, should make a heaven-sent breathing-space, if administered in the interests of the poor children of Dublin and the inhabitants of the tenements.

From the point of view of its town dwellers Ireland is fortunate in being an agricultural country, without the large over-populated industrial regions of England and without the deer-forests and grouse-moors which bar the visitor from so much of the beautiful mountain scenery of Scotland. In contrast, all Ireland is in a sense a great national park already. We go almost everywhere where we choose to go, and the farmer or even gamekeeper seldom turns us off his land, as his English or Scottish ode is often compelled to do on account of the deplorable lack of “country-sense’ in the swarms of town-bred picnickers and tourists, who are ignorant of the serious damage that may be caused by leaving a farm gate open or by lighting a teacfire in the heather.

That last point brings me to a subject which will have to be taken in hands before our Irish people deserve to have national parks or open spaces provided for their enjoyment. I am afraid we are a rather undisciplined people here, and things happen in connection with attempts to ieee our towns and country-side which might well discourage the pioneer in this field of philanthropy. Conspicuous among these in our city of Dublin is the destruction of trees planted on our roads and streets for the enjoyment of the people. We have in Dublin a special society to promote this most excellent and desirable work—the Irish Roadside Tree Association, and its labours are proving successful in spite of disgraceful vandalism ; but what a blot on the fair name of our city to see beautiful flowering cherries frequently and ruthlessly smashed to pieces. What the mentality is of the persons who do this kind of thing, it is difficult to imagine; but while such affronts to decency and commonsense continue in our midst, we have small claim complacently to rank ourselves as a civilized community. And as regards the larger issue of national parks, it will be little use to provide them for the people unless the people have learned to respect and care for them. The frequent inscription ‘Please protect what is intended for your enjoyment’ contains a very bitter sting. What we want in both town and country is some sense of citizenship ; and I think that can come only by early instruction in the home and in the school. I would make elementary good citizenship the most important of all subject in schools, for, till people have acquired good citizenship they are not well fitted to acquire good anything else. Good citizenship works in many ways; as regards the point under discussion it would work by eliminating destructiveness, promoting tidiness, and reducing selfishness and carelessness. An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, is founded entirely for the benefit of the people: our hope is that the people will in turn do their part.

The preservation and care of ancient monuments of all kinds, historic or pre-historic, is an important part of the work of a National Trust. Here in Ireland work in this direction has been going on for many years. A building or other object of antiquity of importance can, with the consent of the owner, be vested in the Government, and is then looked after, permanently. Our more famous relics of past times—Glendaloch, Clonmacnois, New Grange and a host of others—have been so vested, and are carefully maintained. For smaller monuments such as dolmens, isolated crosses, inscribed stones, a strong iron railing with a gate and a metal plate stating the nature of the monument and its features of interest meets the case.

There are several difficult but urgent matters arising from the continued growth of towns, in which the Trust may be able to help, even though strong private interests may be at work which are by their nature prejudicial to the interests of the public. For instance, ribbon-building presents a difficult problem. It is not right that for a long distance beyond a built-up area, a continuous line of houses should shut out welcome views of the wide open country that lies behind them—even if the houses are tasteful villas with shrubs and flowers. A house close to the main road suits both the builder and the tenant; it is the town dweller who has no voice in the matter who is the sufferer.

In some places the seashore tends to get closed similarly by continuous plots of private property. The interests of public health demand that this should be controlled; easy access to the sea is one of the first requirement of a health-loving community, especially where children are concerned. The question of access to mountains, which has long been a matter of concern across the Channel, affects us less in Ireland where the hills are generally open to all, thanks largely to the absence of deer and the rarity of grouse.

To pass to the consideration of ‘ natural monuments” and the protection of our native population of animals and plants. Here again we reap the benefit, as compared with Britain, of a smaller population and less industrialization. Among animals, some of the larger ones, like the wolf, have been exterminated in the interests of the human race. Most of the others—the fox, badger, otter for example, are still with us in some numbers in spite of our usually hostile attitude towards them. One is sorry for the beautiful little pine marten, which has a coat of value to furriers, and is moreover looked on as an enemy by game-keepers. It is getting very rare now. As to the birds which are one of the joys of town and country alike, the rarer ones which visit us have a poor time. The “sportsman” so-called too often shows his abnegation of all the principles of true sports-manship by shooting them. It is fortunately different with the grand colonies of sea birds which form so interesting a feature of many cliffranges, sandy beaches, and lake-islets. The very numbers of these feathered friends show that in most cases they do not need protection. Long may it remain so! There is a spice of humour in the fact that the animals which have turned the tables on us and which we have every reason not to protect were introduced into Ireland by man himself—the brown rat, the house mouse, and in recent times the grey squirrel and the musk rat.

In some countries, such as Switzerland and Norway, many wild flowers need Government protection to prevent their extermination by dealers and thoughtless tourists. We may some day have to do the same in Ireland in the case of certain rare species or certain areas. The plant that has suffered most is the lovely Killarney Fern, formerly much more abundant than now—so seldom seen at present, indeed, that any prohibition as to its collecting or export would be futile. The greatest galaxies of rare plants that we have in Ireland are in Kerry and Clare; but fortunately most of them occur in such abundance that at present they do not call for the difficult machinery of protection. In the great Swiss National Park it is forbidden to uproot a single plant or to kill even a beetle. The eventual establishment of national parks in Ireland may some day solve problems as to the preservation of rare plants or animals.

It will be seen that the possible activities of our new National Trust are spread over a very wide range of subjects—history, archaeology, aesthetics, art, natural history; and the possibilities of good that the prospect of the protection and reservation of all things falling worthily within these categories suggests, are without end. I take it that we are at the beginning of a long and also delicate piece of work, calling for patience, tact, judgment and industry, as well as enthusiasm; but our goal is a noble one, and once it is fully appreciated there is little reason that anyone’s hand should be turned against us. Of necessity we begin in a very modest way, but by degrees the movement will gain adherence and influence and become an important factor in our national life. Our motto will be Floreat Hibernia.