The wood was originally part of the Castletown Estate and is located near Grantstown Manor, which was owned by Lord Castletown until the 1930s. In 1962, the wood came into ownership of the State under the Irish Land Commission, who passed it on for commercial forestry purposes. Its value for nature conservation, however, soon became apparent and in 1982 it was designated as a statutory nature reserve.Thousands of years ago, Ireland was covered in native woodland. However, as the years progressed the amount of naturally wooded land declined dramatically. Today, native woodland covers only 2% of the land surface of Ireland and Laois is the fifth most densely wooded county in terms of native woodland. Coolacurragh Wood along with Grantstown Wood represents the oldest designated nature reserve in Laois County. The Irish translation of Coolacurragh Wood is ‘Coill Chuil an Churraigh’ meaning ‘Wood at the back of the Moor’.
Forestry records show that norway spruce, scots pine and sycamore were planted as early as 1900 and further planting of norway spruce, sycamore, ash and beech continued from 1930 through to 1967. Removal of the conifers began in the 1970s and today most of the commercial conifers have been removed.
In 2007, National Parks and Wildlife Service started managing the wood under the Native Woodland Scheme, administered by the Forest Service. Since this new management began, there has been an active policy to encourage the native woodland to recover with the removal of exotic trees and shrubs. Public access has been improved in order to promote awareness of this woodland ecosystem.
The woodland has developed fen peat and the soil is base-rich and moist. There is an abundance of native tree species. The dominant native tree is ash but many other natives are found here including birch, pedunculate oak, alder and willow with some holly and hazel in the understorey. Among the shrubs the most common is hawthorn, with other species including spindle, blackthorn and guelder rose. A wide array of herbaceous woodland plants can be found such as enchanters nightshade, male fern, honeysuckle and ivy.
The native animals in Coolacurragh include badgers, Irish hares, bats and many birds. Among the birds found here, you can see sparrowhawks, blue tits, coal tits, blackbirds, treecreepers and goldcrests. Along the trail, you will see a number of nest boxes, strategically located at various points in the wood to encourage nesting birds. You will also see bat boxes which have also been erected on trees to encourage roosting bats. Frogs breed in the old drainage ditches. Many moth species have been recorded in these woods.
GPS: 52.86332, -7.51124.