It is possible to miss a field like an old friend.

When I was a child in Ireland, with the summer coming in, we’d be encouraged to make a trek every evening in May out to a Marian Grotto at a country church two miles or so from home. These are shrines found in the churchyard, usually with a set of steps leading up to a statue of the Virgin housed in a small cave structure – hence the grotto. The idea was to recite the rosary bit by bit as you shuffle up the steps on your knees. I think you do a bit more of it each day, culminating in the full twenty decades or whatever by the end of the month. We laid our ears to furious prayers, but I was never that big on the detail.

For me, it was more about the journey there and never the destination.

Out over the back wall, across the last remaining fields on the edge of a council estate, until you reached a couple of country roads. Down along one of them for a few hundred yards, then over a low wall into a karst region. You may need reminding, but a karst is an area of exposed limestone slabs. The rain breaks down the surface into fissures until it looks like block paving laid by a giant. In every crack and crevice, dried leaves slowly turn to soil and support a little ecosystem of alpine plants. The slabs along the limestone top are known as Clints, and the fissures are called Grikes. They are the ghosts of little sea-creatures, glistening halftone grey from the graves they left in warm seas, 340 million years ago.

The most famous one is of course The Burren in Clare, but smaller karstic terrains are not uncommon across South Galway. One of my favourite places in Yorkshire is Malham Cove, and that is another example. Apart from these few places, there is very little limestone pavement found anywhere in the world.

The area I recall was nothing of the Burren scale. We’re talking around 1 square mile. I assume it was owned by somebody (isn’t everything?) but because it was so rocky I cannot recall any farm use. Not even a sheep. It wasn’t flat like the Burren. There was a mini-scale landscape of little cliffs and valleys. The deepest would be maybe twenty feet down. Like most limestone pavement, it was thinly vegetated but it supported quite a few small trees and bushes. I can be very precise in one recollection because it was our number-one destination for gathering hazelnuts in the autumn. And so many small birds flitted through those branches. I knew nothing about birds, but what I do know is that the yellowhammers seemed to be everywhere then, and they are nowhere now.

The poor old yellowhammer. It’s said to have made a pact with the devil. The eggs it lays have an intricate pattern that looks like writing, and said to conceal messages of harm and evil. Maybe they carried a lark-scribbled message of impending demise. Éiníní, codalaígí. Little birds, little birds, sleep, sleep.

The path to the grotto was not a straight one. You had to weave in a bend every few hundred yards to navigate the next bit. It was quite the adventure for small boys.

They would call it “undeveloped” in a property context. It wasn’t pristine. There was an Electricity sub-station behind large fences on the corner of the small road. There was a small and isolated country shop and butchers. But it was very much on the edge of town.

The little country road itself is worth a mention – it is called Bóthar Na Mine in Irish. That translates as The Maize Road –  mine buí is yellow corn or maize. During the Famine, maize was imported to make up for the potato disaster. Because it was too much to just give food to the starving people, it was customary to build “famine roads” as relief projects. Work through your hunger, get the corn. Most of these roads go nowhere, like the morality behind them.

Sometime in the early 1980s they tore it all away. I thought about including a screen grab from Google to show you what it was replaced with, but it is too depressing. Think car parks, small industrial units, and warehouses.

I suppose this is the customary point at which to be angry, to lament the passing of irreplaceable natural beauty. To mock the short-term views of local politicians who destroy one day, then apply for restoration grants the next.

But my reminisce is more about the inevitability of change.

Take the very fact that we were there in that place, in the first instance. It used to be parkland. A country estate with a fine view of the sea (and from hence it got its name). A fine country house built by successful merchants during the eighteenth century. Men who had grown rich from the abundant wine trade with Spain and Portugal. There is a good chance they also imported the yellow maize that paid for the road, given they made a donation of £1,000 in 1847 to fund ships carrying foodstuffs.

The family sold the house to a factory owner in 1953, and the local government saw a chance to build housing alongside. They tendered for the erection of over 250 houses, with a view to providing homes for people moving out from the city centre. They all moved in at more or less the same time, were all more or less adults in their 20-30s. Child-bearing, and Catholic, we were soon at least over a thousand children growing up on a council estate. Everything came in waves. The water pipes made of lead having to be replaced. The old people reaching their ends.

They might romanticise it now, but then it had nothing. They’d build a playground, and it was littered with broken glass a week later.

I remember it for the crows. There were hooded crows, closely related to the carrion crow and who also feed on dead animals. The only dead animals we had were in dustbins, but they seemed to cope well. They liked to move in flocks on the green. There were rooks, who liked to roost in the old trees behind the country house / factory. They kept themselves more separate, like a mafia gang you knew existed, but did not always encounter. After all, a group of crows is called a Murder.

None of us were eagles. We all just lived in the sinkhole of a corporation estate. If they wanted to name it again, they could call it Poll Na Préachán – the hole of the Crows.