Lord Randal Plunkett

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Meet Lord Randal Plunkett 21st Baron of Dunsany, County Meath, Ireland who upon inheriting the title and land from his father in 2011 turned most of the property over to rewilding. You’d think that would be the start of a jolly story where the eager young Lord and his beautiful lady bring fresh life to the old estate. It should be. It could be. In almost every way, it is. But there’s a hand in this script that really twists the knife.

I first heard of the Baron of Dunsany when his name appeared on the programme as a speaker at a wildlife conference. I probably wasn’t the only person in the audience who expected a gent in mossy tweed to wander up to the podium. Everyone sat up a bit when instead it was someone rocking full death-metal kit complete with shoulder-length hair and bovver boots. His everyday head-to-toe black ensemble (vegan leather) is explained by his profession as a maker of bloodcurdling horror movies, as well as his love of heavy metal music. The look is at glorious odds with his other two roles - as a vegan rewilding crusader, and also as a titled member of one of Ireland's most historic aristocratic bloodlines.

Among his ancestors is the martyred Saint Oliver Plunkett who - after a trumped-up treason trial in London that took all of 15 minutes - was hung, drawn and quartered. His head was returned to Ireland where it still resides in Drogheda, while the rest of him is buried near Bath in the UK. Oliver was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, making him the first new Irish saint in almost seven hundred years. Subsequent Plunketts became luminaries in agriculture and the arts including writer John Merton Plunkett, godfather of fantasy literature, and Randal’s father Edward Plunkett, a modern artist. 

Randal, the elder of two sons, was born in New York, and educated in Ireland, Switzerland (Rosey), the UK, and Holland. His filmography includes the indie horror movie The Green Sea and other titles in the genre. Behind his metalhead image, he has a lively family life in Dunsany Castle with his fiancé, Laura Dillon, their baby daughter, and a pack of Jack Russell terriers. The bills are paid in part from income generated by the remaining farmland and from Randal’s film-making career. 

Meanwhile, his work to regenerate and protect Dunsany is producing heartwarming results. Insect and plant populations have gradually resurfaced and rare native birds and mammals have established themselves in the revived habitat. Native trees like oak, ash, beech, Scots pine and black poplar have returned and multiplied. In 2011 the estate had just three types of grass, now it has 23. 

“I didn’t do it,” he says. “The birds did.” 

He has become an impassioned environmentalist who donates a significant amount of time to the rewilding cause, including his recent Ted Talk. Work like this is badly needed in Ireland where as he says, “We’re fantastic for remembering our history and culture but absolutely terrible at looking after our environment.”

Like many countries, Ireland’s green eco image hides some unsavoury truths. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in the 1980s there were around 500 rivers and lakes of pristine water, today that number is down to 20. A quarter of a million hectares of wetlands have been wiped out for commercial gain. Ireland’s much-vaunted reforestation in the name of combating greenhouse emissions, in reality, creates deadly green wastelands. Rather than plant slower-growing native trees, forestry companies install thousands of hectares of highly profitable Sitka spruce, which destroys landscapes and suffocates biodiversity. Other wrongs against Ireland’s natural heritage are profoundly tragic for being easily preventable. Among these is the relentless national obsession with hedge cutting, grass mowing, and poison sprays that annihilates indigenous flora and fauna across the board whether by home gardeners, councils, or farmers. Further to this comes the legal hunting ‘season’ and the year-round illegal poaching of any wildlife that might indeed find a precarious foothold. For all these reasons and more, by choosing to rewild 300 hectares of Dunsany, Randal Plunkett unwittingly nailed his colours to the mast. And now he has a deadly serious fight on his hands. 

The government of Ireland has announced plans for a new railway that will storm directly through the middle of the estate. If it goes ahead it will take with it a swathe of mature forest and cripple the Dunsany Nature Reserve. It’s quite literally a life or death moment for the project. But Randal Plunkett comes from determined stock; doggedness is in his DNA. If it comes down to it, he will do whatever it takes to save Dunsany, saying in a broadcast interview “I’m prepared to go to Mountjoy*.” 

Hopefully, it won’t come to that. But you do ask yourself what this railway malarky is really all about. Seen any good fifteen-minute trials lately? 

*Ireland's largest prison. 

Images courtesy of Dunsany

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