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Contents Foreword

page 05



The South East


The South West


The West


The North West


The North East


The East


Creative notes





FOREWORD alf-a-billion years ago Ireland was oth-

In summer our coasts become nurseries for

erwise and elsewhere. The sub-equatorial

mind-boggling assemblages of fulmars, kittiwakes,

supercontinent that contained Ireland was washed

guillemots and razorbills, jostling for footholds

by a great sea, the shore of which can still be

on cliffs and rocky islets. These seabird cities are

detected, not around, but through the middle of

among the greatest nature spectacles in Europe.

Ireland. Since then the drag and pull of continental

The first people to come to our shores were

drift and tectonics has shifted and sundered our

drawn to river outfalls where shellfish could be

little landmass.

gathered and migrating fish hunted. The arrival

Repeated glacial grooming and bathing in fluc-

of agriculture did little to deter fisherfolk from

tuating seas have rendered it the familiar ‘shaggy

occupying the coast, building permanent settle-

dog-on-its-side’ of today.

ments and constructing boats fit for purpose.Trad-

The seas continue their influential work –

ing added a further consolidating dimension lead-

aggressively so on the Atlantic coast, more benignly

ing to the development of ports. Such coastal foci

to the east. Our coast is also soothed by the warm

have, down the ages, acted as conduits of cultural

Gulf Stream and nourished by the cold upwellings


in the Celtic sea.

Today coastal utility is in transition. Solid tra-

The amazing scenic variety that typifies our

ditional industries, fishing and shipbuilding, have

coastline may be viewed as a grand collusion of

been overtaken by more speculative enterprises

art and science: of relentless elemental sculpting on

like fish-farming. Increasing energy demand pro-

obdurate geology. This work in progress has mul-

poses offshore windfarms and less intrusive wave-

tiple expressions in the headlands and islands, inlets

harnessing. Much recreational activity is also now

and estuaries, dunes and beaches ... that define our

associated with our shores. Eco tourism has become

country’s margin.

a significant consideration in the revitalisation of

The twice-daily tidal rhythm of exposure and

our coastal communities: we are nevertheless only

concealment imposes a lifestyle of tolerance on

beginning to evaluate and appreciate our birds and

the flora and fauna. The zonation of intertidal

whales and breath-taking coastal scenery.

seaweeds and winkles reflects this. In the hidden





world of deeper water, molluscs, crustaceans and

remind us of what we still have and warn us about

fish respond to other ecological imperatives. At the

what we have to lose.

top of the food chain sea birds and marine mammals exploit this fecundity.

Gordon D’Arcy 5



y first memory of Ireland’s coast are the

to get a foothold and they were soon followed

smooth pebbles at Ross Behy Strand

by animals that crossed the quickly disappearing

at high tide, the incoming surf and that unique

land bridge between Britain and Ireland. Fol-

clacking sound that comes with each retreating

lowing the animals were the first humans who

wave. This was the first time I laid eyes on the

arrived in Ireland around ten thousand years ago.

Atlantic Ocean and it was probably the time my

It is thought that these hunters and gatherers

love affair with the coast began.

arrived in Northern Ireland by boat from Scot-

The coast, the magical border between land

land, other groups probably managed to cross the

and sea, the dividing line between earth and

land bridge from southern Britain into southern

water, calls out to all of us. It’s a place of constant

Ireland before it got swallowed by the Irish Sea.

change that seems to hold the memories of our own ancestral beginnings.

impenetrable boreal forest and the first settlers

Ireland, this small island at the edge of Europe,

stayed mainly along the coast and river estuar-

calls some 7,500 kilometres of shoreline its own.

ies. Evidence for their presence can still be found

Ireland’s coast as we know it today is a product

today in forms of heaps of shells above the high

of the latest glaciation during the ice age. Around

tide line. Imagine a group of people on a shel-

twenty thousand years ago most of Northern

tered part of a beach, sitting around a fire, roast-

Europe, including Ireland, was covered by a huge

ing and cooking their cockles, razor clams and

ice sheet.The sea level was some 120 metres lower

mussels. When the meal is finished they just toss

than today, and Ireland and Britain were joined

the empty shells behind them. Over time these

together and had a connection to the European

midden heaps reached considerable height and


today allow archeologists a unique insight in the

When temperatures started to rise about fif-

diet of our ancestors. Today these heaps are cov-

teen million years ago the glaciers eventually

ered by sand and grown over by dunes and other

started to melt and water levels began to rise. It

vegetation, but from time to time wind and tides

was then that the retreating ice carved the land-

uncover pockets of shells, often at the base of

scape, leaving behind the sea loughs of Ireland’s

shifting dunes, and allow even us non-archaeolo-

northern coast, the great peninsulas of the south-

gists a glimpse in to the past.

west and many other features of today’s coast like the drumlin islands of Clew Bay. The rising temperatures also allowed plants 6

At this time Ireland was covered by an almost

Over the following centuries Ireland and its coast changed dramatically. The climate became warmer and more humid and sea levels rose fur-


Above: Machair, Silver Strand, County Mayo

ther. The hunter-gatherers settled down, became

Today Ireland’s coast is a jigsaw of many dif-

farmers and started to cut down trees to make

ferent habitats: sandy beaches, including adjoin-

space for fields. The combination of climate

ing dune systems and the unique ‘machair’ – a

change and human interference meant the end

sandy grassland that can only be found in the

of the forests and the rise of the bogs. Evidence

North West of Ireland and the west of Scotland –

of this process can still be found today and some

make up more than two thousand kilometers of

of the most impressive examples are located at

the Irish coast; river estuaries provide shelter for

the coast. Rinevella Bay at the Shannon Estuary

salt marshes and vast mudflat areas; there are also

holds an example of what is known as a drowned

rocky shores are made of rock platforms, pebbles,

or petrified forest; the middle and lower shore of

stones or boulders, soft cliffs made of stones and

this bay is made of peat with countless tree trunks

dirt and hard cliffs that rise to a height of several

still embedded in it. Once a dense forest must

hundred metres.

have covered what is now the estuary of Ireland’s

Although people over time ventured and set-

longest river, deer and boar must have roamed

tled inland the coast remained a vital and constant

where today seals and dolphins are swimming.

influence on the Irish people. Dune grasses pro-

Places like this are mind boggling and encourage

vided the raw material to thatch houses, seaweed

us to look into our distant past.

became a common fertilizer, but first and fore7


most the sea and coast have always been a source

and kayaking have become very popular. More

of food. In more recent times, seafood has grown

recently the tourism industry has also discovered

into an important industry.

the coastal wildlife and eco tour operators are

Being a fishermen on an island sounds like the perfect job. Unfortunately cheap fish imports

life watching trips.

from overseas, over fishing and resulting regula-

This however puts the coast and its inhabit-

tions and quotas make life anything but easy for

ants under constantly-growing pressure. Littering,

Irish fishermen, especially for the smaller local

pollution, over-fishing and destruction of habitat

enterprises. But there are still many thriving ports

are just a few factors that threaten Ireland’s coast.

around Ireland like Howth, Dingle or Killybegs

Making this book was a journey of discovery

whose fishermen not only supply for the domes-

in many different ways. First there was the actual

tic market but also export their goods around the

journey around the fringes of Ireland by car, boat


or on foot. At times, this journey seemed to go

For many people, however, the coast means

on forever, on narrow country roads around long

one thing: holidays! The Irish coast is probably

stretched peninsulas, along the shores of sea loughs

the most important asset for the tourism industry

and over choppy seas to some mystical island.

and is marketed to suit both the active and not

It was also a very personal journey. In the early

so active visitor. Water sports like sailing, surfing

stages my goal was to capture the wild and varied

Below: Fulmars, Loop Head, County Clare


now offering dolphin, whale, seal and other wild-


Right: Beadlet Anemone

landscape of the Irish coast. But soon it

surfing championships in Bundoran. I

became clear that the Irish coast has more

spent many hours onboard a boat on the

to offer and I went back to my roots as a wildlife

Shannon Estuary trying to get the perfect dol-

photographer trying to capture the coastal fauna

phin shot, I was photographing fishmongers in

from the nervous hermit crab to the mighty fin

Howth and lost myself in the eerie intestines of


Hook Lighthouse. But taking this plunge into the

Although we like to think of the coast as a wild

unknown not only made me meet some fascinat-

place, it has been very much shaped by human

ing people, it also changed my perception of my

hands. It’s impossible to travel along the coast

art and in the process made me a better photog-

without seeing piers, harbours, lighthouses and

rapher, I hope.

watchtowers; most of the time this built land-

The goal for this book was to show all aspects

scape is rather picturesque and forms an integral

of Ireland’s coast but unfortunately there is only

part of Ireland’s coast. It’s only another small step

so much space and no book of this size can do

from photographing coastal architecture to pho-

total justice to the wealth of subject matter. So

tographing its creators, carving a living out of the

in the end this is a personal view and I hope you

coast’s resources or simply enjoying it.

enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed making

The wild coast, the built coast and all its inhabitant are all part of a tightly-woven net and once

it. Or as my countryman Heinrich Böll put it in his book Irish Journal:

I embraced the idea of capturing all aspects of

‘Es gibt dieses Irland:Wer aber hinfährt und es nicht

Ireland’s coast I found myself in, for me, rather

findet, hat keine Ersatzansprüche an den Autor’ (‘This

unusual circumstances. I visited a sail maker

Ireland exists: However if you go there and can’t

on the Mizen Peninsula, followed the building of a traditional sailing boat

find it, the author will not be responsible for compensation’).

in West Clare and photographed the Right: Hermit Crab


Above: The Saltees from St Patrick’s Bridge, County Wexford


THE SOUTH EAST he counties of Wexford and Water-


habitats of Wexford Harbour are a very

ford occupy the southeast corner of

important wintering place for wildfowl.

Ireland, an area also known as the sunny

Each year around 20,000 birds spend the

southeast. Statistically this part of Ireland

winter season here. Photographing wildlife

enjoys more sunshine than the rest of the

in Ireland in winter calls for luck with the

country, a very welcome fact for the out-

weather and the light, and unfortunately

door photographer.

my visits always coincided with grey and

The far southeastern corner of Wexford

wet winter weather.

is more or less one endless stretch of beach,

Further south lays another haven for

starting at Wexford Bay on the eastern coast

birds: The Saltees. These rocky islands host

and ending at Ballyteige Bay in the south.

Ireland’s second largest gannet colony and

Wexford Harbour at the Slaney Estuary is

are a breeding ground for several other bird

almost entirely surrounded by sandbanks

species, like puffins, guillemots, fulmars and

that only leave a small opening between

razorbills, and for grey seals.

Raven Point in the north and Rosslare

West of the Saltee Islands the

Point in the south. The Wexford

Hook Peninsula stretches out

Slobs, an area of reclaimed

into the Celtic Sea and marks

land known as polders,

a change in the coastal land-

and the natural estuarine

scape. Rocky shores grow into

Right: Spined Sea Scorpion



Above: Fisherwoman at Wexford Harbour, County Wexford Opposite: Kilmore Quay Harbour, County Wexford


sheer cliffs that open up into secluded bays

in pink flowers known as thrift – endlessly

protected by protruding headlands and sea

twist and turn before they reach the sea. I

stacks: Waterford’s Copper Coast.

lost my way more than once and equally

Exploring Ireland’s south east coast takes

often I wasn’t sure if I had reached the

some effort. Although the coast runs in

destination I had in mind. But in the end

quite a straight line, the narrow country

this didn’t matter. I found enough subject

roads – which are especially picturesque in

matter to fill several books and the sunny

early summer when the banks are covered

southeast lived up to its name many times.

The South East


Situated around five kilometres off

made a vow as a ten-year-old that one day

the south Wexford coast and built on

he would own the Great Saltee. In 1943

bedrock laid down two- to six-hundred

he realised his dream and in 1956 he was

million years ago, the Saltee Islands are

crowned the first prince of the Saltees. In

one of Ireland’s natural wonders. The

reality however the island belongs to the

name given to the Great Saltee and

birds: the elusive Manx shearwater, razorbill,

its companion Little Saltee is probably

guillemot, kittiwake, gannet, puffin, cormo-

of Norse origin, ‘salt-øy’, meaning ‘salt

rant and other species occupy every inch

island’. A visit to the Great Saltee in

of the island during spring and summer. In

windy weather when salt spray quickly

autumn more than 100 grey seals also come

encrusts anything will reveal the reason

to the island to breed. Unless you suffer

for the name.

from ornithophobia or have been watching

The Great Saltee is privately owned by the Neale family.The late Michael the First

Hitchcock’s The Birds recently a visit to the island is an amazing experience.

Above: Birds of the Great Saltee: Left: Gannet. Right: Puffin Opposite: Top left: Razorbill. Bottom left: Cormorant chicks. Right: Cormorant


‘All people young and old, are welcome to come, see and enjoy the Islands, and leave them as they found them for the unborn generations to come see and enjoy.’ Michael the First



Below: Booley Bay, Hook Peninsula, County Wexford


The South East

Above: Hook Head Coast with Saltee islands in the distance, County Wexford



Above: Hook Lighthouse, County Wexford

The Hook Lighthouse is not only one

had founded a monastery nearby and soon

of Ireland’s best known landmarks situ-

became aware of the dangers that the

ated in beautiful surroundings, it is also

waters around Hook Head held for sailors.

one of the world’s oldest working light-

The first beacon wasn’t much more than

houses, and Ireland’s earliest established

a fire built on top of a pile of stones but it


provided a crucial guiding light for vessels

The origins of Hook Lighthouse date


entering Waterford Harbour.

back to the 5th century AD when St

The first proper lighthouse was built

Dubhan, a Welsh monk, established the

in 1172 by Raymond LeGros, a Norman

first beacon on Hook Head. St Dubhan,

nobleman, who also used the tower to guard

whose name is the Irish for ‘fishing hook’,

the entrance to the harbour and protect his

Ireland's Coast  

A visual celebration of the coasts of Ireland.

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