He has been described as Ireland’s answer to David Attenborough but wildlife presenter and documentary maker Eoin Warner is having none of it. “Ah, Jaysus, poor David,” he laughs. “He is a hero of mine, I wouldn’t fill one of his shoes, never mind the rest of him. It is a very nice thing to hear though — he’s amazing.”
He may be understandably reluctant about likening himself to the undisputed king of natural history programming, but there is no doubt that Warner shares his hero’s passion for wildlife and the environment. It is clear when he speaks about fronting the upcoming TG4 natural history series Iontais Na bhFarraigí Ceilteacha, a co-production with the BBC, which explores the spectacular coasts of Ireland and Wales and the bounty of hidden wildlife which inhabits the Celtic Sea, the stretch of ocean between both countries.
“It is lovely to bring some attention to the Celtic Sea — so many wildlife documentaries focus on the west coast and the Wild Atlantic Way. It is an incredible sea in itself in terms of biodiversity and the coastline is absolutely stunning. We had amazing weather in June and we filmed along the Copper Coast in Waterford, there were all these amazing little beaches and nobody on them, it was unbelievable. We spent some lovely time off the Saltees in Wexford, by Kilmore Quay, and that was stunning as well.”
Warner, a native of Bantry, Co Cork, now lives in Galway with his wife and two children. His route to wildlife presenting and documentary-making was a circuitous one. “I was always besotted by wildlife and that childlike wonder followed me throughout my life. I was going to do marine biology or zoology up until the leaving cert and then I decided in my wisdom to change to hotel management. I went into the hospitality business for many years. Then I went back to university…to cut a long story short, I ended up getting a gig with TG4 doing Éire Fhiáin, they were looking for a new presenter who spoke Irish and who had a passion for wildlife. It is amazing how your life goes full circle back to what your real passions are. I have been lucky and privileged for that to happen.”
Warner is also very aware of the importance of communicating about our native wildlife through our native language, although it took a while for him to fall in love with Irish.
“I hated it in school. But my mother in her desperation sent me down to west Kerry to the Gaeltacht one summer when I was in my mid-teens. I identified more with the spoken language there than I did with the grammar classes in school. In my mid-20s, I took a year off and I went down to west Kerry, and lived and worked in the community. It was the best thing I ever did. It is the the most natural way to learn a language, to just immerse yourself. It is important to see our wildlife through the Irish language. As a child I used to love watching Éamon de Buitléar and Gerrit Van Gelderen but I never dreamed I would be doing it myself.”
Warner’s father David tragically lost his life in the Whiddy Island disaster, when a French oil tanker exploded in Bantry Bay in January 1979. Warner was only two at the time but has felt his father’s influence and interest in nature throughout his life.
“Growing up, there was always that void in my life. Dad was big into birdwatching and nature. Even though I never knew him, it came down through dúchas or whatever you want to call it. My dad was from Galway city and he spoke Irish as well. My mum was the first person who called me after Éire Fhiáin, my first documentary, was on and the first thing she said to me was ‘your dad would have been so proud of you’. It caught me because you spend your life trying to impress a person who you will never meet but living by whatever expectations they would have had and it was just lovely to hear that. I got some solace from it.”
Warner says the abundance of nature and wildlife on our island still astounds him and raising awareness of it will contribute to efforts to preserve it.
“I am in this game for years, and I’m still surprised and shocked at the wealth of our nature. In one of the scenes, we are just off the Cork coast and there are fin whales, bluefin tuna, common dolphins and all the seabirds are in a feeding frenzy on a bait ball — in the background, you see the Cork coastline and Ballycotton in the distance. I can’t believe that is where we are, it feels like we are in the Antarctic or someone like that. My motivation in working on these documentaries isn’t to be on the telly, it is to show people what we have on our doorstep and for them to get out there and enjoy it. If they do, there is a chance they will fall in love with it and protect it.”
Warner believes Iontais Na bhFarraigí Ceilteacha is also important in highlighting other less well known species that are under threat, such as the tiny microplankton that is responsible for 50% of the air that we breathe.
“The footage of that is amazing. There are cameras now that can pick up these tiny, microscopic animals — they are like little aliens, in their billions. Over 50% of the oxygen synthesised on the planet comes from the ocean, from these phytoplankton. Everyone focuses on trees but a healthy ocean means healthy air as well. This series looks at the big-ticket animals but also at the unsung heroes like plankton, sea urchins, starfish and so on. It is great to see how all those relationships form these beautiful ecosystems.”
- Iontais Na bhFarraigí Ceilteacha begins on TG4 Wednesday, Jan 12, at 9.30pm
The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker. “Baker was an Englishman who wrote two books in the '60s. His style of writing is magnificent, and the way he describes animals is magical — you are right there with him. It is a book I love to read every so often.”
“I love everything that David Attenborough has done, he is an amazing ambassador for nature. I have a lot of respect for what Colin Stafford-Johnson has done in The Wild Gardener because it is not all about the amazing far-flung places, it is the stuff on your doorstep and things you can do to make a difference.”
“We were free diving with basking sharks for another series off the Clare coast in September and it blew my mind. There were hundreds of them there. To be that close to these magnificent animals… I felt like Jacques Cousteau. One came straight at me, went underneath my body and I could feel its dorsal fin stroking my chest. You daren’t flinch because they might panic and hit you with their tail. You want to scream but you have a snorkel in your mouth and you can’t.”