Summer is here, at last, and with it comes the magnetic pull of the sea, writes Donal Hickey
As a child, the first glimpse of waves each year at Rossbeigh, on the Ring of Kerry, brought a thrill that has not dimmed with time. The whiff of salty air, Atlantic breakers crashing against the shoreline, the laughter of playing children on a crowded beach. All part of the magic of the coast.
Ireland has over 7,500km of coastline and no part of the country is more than 100km from the sea. The coast is a natural part of life for many here, with about half of us living within 10km of it. Land and sea are interwoven.
John Masefield’s poem, ‘Sea Fever’, that we learnt off-by-heart in school, comes to mind.
“I must go down to the seas again, For the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call, That may not be denied.’’
Places like the Cliffs of Moher, Galway Bay, and Inchydoney are all leading tourist attractions, but there are hundreds of other, lesser known places where, even in mid-summer, you could find yourself walking on a beach, with scarcely another human being in sight. On a splendid afternoon last week, I saw just two people, perhaps a kilometre apart, on the beach at Barrow, north of Tralee.
Coast protection is a pressing issue, as erosion and ferocious winter storms cause serious damage. Hundreds of acres are lost each year, roads are damaged and dunes are washed away, as instanced in Rossbeigh.
A barrier of large bolders erected by Kerry County Council at Rossbeigh, seems to be keeping the sea at bay, but sections of dune land are still vanishing and the road leading to houses above the beach is being continually undermined.
Much of our literature draws its inspiration from the sea, the work of John Milllington Synge and Blasket Island library being typical examples. As in many cases, pictures tell a lot more than words. A favourite reference book is Richard Nairn’s, Ireland’s Coastline, published by the Collins Press, and it is bountifully illustrated with outstanding photographs, some dating to the 19th century.
“Whether or not we are conscious of the fact, we are a maritime people, dependent on the seas around us for much of our existence,’’ Nairn writes.
The coastline presents infinite challenges and opportunities for anyone with a camera. An Taisce’s Clean Coasts has launched its annual Love Your Coast Photography Competition. With a prizefund of €5,000, it is expected to attract huge interest from amateur photographers. There are five categories in this year’s competition; Coastal Heritage, Coastal Landscape, People and the Coast and Wildlife and the Coast and Underwater. n For more information about the Love Your Coast photography, see www.cleancoasts.org.
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