Recently in Islands Category

SAMSO JOURNAL, (It could be Inis meain)

By JOHN TAGLIABUE of The New York Times

SAMSO, Denmark -- The people of this Danish island have seen the future, and it is dim and smells vaguely of straw.

With no traffic lights on the island and few street lights, driving its roads on a cloudless night is like piercing a black cloud. There is one movie theater, few cars and even fewer buses, except for summer, when thousands of tourists multiply the population.

Yet last year, Samso (pronounced SOME-suh) completed a 10-year experiment to see whether it could become energy self-sufficient. The islanders, with generous amounts of aid from mainland Denmark, busily set themselves about erecting wind turbines, installing nonpolluting straw-burning furnaces to heat their sturdy brick houses and placing panels here and there to create electricity from the island's sparse sunshine.

By their own accounts, the islanders have met the goal. For energy experts, the crucial measurement is called energy density, or the amount of energy produced per unit of area, and it should be at least 2 watts for every square meter, or 11 square feet. "We just met it," said Soren Hermansen, the director of the local Energy Academy, a former farmer who is a consultant to the islanders.

In December, when the United Nations-sponsored summit meeting on climate change convenes in Denmark, many of the delegates will be swept out to visit Samso. They will see its successes, but also how high the hurdles are for exporting the model from this little island, a hilly expanse roughly the size of the Bronx.

On a recent visit, Mr. Hermansen recounted, the Egyptian ambassador to Denmark admired all the energy-creating devices the islanders had installed, then asked how many people lived here. When he was told about 4,000, he replied with exasperation, "That's three city blocks in Cairo!" Undaunted, Mr. Hermansen told him, "That's maybe where you should start, not all of Egypt, take one block at a time."

Jorgen Tranberg, 55, agreed. "If there were no straw, we'd have no fuel, but we have straw," he said, sipping coffee on the 250-acre dairy farm where he milks 150 Holsteins. "Everywhere is different," he said. "Norway has waterfalls, we have wind. The cheapest is oil and coal, that's clear." The farmers, he said, used to burn the straw on their fields, polluting the air. Now, they use it to heat their homes.

Counting only the wind turbines on the island, but not those that the islanders have parked offshore in the Kattegat Strait, the island produces just enough electricity for its needs. (With the offshore turbines it can even export some.) However, its heating plants, burning wheat and rye straw grown by its farmers, cover only about 75 percent of the island's heating needs, continuing its reliance on imported oil and gas.

The islanders have been inventive. Mr. Tranberg uses a special pump to extract the heat from his cows' milk, then uses the warmth to heat his house. He has even invested in wind turbines. He purchased one outright for $1.2 million, with a bank loan; it now stands in a row of five just behind his brick farmhouse. He later bought a 50 percent stake in another turbine.

But all that spins is not gold, he soon found out. When a gearbox burned out in one mill three years ago, the repair cost more than $150,000. He did not say how much he makes from selling the electricity.

Energy experts emphasize that it is crucial for the islanders to squeeze energy out of their island without relying heavily on sea-based turbines. Not every region of the world is blessed with an expanse of thousands of miles of ocean at its doorstep.

Please read the full story here

Mystery of the basking shark

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ANOTHER LIFE: Arriving once, in innocence and at the wrong or right time (depending on one's sensibilities) at the cliffs above Achill's Keem Bay, I found myself watching the execution of a large basking shark trapped in nets in the water below. As a lance was thrust from the crowding currachs, the scene had little in common with bold battles in wild seas re-enacted for Flaherty's famous "documentary" Man of Aran. Blood trailed briefly through the limpid water as the beast was towed ashore for the great oily liver that made, perhaps, one third of its weight.

Forty years on from the peak of the Achill enterprise that killed 12,342 of the world's second largest fish, Irish marine researchers have had an amazing summer. In forays off Inishowen in Co Donegal and around the Blasket Islands off Kerry, they caught up with no fewer than 101 of the sharks swimming at the surface and reached out from their rib with extendable painter's poles to plant colour- coded tags in the dorsal fins.

Even a decade ago, remarkably little was known about the comings and goings of Cetorhinus maximus.What had been sorted out was its maximum size (rarely more than 10 metres) and phenomenal, open- mouthed throughput of ocean (nearly 1,500 cubic metres every hour) to gulp the pink-centred zooplankton, Calanus, that fills its stomach with something like tomato ketchup.

The big mystery was where the animals went in winter.....

read more here

Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo. E-mail : Include a postal address

Originally published by MICHAEL VINEY.

(c) 2009 Irish Times.

Tragedy as Galway hooker sailor drowned

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HEROIC EFFORTS by the crew of a Galway hooker to save two brothers whose boat had capsized were praised by a priest at the funeral of a renowned Connemara sailor yesterday.

Fr Peadar Ó Conghaile told hundreds of mourners, who filled not just the church but also the grounds of St Mary's Church in Carna, that the four crewmen should get medals for bravery.

Seán Mac Donncha (67), known locally as Johnny Sheáin Jeaic, lost his life in the accident on Saturday morning as he and his younger brother Josie, went to take their traditional Galway hooker McHugh from Kinvara in the south of the bay to a regatta in Rossaveal. The boat capsized shortly after leaving Kinvara.

Mourners were yesterday told how the crew of Bláth na hÓige , which also left from Kinvara, came to their aid. The four men, Gearóid Ó Cualáin, Máirtín Ó Conghaile, Aonghus Ó Cualáin and Máirtín Ó Ceoinín, managed to rescue Josie but they were unable to save his brother.

"These men, especially Gearóid Ó Cualáin, risked their lives to save others," said Fr Ó Conghaile. The Carna parish priest said that, as in so many other coastal villages, loss at sea was all too frequent. Hundreds of mourners brought the small south Connemara village to a standstill.

St Mary's was packed from early morning and the mourners extended out on to the main road in the village.

They had travelled from the three nearby Aran Islands, Inishbofin and other offshore islands, as well as coastal communities from Cork to Donegal. Others had travelled from the United States where wider family members reside.

"We are all too familiar with loss at sea in these parts, yet there was enormous shock when the news came through on Saturday morning," Fr Ó Conghaile said.

"Johnny was a man who was renowned and respected as a man of the sea, a lover of the Irish language and Irish culture, and a great singer. He is an enormous loss to the community."

Mr Mac Donncha, from Ard West, Carna, is survived by his wife Barbara, daughters Kathy, Maureen, Roisín and Fiona, and son Seán. He was buried in Moyrus cemetery outside Carna.

Pádraic Connolly becomes a YouTube star

 Filming Pádraic Connolly a tPoll na Peist,  aka the Serpent's Cave or the Worm Hole on Inis Mór, for Tourism Ireland's online film highlighting the 'hidden gems' of County Galway

Galwayman Pádraic Connolly is doing his bit for tourism this year by presenting a short film on the 'hidden gems' of Co Galway on Tourism Ireland's website.  It is one of a series of ten short films or 'webisodes' which have already been viewed by almost 400,000 potential visitors around the world - see here for the video on

Pádraic Connolly takes a trip to the Aran islands

Tourism Ireland recently launched the series of films which feature real local characters from around the island of Ireland introducing their favourite 'hidden gems'.  Galwayman Pádraic Connolly was selected from the 1,000+ people across the island who applied to take part, to tell viewers and potential holidaymakers around the world about some of his favourite places in his home county. 

In the film, Pádraic takes the viewer on a journey around Connemara - highlighting the spectacular scenery and beautiful coastline.  He begins in Roundstone Harbour where he meets some of the local fishermen.  He continues to the beautiful Coral Strand at Carraroe and then it is on to his own birthplace, Rossaveal, and from there to Inis Mór.  Throughout the film, he regales the viewer with his many tales and legends - including a story about the local man who disappeared at the Worm Hole on Inis Mór!  He finishes his journey on Inis Oírr with its cluster of ancient ruins.

"Visitors repeatedly tell us that what distinguishes the island of Ireland from other destinations - what sets us apart from our competitors - is our people and our scenery", said Laughlin Rigby, eMarketing Manager, Tourism Ireland.  "This online movie, presented by Pádraic, provides an added dimension of information on the many attractions on offer in Co Galway, in a novel and entertaining way". 

"Customers are not just searching for the lowest fare any more; they are seeking information and recommendations on the perfect holiday experience - where to go, what to see and do and where to eat.  These movies complement our new global advertising campaign 'Go Where Ireland Takes You'.  The campaign has been designed to capture the spontaneity and fun of holidaying here and to show that some of the most wonderful and memorable experiences you are likely to have here will be stumbled on by chance", Rigby added.

The ten films or 'webisodes', which have been translated into five European languages, feature on Tourism Ireland's suite of 41 websites and are also being promoted in its main overseas markets on Yahoo.  The films will also feature on a new promotional DVD, which will be distributed to potential holidaymakers in the all-important GB market during August.  To see the films, visit

Inishmore - Signal Tower

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to turn a historic 19th century Lighthouse at the highest point of Inis Mór in the Aran Islands into a teahouse has been approved, despite seriolus concerns about the plans.

The lighthouse is one of the dominant landmarks of Aran, beside Dun Eochla, a major prehistoric monument of the island. Eochaill ( Oughill ) derives its name from Dún Eochla, a late Bronze Age ring fort. The name means Yew wood "Eo Choill".

This fort commands some of Aran's most spectacular views. From here, on a clear day 5 counties can be seen, Kerry, Limerick , Clare, Galway and Mayo.

To the west is the old signal tower; built in 1799 after the 1789 rebellion to protect Ireland's west coast from Spanish or French invasion. Similar buildings can be seen on Golam Island and Inis Oirr. Signals were sent by light and semaphores - flags.

Lighthouse and Signal Tower Beside this is the island's first lighthouse which began its short working life on a May Day 1818. Unfortunately the lighthouse was ill positioned and was blind to ships in the Gregory Sound and when rounding Earrach Island to the west. It was decommissioned when new lighthouses were constructed in Killeaney Bay and on Earrach Island to the west, though it was manned during both world wars. Hat tip Aran Pony & trap Tours

Dun Arann Lighthouse & Signal Tower

An appeal against the development by An Taisce, the national trust for Ireland has failed, and An Bord Pleanála has given the project the go-ahead.  A report by the planning inspector Louise Kiernan on 9 April last said "the proposed development would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area."

Lighthouse and Signal Tower

As often happens in Ireland, political pressure led to Galway county council granting permission for the controversial plan last yea. An Taisce then appealed the decision only to be overruled by An Bord Pleanála last week.

 Dun Arann Signal Tower and Lighthouse, both of which are National Monuments and Protected Structures are close to the development which is located in a designated Natural Heritage area and Special Area of Conservation. The archaeological fort of Dun Eochla, which is also a National Monument is close by. There is also a wedge tomb located between the subject site and Dun Eochla Fort. 

Inishmore - On The Road

An Bord Pleanála  previously ruled that "'The introduction of a modern house on the site of the Lighthouse and located in close proximity to Oghil Fort which is a National Monument, would be out of character with and seriously detract from the historical importance of the
Lighthouse and from the archaeological significance, natural setting and
tourism potential of Oghill Fort. "

It went on to say it would "would seriously injure the visual
amenities of the area and be contrary to the proper planning and development."

In her report Ms Kernan noted that the "Aran Islands by their nature are rich in archaeological finds. As such it is a very sensitive archaeological site.

Aer Arann's very own Peggy Hernon has written a collection of short stories chronicling her experience working with Aer Arann Islands and life in Connemara. Peggy's colourful and descriptive style is sure to draw you in.
Peggy is a member of the Ground Operations staff at Inis Mor Airport. She was born in the Bronx in New York, attended NYU and worked on Wall street for 18 years. She moved over to Inis Mor in 1990 where she married Micheal Hernon, Inis Mor Airport Manager and has been living on the island ever since.
Below is a collection of some of her short stories of life on The Islands. We hope you like them!

Peggy's short stories

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LORNA SIGGINS Marine Correspondent The Irish Times

The Shannon rescue helicopter is taken for granted now in the skies above the west coast as it approaches its 20th birthday, but it took a series of tragedies before the crucial service was established

A HAG OR "cailleach" was chasing Cuchulainn across Loop Head, Co Clare, when he leaped onto a rock several metres offshore. She attempted to follow him, fell into the sea, and her body was washed up on the headland named after her.

Were she to repeat her unfortunate experience now, the "cailleach" might well have survived and found herself at the end of a winch suspended from Shannon's Irish Coast Guard air-sea helicopter.

Airman Jim O'Neill might even have told her a few jokes to calm her, having already spotted her in the briny with his heat-seeking infrared camera before leaving the aircraft by cable and karabiner with his bag of parademical gear.

For just as Hag's Head is a distinctive part of the southern Clare shoreline, so the Shannon rescue helicopter has become an institution - taken for granted now in the skies above the west coast as it approaches its 20th birthday.

On a Sunday evening training mission, its presence is a subconscious comfort for the novice surfers - resembling diving beetles - navigating the swell off Lahinch, and the passengers on the Doolin-Inis Oírr ferry. An indigo Atlantic seems deceptively tranquil as the Sikorsky S-61 sweeps over the weathered rock buttresses forming the Cliffs of Moher.

There's a constant patter on the high- frequency radio, with talk about results of football matches mingling with communications between Shannon air-traffic control and the helicopter, call sign Golf Charlie Echo. Should that call sign change to Rescue 115, it is a signal that the training run has become a rescue "tasking".

"Bring some money and your mobile phone," Capt Cathal Oakes had advised this reporter, before becoming airborne with co-pilot Micheal Moriarty, winch operator Ciarán McHugh and winchman Jim O'Neill. "Just in case we have to drop you down somewhere en route."

It didn't arise; but when Capt Oakes donned a pair of plastic glasses, almost completely covered in tape, it was a reminder that even a routine training flight is accomplished under pressure. The glasses simulate night-time conditions. There will be several more exercises by crew members, each having to update his skills constantly, before we land.

Ironically, the most successful missions are often those no one hears about. Only a fraction of the more than 3,000 rescue flights Shannon has recorded over the past two decades have made headlines.

IT WASN'T ALWAYS like this, as those who campaigned over decades for adequate aerial support for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) clearly remember. Back in 1958, the crash of Hugo de Groot , a KLM flight, off Galway, with the loss of 99 lives, prompted such demands.

"Many people will wonder why air-sea rescue operations should have to be co- ordinated from Scotland and southern England when the accident took place within the air-traffic control area of Shannon Airport. Had there been a helicopter in the Republic - not necessarily at Shannon - it could have searched the crash scene by mid-afternoon at latest," this newspaper reported on August 15th, 1958.

There were to be more such calls, particularly from the fishing industry, over subsequent decades. For although pioneering Air Corps pilots undertook many rescues from Baldonnel from as early as 1963, capability was severely restricted by geographical location and helicopter flying range. Much of the coastline was dependent on the goodwill of Britain, principally through the RAF.

It took the death of Donegal skipper John Oglesby on the deck of his boat, Neptune, off the north Mayo coastline in 1988 to change all that. Oglesby, whose son was among the crew, had his leg severed by a trawl warp.

The nearest lifeboat station at the time was Arranmore, Co Donegal. By RAF calculations, the vessel would have reached port before the closest available helicopter would have reached it. Oglesby bled to death within sight of land.

Joan McGinley was distraught and angry at the manner in which Oglesby, a close friend of her partner, had died. After a public meeting in Killybegs not long after the accident, McGinley established the west coast search-and-rescue campaign, run with a group of people including Aran Island GP Dr Marion Broderick, Joey Murrin of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, Bryan Casburn of the Galway and Aran Fishermen's Co-op, former Naval Service commanders Eamonn Doyle and Paddy Kavanagh, former Air Corps pilot Comdt Fergus O'Connor and solicitor Peter Murphy.

Its single-issue focus yielded swift results. An interdepartmental review group, chaired by former garda commissioner Eamon Doherty, recommended that the Air Corps place a Dauphin helicopter on permanent 24-hour standby at Shannon as an interim measure - and so the first dedicated west coast air-sea base was in operation by September 1989.

A final report recommended that a medium-range helicopter service be provided to the State on contract from Shannon, with an operating radius of 200 nautical miles, and that the Air Corps Dauphin at Shannon be relocated to Finner military base in Co Donegal.

The Irish Coast Guard also owes its origins to that report, and to McGinley's campaign. The first coast guard director, Capt Liam Kirwan, effected a radical transformation of capability, assisted by the RNLI, which moved rapidly to open a new lifeboat station in Ballyglass, Co Mayo, as part of a further expansion.

NOW RUN BY Chris Reynolds, the Irish Coast Guard service can provide coastal, offshore, mountain and inland rescue. Aircraft cross the Border when requested and can assist Britain when required.

Shannon became a commercial rescue base within two years, with Irish Helicopters initially replacing the Air Corps. Air-sea rescue bases at Sligo (replacing Finner camp), Dublin and Waterford were to follow, with the contract for all four now held by CHC Helicopters.

Capt Dave Courtney, a former search-and-rescue pilot, recalls in his recent autobiography, Nine Lives , how operating procedures blended the best of experience from the RAF, Royal Navy, Air Corps, British Coastguard and commercial companies serving the North Sea oil industry.

Challenges, such as the near ditching of the Shannon helicopter shortly before Christmas 1993, helped to refine those procedures.

The S-61 had been called out to assist an Irish-registered Spanish fishing vessel, Dunboy , with 13 crew on board, which had lost engine power some 65km west of Slyne Head in winds of up to 150km an hour. Winchman John McDermott had just landed on the vessel's deck in a heaving sea when the boat listed 70 degrees, the cable broke and about 120ft wrapped itself around the aircraft's blades. A Mayday call was issued, but the helicopter, flown by Capt Nick Gribble and co-pilot Carmel Kirby managed to recover and fly to Galway, leaving McDermott to be picked up by the RAF hours later.

Not only has flying become safer, but the decision to approve paramedic training for use by winch crew on missions has also helped to save lives. "We used to scoop and run to the nearest hospital," O'Neill explains. "Now we can give certain types of treatment en route."

Even before that particular development, the Shannon S-61 had marked its first emergency birth. On March 17th, 1996, Sorcha Ní Fhlatharta saw first light of day in the helicopter cabin, when her mother, Mairéad, delivered her with the assistance of two nurses and the helicopter crew en route from Inis Oírr to University Hospital Galway.

"The crew were great and it was a sort of a distraction," the mother said some years afterwards. "I really didn't have time to think about the pain."


Even as Shannon prepares to celebrate two decades serving the coastline, helicopter and maintenance crews will also remember the sacrifice of colleagues - notably the four members of the Air Corps who died 10 years ago this week in the Dauphin helicopter crash at Tramore, Co Waterford.

Capt Dave O'Flaherty, Capt Michael Baker, Sgt Paddy Mooney and Cpl Niall Byrne were returning from the first night of the rescue mission in the early hours of July 2nd, 1999, when their helicopter collided with a sand dune in thick fog.

The official investigation highlighted "serious deficiencies" in the support given the four crew.

The four had only learned on July 1st - the day the search-and-rescue base at Waterford Airport was converted to 24-hour cover - that there was no provision for after-hours air-traffic control. An agreement had not been concluded by the Department of Defence and the airport management.

The report by the investigation unit specifically noted that considerable pressure was brought to bear on the late Capt OFlaherty, as detachment commander, to accept the rescue mission in search of a small boat with four adults and a child.

In June 2008, Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea awarded posthumous Distinguished Service Medals to the crew of Dauphin 248.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

Organic restaurant at the edge of Europe


The  Irish Times' DEIRDRE McQUILLAN stays at Inis Meain restaurant suites

NO MATTER HOW many times I fly to Inis Meáin I still get a thrill when the twin engines of Aer Arann's Britten-Norman Islander roar at full throttle as the aircraft leaves Connemara airport, in Inverin, for the hop to the island.

On this visit we took off in a dismal grey downpour, but on rounding the shore the clouds parted, the stony fields came into view and we landed softly on the runway as the sun broke through.

We were going to the opening of an exhibition of JM Synge's photographs at Inis Meáin Knitting Company's lovely shop and to stay a night at Inis Meáin Restaurant Suites, a short walk away.

Designed in keeping with the natural environment by the architect Shane de Blácam, a regular visitor to the island, the long, low-lying, cut-limestone building, bisected by a horizontal line of glass, seems to rise from the stone plateau on which it is constructed. It's an impressive sight.

Ruairí de Blácam, an islander and qualified chef, and his wife, Marie-Thérèse, who worked in the fashion industry, fulfilled their long-standing dream of opening a restaurant with rooms on Inis Meáin a year ago.

Their three very spacious suites are constructed and furnished to a high standard, with mesmerising panoramic views of the sea and mainland. Each one, with stuccoed lime walls and wooden floors, is simply but stylishly furnished with a comfortable double bed dressed in white cotton and grey alpaca throws.


Colours reflect the landscape. A wooden bench and a sofa upholstered in grey tweed, with alpaca cushions in shades of grey, provide seating, although you would need a higher chair to use the long wooden window shelf as a desk. The only decorations are black-and-white photographs of the island and vases of wild flowers.

A five-compartment sideboard contains the following: a fridge with chocolate, carrageen, water, wine, champagne, spirits, anchovies, tuna, salami, cheese, butter, marmalade and jam; a kettle, tea, coffee and a mini microwave; cups, saucers, plates, glasses and cutlery; hot-water bottles, a hairdryer, a basket, a sewing kit and deodorants; and Scrabble, a chess set and playing cards.

The adjoining small bathroom has polished granite walls, a shower, a basin and a heated towel rail.

Outside, two mountain bikes are stored on a small self-contained patio with outdoor seating, along with fishing rods complete with tackle.

Maps and books of interest, such as those of Tim Robinson on the Aran Islands, Sean Scully and even the latest book on Synge, edited by Nicholas Grene, are also provided, along with a thoughtful guest information booklet listing 10 things you should do on Inis Meáin. Who'd want a television with all that and such a view outside?

The small but well-chosen restaurant menu majors on seafood caught by island fishermen, including crab, skate and lobster, and local vegetables.

Starters, such as goat's cheese salad with walnuts and sherry vinaigrette, are served with home-made brown bread; main courses include roast skate with French beans and hazelnuts, with new potatoes. Starters cost €5.50-€12.50, main courses cost €17-€27 and desserts cost €7.

Wine is about €5.50 a glass; the list offered seven reds and seven whites, all French, from €22 to €48 and €60 a bottle.

Breakfast is not served in the restaurant but delivered on a tray to the suites. Ours was an Irish and international selection. It had Karmine Irish apple juice, toasted hazelnut muesli, pineapple and strawberry salad, Gubbeen cheese, saucisson, coppa (Italian sausage), scones and "island boiled eggs".

The de Blácams have a burgeoning vegetable garden below the restaurant and a wooden palais des poulets housing 10 Rhode Island Reds that provide the breakfast eggs. Other plans in store for this sheltered field will generate even more produce for the table.

I've stayed in various bed and breakfasts on Inis Meáin over the years, all of them friendly, welcoming places, but the suites provide a new level of luxury and privacy that makes them extra special for an island getaway.

We got up early on Sunday, before breakfast, and went for a long cycle along the island's labyrinthine lanes, passing wild-flower meadows, fields of potatoes and the occasional local. In others, sheep or cows with calves gazed out in contentment into the distance, just like ourselves.

Where Inis Meáin Restaurant Suites, Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Co Galway, 086-8266026,

What Self-contained suites adjoining a restaurant.

Suites Three.

Rates The nightly rate is €125 per person, based on two people sharing a suite. The minimum stay is two nights. There is a single supplement of €62. The rate includes breakfast delivered to the suite.

Restaurant Open seasonally for dinner, serving local food.

Ideal for Couples wanting a quiet weekend retreat with good food.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

Padraic's nostalgic trip to Inisheer

Meet Padraic | Q&A

  • Question: So, you were a Lobster fisherman in your youth, what was that like?

    Answer: I was a lobster fisherman for about two years when I was about sixteen. We'd go out in a currach, which is a traditional rowing boat. We'd drop the pots, of various different types, in the hope to find a lobster, or ten, when we'd return the next day. Back then everyone lived off the sea... and back then the lobsters were more plentiful. I have wonderful memories of those days. We all have a great connection here with the sea.

  • Question: The sailboats we see in the video, these are unique to this part of Ireland, right?

    Answer: That's the Galway hooker; you'll find them all along the coast from Galway city to Connemara. All those boats you see are built by hand here in Connemara. They were mainly used for transporting goods from village to village or to the city.

  • Question: Tell me more about the Worm's Hole; I'm fascinated by this...

    Answer: Isn't it amazing; I mean where you would find it! Divers have come here from America, France, Australia and they drop into the worms' hole and not one has touched the bottom. It's a mystery. That's nature for you.

  • Question: What is the most ideal time of year to visit the Connemara coastline?

    Answer: The middle of July, when the sky is clear and blue, and the sea, the same. There's no place on earth as nice. It's heaven. But, if you get clear day in winter, it's just as amazing.

  • Question: You grew up here; all this open landscape is your backyard...

    Answer: I did, and you can walk for miles through these fields and nobody will bother you. If you have the stamina, there's a boreen nearby in Rossaveal that leads to a Martello tower - a round tower with cannon on the roof - just by the edge of the sea. The tower has been there since the 1850's, it must be the only one along the west coast. It has a well inside it. Most of these towers are museums in other countries; here you'd hardly know it existed. It's not advertised. This whole area is not commercialized.

  • Question: I'm very interested in the coral sand beach...

    Answer: It's in of only two coral beaches in Ireland. The other one is supposed to be in Kerry, but nobody's ever seen it, so I wonder... but this is a pure coral beach and it's absolutely just beautiful. I must do more research on coral beaches in Ireland; there's not been any research on this that I'm aware of...

Cliff diver jumps into Serpent's Lair (Poll na Peist)

A world champion diver has successfully completed a death-defying stunt at one of Ireland's most remote spots - The Serpent's Lair or Poll na Peist on Inis Mor on the Aran Islands.

Colombian Orlando Duque travelled to Inis Mór on the Aran Islands last weekend to jump 26m (78ft) into the Serpent's Lair or Poll na Peist - a blowhole carved out by Atlantic swells.

The 34-year-old made the dive as he prepares for competition in France next month.

"The Serpent's Lair is one of those places that you only hear stories about," Duque said.

"Finding the place and being able to dive there was one of the highlights of my career. Hopefully in the future we can bring a cliff diving competition to Ireland."

The Serpent's lair is a near-perfect rectangular hole, chiselled out of rock at the bottom of cliffs on Inis Mor. In ancient mythology it was home to a Sea Serpent and the sound of screeching stormy winds is said to be the monster making its presence felt.

Nine-time world champion Duque has dived from as high as 34m, with the cliff-top jump filmed for the "9Dives" feature.

"There's a gigantic difference between 26 and 34 meters. The pool looks as small as a pinhead, and the water is as hard as concrete. The slightest error and ... No, it's better not even to think about it," Duque said.

Cliff diving involves athletes leaping into water from heights of 23m to 28m for men and 18m to 23m for women.

Divers have about three seconds to co-ordinate their forms and movements before they hit the surface of the water at around 100km/h with a flat landing, known as a pancake, compared with landing on concrete from 13m.

Duque travelled to Ireland as part of his training for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series on May 8 in La Rochelle, France.

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The Book of Islands


Reviewed by Katy Guest

The Independent

The celebration of "islomania" behind this book is nothing to do with being a helpful travel guide; nor can its remit be scientifically defined. "We went by instinct in the end," write its authors, as they struggle to define what gives a place its "islandness". And fine instincts they were, too. The Book of Islands, by Philip Dodd and Ben Donald (Palazzo Editions, £30), has winnowed the selection down to 200 of the world's most islandy examples, starting at the International Date Line with Tonga and the Chatham Islands, the first places to greet each new day, and tracking the sun west towards Samoa.

Thus we have Baffin in Canada (bigger than Germany) compared, probably for the first time, to the Lake Palace in Udaipur. Islands closer to home - the Aran Islands and the Isle of Wight - find they have much in common with Bora Bora (right), Ibiza, Robben Island and Bikini. The authors even suggest an islomaniac cocktail, which might be more appealing to visit than to drink: Curaçao, Madeira, Rum and Islay whisky. The tragedy is that many of these paradises, such as the Maldives, are at risk from rising sea levels. Peter Jackson perhaps puts it best: "New Zealand is not a small country but a large village," he writes.

Faroe Islanders told whales are toxic

The inhabitants of the Faroe Islands have been told that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption, because they are toxic - as revealed by research on the Faroes themselves.

The remote Atlantic islands, situated between Scotland and Iceland, have been one of the last strongholds of traditional whaling, with thousands of small pilot whales killed every year, and eaten by most Faroese.

Anti-whaling groups have long protested, but the Faroese argued that whaling is part of their culture - an argument adopted by large-scale whalers in Japan and Norway.

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November Weather

Many claim their weather changes rapidly, pointing to that with pride. I challenge anyone to match Inis Meain. At the moment, the sun is shining out the back of our cottage....casting a shadow of the window frame on our wall....while out the front window, rain is spattering against it, the wind is blowing quite nicely and the sea between Inis Meain and Inis Mor is, if not angry, at the very least a bit cranky.

Clare Island's rich archaeological heritage


ISLAND CHILDREN from Co Mayo walked in the steps of famous Edwardian naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger after members of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) launched two volumes of the new Survey of Clare Island at the weekend.

Speaking in the island's community centre, before the field trips, RIA president Nicholas Canny observed that Praeger - who was the academy's first president - had travelled the entire country before choosing Clare Island as the place to carry out the ground-breaking "microscopic study of how things worked in the environment".

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