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To the Vikings, Waiesfjord.
A wide shallow harbour.
To another invader, Oliver Cromwell, the town of Wexford was a Catholic thorn in his side.
In 1649, his New Model Army wiped out all Catholic resistance
and replaced them with a new wave of settlers, the so-called New English.
The town is one thing, but he who would be master of Wexford's harbour
must do battle with a constant natural foe.
As the tide ebbs, the entire estuary is filled with continuously shifting ridges of sand.
Deep-draughted ocean-going vessels can't cope with the perils of the sandbanks.
But there is a very ancient type of boat that can.
Flat-bottomed, and traditionally with a pointed bow and stern, it's the Wexford Cot.
Larry Duggan is my name, and I have been making Wexford Cots for 60 years, of all types.
Our whole family have been in it for hundreds of years, father and my grandfather,
and my great-grandfather, great- great-grandfather were making these
in the early part of the 18th century.
I suppose it's nice to be able to say that you're able to do something that comes natural to you.
That's quite good now, Richard.
Wexford's the only place that we get cots.
It's the estuary that makes the cots suitable for what it is,
or the cot is suitable for the estuary, however you want to put it.
That boat would push out in six inches of water.
You wouldn't get near the beach with a keel boat -
the keel would be in the mud before you get near the shore.
That's clinker. Clinker is one board lapped over another.
I think the Vikings brought that to this part of the country,
because all the Viking boats are all clinker-built. Apart from the cots I've made shooting punts.
I became an expert on building punts - no matter who wanted a punt, they came to Larry's yard.
Traditional punt is only ten inches high and she's 15, 16 or 17 feet long.
You push it along with a pole.
A good punter turns on his side this way, and he's able to just glide along.
It's loaded from the muzzle, usually six ounces of shot to every ounce of powder.
And my big one takes four ounces of powder, 24 ounce of shot.
When it comes to the good shots,
there have been hellish good shots.
I got 166 golden plover in one shot...
way back in 1952.
There was a great market for them. I mean, all during the war years you couldn't get enough of them.
England, that's where they were all going, to feed them all in the war.
Shooting wildfowl using a punt can be lethally effective.
But it's also licensed and very strictly controlled.
Out of range of ancient gunshot, on the north side of Wexford Harbour lie the Wexford Slobs.
Now, slob is simply the Irish word for muddy land, which this entire area was until the 1840s,
when it was drained and reclaimed.
For the past 30 years or more, around 500 acres of slobland have become a wildlife reserve
and over wintering site for a huge variety of wild birds,
and as Wexford sleeps, Miranda's going in search of one very special species.
It's about an hour before first light, and Paddy and I
are setting off to a place called Raven Point
at the north end of Wexford harbour.
If we're very lucky, we might just catch a glimpse of
a rare and very beautiful visitor to this part of the Irish coast.
My guide out to Raven Point is wildlife warden Paddy O'Sullivan.
Apparently, our success is going to rely on keeping chat and movement to a minimum.
I wish I'd bought a flask of tea.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, an unforgettable call - "nedleck, nedleck",
and against the early morning sky long strings of silhouetted birds start to appear.
Magical. It's brilliant.
Fantastic, just the sheer numbers of them,
the beauty of the call.
You can even hear the hum of the wings. This is just magical.
This is probably the best spot to be, because right here you get over a third of the world's population
of Greenland white-fronted geese.
BIRDS CHATTER NOISILY
It's now 7:30am and it's a real November morning.
These birds have spent the night out on freezing cold exposed sandbanks.
Now, in the safety of daylight, it's time for a hearty breakfast in the nearby stubble fields.
For me, a day in the life of the Greenland white-fronted geese has just begun.
Getting closer to them, one of the more obvious questions is answered -
why they're called white-fronted geese.
Their need to feed is paramount now.
Each and every one of these birds has flown here all the way
from their breeding grounds on the west coast of Greenland,
an incredible calorie-busting journey of over 1,800 miles.
'For some years, the Wildlife Trust's scientific officer Alyn Walsh has observed a marked decline
'in Greenland white-fronted geese overwintering on the Wexford Slobs.
'And there's only one way of recording the numbers.'
Two, four, six, eight, ten, two, four, six, eight, 20, two, four, six, eight, 30...
'Alyn and the team are extremely anxious to monitor the decline, and they repeat this wild goose count
'time and time again during the winter months to collect accurate data.
'It's a vast area, so we need to drive and the cars also act as a mobile hide.
'The geese don't seem fazed by our vehicle.
'But if we got out, the entire flock would be airborne in seconds and we'd have to start counting again.'
Several of the geese have got neck collars.
There was a "K9Z", and a "K5U". Do we know anything about those birds?
Yes, K9Z and K5U have been together for a number of years now.
I don't think they've any goslings this year,
-but they probably will in very soon.
-So, they're a breeding pair?
They're a breeding pair, and that's sort of typical because we know that
pairs are not producing young until at least their sixth year now.
When you get to know the geese you can see that they're actually
broken up into very discreet little family groups.
If we look at this group here in the field, you can see there's a group -
they're almost certainly related.
-So both on the ground and in the air they stay within a family group?
if they fly from one area to another, it's for water.
If they're grazing, they would definitely have to have water every two to three hours.
They eat a lot of vegetative matter, and because their digestive system is poor,
they poop every three minutes.
Now, I only came here to see the geese,
but it's clear you've got a huge number of bird species
that are travelling here from all over the place.
The white-fronted geese don't have it all to themselves.
Wexford is a very special place.
It's like an international airport, a hub for a huge range of species.
We've got in excess of 200 species that come to Wexford.
Probably the most notable ones would be Brent.
We have 3,500 Brent that come from the High Arctic of Canada.
We have Hooper Swans from Iceland,
we've got Snipe which again come from Iceland and from Europe.
We've got Wigeon which can come in from Siberia,
Golden Plover from Iceland, and Curlews that come Europe as well.
By late afternoon there's a change of mood on the Wexford Slobs, a new sense of anticipation.
There's a stirring amongst the geese.
A quick shake of the head mirrored by other family or group members
is a clear indication of an intention to fly.
Soon family after family, squadron after squadron of geese
from across the entire 2000 acres of Wexford Slobs
is airborne and heading back out to sea for the relative safety
of the Wexford sandbanks.
Greystones, where the Wicklow hills
dip a mountainous granite toe into the Irish Sea.
Here, engineer Dick Strawbridge is exploring one of the most remarkable,
but little-known achievements of one of his heroes.
Engineers don't get much greater than Isambard Kingdom Brunel,
and one of his greatest challenges was here on the Irish coast.
Imagine trying to build a railway through that!
Precipitous granite cliffs to tunnel through, deep gorges to cross.
Railway engineer, Michael Barry, has no doubts as to the formidable
obstacles Brunel faced, or to the brilliance of his solutions.
I would call it heroic engineering.
We have ramparts out over the sea, which have to stand up to the heavy waves.
The rock is extremely hard, it was extremely difficult to tunnel,
but it also is unstable and you get rock falls from time to time.
Digging through that kind of rock, it would be a really very difficult engineering job to do it today.
Since it opened in 1855, generations of engineers have re-routed, re-built and altered sections
of the railway line through and around Bray Head, but you can still find evidence of the master's work.
Down there you can just see some old stone piers.
That's all that's left of Brunel's once-elegant bridge work.
This was just one of the aerial bridges he built to cross a void, giving passengers an all too real
sensation that there was little between them and the sea below.
This wasn't a railway, it was a rollercoaster, and inevitably the thrills led to spills.
On the 23rd April 1865 the 1st class carriage of the Dublin train simply left the rails
and teetered on the edge of the viaduct 100ft above sea level.
The driver kept his nerve and pushed on, pulling the carriages from the brink.
But two years later, two passengers did die
and 20 more were injured when three carriages left the rails and fell 30ft from one of Brunel's bridges.
But the bridges weren't the only part of his line to take a battering.
Bray Head's unstable rock fell so often,
the company began selling it to contractors laying Dublin's roads.
And the sea took its toll too.
Storm damage was all too frequent.
Brunel's railway through and around Bray Head proved
so horrendously expensive to build, rebuild and maintain, it's even been called Brunel's Folly.
But, in defence of my engineering hero, I have this one thing to say.
It is a cracking ride.
As we emerge from the tunnels we get our first glimpse of what's been nicknamed Ireland's Bay of Naples.
Framing the scene is Killiney Beach,
where Hermione is uncovering the story of a remarkable man and a revolutionary experiment.
In the autumn of 1849, a group of workmen came down to this beach
on an extraordinary mission.
They'd been set the task of creating an earthquake.
Now this earth-shattering plan was the brainchild
of Victorian businessman and scientist, Robert Mallet.
Robert Mallet was a Dublin-born scientist whose experiments on
this tranquil beach began to explain the inner workings of the earth.
Mallet founded a science and christened it seismology, the study of earthquakes.
Nearly 160 years after Mallet created an earthquake on this beach,
we're going to try the same thing.
At a time when no-one really knew what caused tremors in the ground,
Mallet wanted to test his revolutionary new theory that potentially
devastating amounts of energy travel as waves through the earth.
In the experiment, he blew up 25lbs of gunpowder at one end of the beach. His earthquake.
Precisely half a mile away, he positioned himself with specially made equipment
to see if shockwaves would register and how long they took to reach him from the explosion.
Mallet's ambition was to pinpoint and map the epicentre
of all the world's earthquakes and, if possible, save lives.
Given there are several hundred small earthquakes every day,
and a major earthquake every 18 months or so,
Mallet's ambition is shared around the world to this day.
But in paying homage to Mallet's original experiment,
I've hit a few snags.
Everyone's been lovely, the local authority, the Gardai, the Irish Police.
But, well, they don't want their beach blown to bits, so I've had to scale things down
to two kilograms of plastic explosive, and retire to a safe distance of 100 metres.
And there's another but, and it's a big one.
As if explosives weren't enough for us to cope with today, we've also got to deal with this.
Now, mercury is wonderful stuff, but extremely poisonous,
so that's why we've got it sealed inside this dish.
Robert Mallet's apparatus involved projecting cross-hairs onto
a pool of mercury which he viewed through a microscope.
If his theory was right, he could time and record how long it took for
energy waves from his earthquake to register as ripples in the mercury.
Rather like that.
Now, today we're going to be standing a safe distance away
from the blast, and away from the mercury, so we've set up this
video camera here in the hope that it will record any reaction
that we get from our explosion.
Whether or not it will work, well, that remains to be seen.
That's the other thing. I'm really worried our explosion
won't be big enough to register the shockwaves in the mercury 100 metres away, so I've called in some help.
Scientists from the Dublin Institute who will measure the explosion using
a sensitive 21st century seismometer.
Cheating? I don't think so, because this experiment by Robert Mallet 160 years ago was the mother of the idea
that led to the invention of seismometers.
But does seismologist, Tom Blake, think our experiment using mercury will work?
Yes, I'm very confident that it will.
We have the ghost of Robert Mallet behind us I'm sure.
Yes, we're ready to go, yes.
OK, well, Dave when you're ready, do the honours.
-Oh, yes. Look it's very good.
-You could really see it. Oh, fantastic!
Excellent. very, very good.
You missed the blast, though, that was fantastic.
-So, this is the modern technology working.
-What do you think about the mercury?
-Let's go and check it.
Let's see what the camera shows us.
Just go back a bit.
-Oh, yes. Wow.
-That's the one.
That's really impressive, yes.
I want to see it again.
-That's very good.
-The concentric rings coming in and out.
Exactly, yes. Very, very good.
And from that, Mallet basically kick-started seismology.
Yes, he did his first measurements purely and simply
with a simple mercury dish like this and a chronometer.
After his first experiment here on Killiney Beach, Robert Mallet attempted to
map the distribution and intensity of the world's known earthquakes.
He was within a whisker of a discovery which would take
over a century to fully realise, that the earth's crust is made up
of constantly shifting plates, and that it's their movement that causes earthquakes.
The germ of that understanding was formed in Ireland, on Killiney Beach.
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