Coast follows the southern shoreline of Ireland. In Cork, Neil Oliver explores Titanic's last port of call and tells of the priest who disembarked at the last minute.
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Welcome to the Old Head of Kinsale, here on the south coast of Ireland,
and a relaxing start to a great journey, and some remarkable stories.
Heading eastward, this coast is famous for its great ports, harbours and estuaries.
On our Irish Odyssey, Alice discovers the secrets of glass-making.
It's starting to bubble now. Yeah, I've got them. OK.
Miranda seeks out a rare and special visitor to this coast.
And you can even hear the hum of the wing. This is just magical.
Dick Strawbridge reveals how Brunel
wrestled with one of Ireland's toughest challenges to build a railway.
It is a cracking ride.
Hermione starts her own earthquake.
It's a snug fit!
And I get to join the Irish Navy on manoeuvres.
This from the south-east corner of Ireland, is Coast.
From the coast of South Wales, we've travelled to southern Ireland.
Our journey takes us to the great maritime city of Cork, to Waterford,
Rosslare, Wexford and all the way up to Dublin.
But we're teeing off here at the Old Head of Kinsale, an exposed headland and a golf course
with an infamous 12th hole that eats golf balls for breakfast.
They come from all over to play here.
Tiger Woods, me, of course, and someone else who's had a unique and spectacular view of this course.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to see the world as something small
like a golf ball, so you could almost reach out and touch it?
Well, American NASA astronaut Dan Tani has done,
and he comes here to play golf.
I could do with Dan's help playing the 12th hole
because not only did he marry one of the staff, he's photographed the entire course from space.
And he's on the line now from NASA HQ in Houston, Texas.
The Old Head is so easy to see, because the Old Head is
such a distinctive shape on the coast of Ireland. You're moving at 17,000 miles an hour.
I have a piece of video to show you it,
and then once you find the Old Head,
you put the big telephoto lens on the camera and snap as many pictures as possible.
I can only imagine what it's like standing there on the 12th tee,
and I really envy that you get a chance to be there.
'Well, I mean, I envy you.'
To change the subject, what advice would you give
to a complete novice confronted by the apocalyptic horror that is the 12th tee?
The advice on the tee is to stay right, more right than you think, there's an aiming stone there,
and you're so tempted to bite off a little bit of the dogleg, go left,
but there's 200-300 feet of cliffs.
I'm sure there are a couple million golf balls down there,
people who thought they could bite off more than they can chew. I love that hole -
if I can play a hole over and over, that would certainly be one of them.
Dan, thanks very much for talking to me, it's been a real treat.
-Enjoy your stay there, bye now.
-Thank you, bye-bye.
With the guidance of astronaut Dan Tani, Neil Oliver steadies himself as he faces the dreaded 12th hole.
Nerves of steel, this man.
From the Old Head of Kinsale, we travel past Kinsale itself and on to the great port of Cork.
As Cork Harbour comes into view, one thing strikes you immediately.
It's also one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
For centuries, it's been a haven for shipping.
Even today, with its deepwater channels and proximity to
the main shipping lanes, ships come here from all over the world.
At the harbour's heart lies Cobh.
Over the years, Cobh has played host to many fine ships.
Just recently, the QE2 was moored here on her last voyage before being converted into a hotel in Dubai.
Hardly surprising, the public were out in force with their cameras
to capture this historic moment for themselves.
There's barely a news programme these days, without so-called amateur footage of something or other,
but it's not an invention of the modern media age.
There's nothing new about amateur coverage of historical events.
Many years ago on the quayside at Cobh,
a set of unique photographs was taken. The date, 11th April 1912.
Outside the White Star Line's ticket office, an excited crowd gathered,
waiting to board the White Star's latest and greatest liner on her maiden voyage.
That liner was about to become the most famous ship in history, bar none... The Titanic.
She'd already set sail from Southampton, crossed the Channel to Cherbourg.
And now, her very last port of call before crossing the Atlantic to New York was Cork.
On board the Titanic, waiting to disembark as she moored out in Cork harbour,
was a young local man, a keen photographer and theology student, Frank Browne.
His uncle and guardian had forked out for Frank to travel on the Titanic 1st class from Southampton to Cork.
But no further.
123 people joined the Titanic at Cobh.
From that now neglected and decaying wooden jetty right over there, they got aboard two tenders
that ferried them out to the liner herself further out in the harbour.
Only seven people disembarked, and a bitterly disappointed Frank Browne was one of them.
On the way to Cork, he'd befriended by a wealthy American couple
who'd offered to pay the remainder of his passage to New York.
He'd sent a telegraph to his Jesuit superior at the college asking for permission.
The reply he got was terse and unequivocal: "Get off that ship.
Of course, with hindsight, Frank Browne was one of the luckiest people alive.
Ordered off a ship that was about to sail from Cork to an icy Atlantic grave.
The images Frank Browne recorded on his camera as he watched the Titanic leave
instantly made the front page of newspapers worldwide.
Today they remain a priceless record, not just of the most famous ship in history,
but also an evocation of the joy, the sadness, and excitement
of Titanic's passengers as they embarked on their tragic journey.
Cork Harbour may have seen tragedy, but it's also witnessed a lot of Irish fun.
For starters, it's home to the Royal Cork Yacht Club, founded in 1720.
That makes it the oldest yacht club on the planet.
It's moved HQ several times over the centuries,
before anchoring in Cross Haven, on the western side of the harbour.
Now, old, it might be, stuffy, it isn't,
and people flock here to be part of the biennial regatta known the world over as Cork Week.
My name is Eddie English. I run a sailing school in Cobh, on the other side of the harbour.
I've been involved with Cork Week since its inception.
I'm fortunate enough to have done regattas all over the world, and to me, this is the best one.
My family are from Cobh and my grandfather and father grew up
with the water literally lapping onto the front door, and since I was very small I went sailing.
Since the early '90s I've sailed with Oyster Catcher, and it's very much a social thing
as much as a sailing thing with our crew.
There's four brothers in the family, and there are three of us full-time involved in sailing as a career,
and our children have continued on that tradition.
My own kids are very small, but they're involved in sailing so they'll be watching today.
You can go to a football match, and there could be 20,000 people watching that game,
but there's less than 30 people out on the pitch. With Cork Week,
you can have 20,000 people involved, there's going to be 8,000 people
participating and racing, and everyone stays involved right the way through the week.
As the great yachts cross the finishing line, they also pass
the very first home of the Royal Cork Yacht Club on Haulbowline Island.
For centuries, Haulbowline was a strategically vital base for the British Royal Navy,
then in 1938, it became - and remains to this day -
the command centre for the Irish Naval Service.
And I've been invited to join them on an exercise on the flagship patrol vessel, the LE Eithne.
First off, I have a bit of a confession to make to Captain Hugh Tully.
I must admit I didn't realise that Ireland had a Navy.
Well, you wouldn't be the first person to say that.
We're a relatively young navy, and I suppose we're sort of out of sight, out of mind.
A lot of our time is spent way offshore, so it's difficult to have a profile.
What is the remit of the Irish Naval Service?
Our main job is maritime surveillance, so that can be
fishing protection, search and rescue, drug interdiction.
With eight patrol vessels and one of the largest maritime zones in Europe to patrol,
the Irish Navy is a serious proposition.
Sir, if I can interrupt you there one moment, we've just received an intelligence report.
A Maritime Surveillance aircraft has come across a commercial tug,
with the description of an Irish vessel in the Oyster Bank.
'And as 2nd in command, Lieutenant Olan O'Keefe outlines the position of a suspect vessel, something clicks.
'When the Naval Service invited me on an exercise, they didn't mean
'twice round the harbour and back to the Officers' Mess for a swift half.
'Their training looks deadly serious.'
-If you'd like to join me there.
-Excellent. 'As we go down to the Operations Room,
'Olan explains we're about to conduct what they call
'a compliant boarding of the suspect tug, and I'm to be part of that boarding team.'
I've a target bearing 040 degrees.
Target bearing is 040 degrees.
From here we have to positively track the Oyster Bank.
Once he's tracked on our radar, we'll have our weapons sensors directed on the vessel also.
From there, the gunnery officer will recommend to the Captain that the vessel is in our sensors.
So what capability have you got sat here?
Well, I'm Gunnery Officer on board, so I'm in charge of all the weapons.
This screen is giving me what the digital camera is actually seeing.
I've daylight TV and infrared systems.
And at this point you're capable of doing anything you want
to that vessel, should the situation arise?
Yes, should it arise and once we have everything confirmed, the Captain can give the order,
and then we can control the main weapons from here.
Command WD, target confirmed, target, merchant vessel, Oyster Bank.
Neil, we'll join the Captain and bridge team, as we close this vessel.
-We can make our way straight to the bridge now.
Request close for visual confirmation over.
'Roger, we're closing down their position now.'
Action stations. Action stations, action stations.
HE BLOWS WHISTLE
Neil, we've just gone to our highest state of readiness here now,
so the naval boarding team are going to muster in the hangar, put on their kit and their weapons.
The Boarding Officer is going to contact the Oyster Bank and ask a series of questions.
-If you'd like to join me now, we'll go down to the hangar.
Neil, we have your kit here.
What is the IMO number of your vessel?
'Roger, my IMO is 172.'
OK. It's a snug fit.
What is your next port of call?
My next port of call is Cork.
Sir, I intend to board your vessel with a Naval boarding team, and my team will be armed.
We will board from the port side,
just far of this clear here.
Weapons, the H&K, 9mm pistol.
Code words for today, situation turning hostile is Catfish, and team withdrawing is Rebound.
-And what should I do?
-Just stick with me.
When you see men with balaclavas coming, they must know it's not going to be a good day though.
Did you tell the crew to be visible for the approach?
Yeah, yeah, I tell them on the radio.
-Right. You want them to see you when you arrive.
I would like you to get down on both knees.
I'm with you.
Put your hands in the air, put your hands in the air.
Bridge clear! Roger.
It's amazing to me that this kind of work is going on day and night,
year round, to try and make sure that the coast is as safe as possible.
Now this was just an exercise, there's no bullets in their guns,
but there's something about seeing armed men, something about seeing guns being pointed at people.
It's intimidating, and it's frightening, but I suppose it should be.
Just days after I joined the boarding crew, a news report confirms the importance of the exercise.
The haul of cocaine discovered on board a yacht off the Cork coast was put on display today.
Much of it was almost certainly destined for the UK and mainland Europe.
In a hazardous night time operation,
the Irish Naval Service seized over £600 million worth of cocaine
in a raid on a yacht, the biggest drugs haul in Irish history.
Heading east from Cork, we're brought to a sudden halt
by a massive 100ft exclamation mark on the coast at Ardmore.
One of Ireland's famous and mysterious round towers.
That is just incredible.
And it's just as much an icon of Ireland as any shamrock or harp.
There's about 60 of these round towers scattered through the Irish landscape, and over the years
they've bred all manner of weird and wonderful theories as to exactly what they're for.
The most popular explanation is that the round towers were bolt-holes for priests in times of invasion.
But there have been other less plausible theories, everything from druidic observatories,
to more recently the idea that they concentrate paramagnetic energy from the stars to help the crops.
The truth is probably a little more prosaic than that,
and there's a big clue in that the little church just down the hill doesn't have a tower of its own.
That's its bell tower, just like an Italian campanile, and they were
built from the 9th-12th centuries to call the faithful to prayer.
But there's supposed to be something even more mysterious
than the round tower here at Ardmore that's really sparked my curiosity,
something that dates back centuries before either the tower or the church were built.
What I want to see is a stone, and on it an ancient Irish way of writing, called Ogham.
Orla Murphy from Cork University is an expert in this ancient script.
This is the Ogham stone then.
-So that's writing.
-This is the earliest Irish writing.
-Is it runes?
-No, it's like the Runic, in that it's incised in lines,
but it's completely different, and the different shapes
obviously mean different things.
So here, on this section,
you have the name, L, and the three scores,
so it's Lugudeccas all the way up,
then unfortunately it got chopped at some point when it was being used for building.
What's the date of this? When did people actually start writing Ogham?
It dates from about the 5th century,
maybe the 4th, but probably the 5th century, so it's very early.
Why do you think people started writing on stone at this time?
Probably because they met with Christianity,
and with Christianity came writing, and perhaps they'd used stones as memoria before,
but now they were able to translate that,
using this technology of writing, of matching sounds to visual symbols.
And they've come up with something unique, and something that's Irish, and this is it. It's Ogham.
Orla, it's remarkable that you can read this. Can you write it as well?
Yes, we can. We can write it as well.
-Shall we go and try?
Shall we just have a go in the sand then?
Yes. So, what's happening is we're going to write it either side of a stave,
just like as if we were going to write on the edge of a stone.
-On an upright stone.
-An upright stone.
Or it's sometimes on the flat, but just having an edge is important.
here we go.
So reading from the bottom up we're going to have a notch for your A...
..two lines for your L...
..one, two, three, four for your I.
Five actually, for your I.
One, two, three, four for your C...
..and one, two, three, four for your E.
E. I wouldn't want to write a particularly long word in this, I have to say.
No, you could be there for a long time, you could.
I'm going to have a go myself.
So, first of all the line which is the edge of the stone then.
'So vowels are notches on the edge of the stone or stave.'
..I. 'And consonants are lines on the sides. I get it!'
-My name in Ogham.
Monumental masonry, graffiti, the idea of logging on to the landscape
and leaving your name for posterity seems ageless.
But it all started here in Ireland, more than 1,600 years ago with Ogham.
The sea cliffs here aren't massive, but they can be lethal.
On the headland at Tramore, The Metal Man was raised as a warning to shipping
after The Seahorse ran aground here in 1816, with the loss of almost 400 lives.
Tramore. Most of the places we've visited so far have had Irish names.
Tramore is simply Irish for big beach. Good name.
But as we approach Waterford,
the second of the great ports on our journey, things change drastically.
Because Waterford isn't an Irish name.
Nor is it English. It's Viking.
It comes from the Old Norse, Vedrarfjord
meaning, "the haven from the windy sea",
signalling the first in a chain of major trading ports
established by the Vikings in virtually every estuary from here to Dublin.
Today, Waterford is virtually synonymous the world over with lead crystal, glass.
And that's given Alice an idea.
I'm just walking along the beach here picking up
these really beautiful little water-worn pebbles of glass.
But what is this stuff?
I think most of us know it's got something to do with silica,
and that it could possibly be made by heating up sand.
But is that all there is to it?
In the interests of science, and for the sheer fun of it, I've decided to see if we can make glass from sand.
Oh, and try to do it on a beach.
If anybody's going to succeed, it's going to be Waterford Crystal's chief scientist Richard Lloyd.
So, Richard, would any old sand do?
It's got to have a component of quartz in it, a form of silica.
Silica doesn't need any other ingredient to make glass other than heat energy.
But you think this looks all right?
-This looks fine.
-Let's go and make some glass.
This is Tony.
-He's the man that's going to provide the heat for us today.
So exactly how much heat are we going to need?
In its present form we'll need 1,800 Celsius to melt this,
but we're going to mix it with some potash, which helps the sand to melt.
So how much does the potash bring down the melting point of the quartz?
By about 600 Celsius.
So we can then achieve melting temperatures with Tony's burner.
so we're going to pop it on there...
The crucible is already glowing bright red.
Red heat is only 600 Celsius.
-Red heat is 600?
-And it's starting to bubble now.
that's the potash releasing its carbon dioxide,
and then it starts to react with the sand grains to form the glass.
So, Richard, how does this on the beach relate to actually what goes on in the factories?
Essentially, the technology underlying the things we've done on the beach is the same as the factory.
And often this glass is talked about as being lead crystal. Do you actually add lead to it?
We do, yeah, in the form of lead oxide. This makes it sparkle.
It also allows the glass to be worked over a longer temperature range,
which lets the blowers do their magic.
It takes years to achieve this level of skill.
Believe me, it isn't easy.
I've just had a go myself.
One way or another, glass has been made here for hundreds of years.
These skills are ancient.
This is Waterford Museum's famous kite brooch of Irish Viking design.
Exquisite gold filigree, and the tiniest beads of glass.
It functioned as a cloak fastener
and was very much like the Irish ring pins that became an essential part of Viking haute couture.
When this brooch was made 1,000 years ago, the glass beads were treated like diamonds.
Glass was a precious, hard-won material.
Glass is a very special substance.
It's not like other solids, it's got no definite melting point.
It just gets softer and softer as it gets hotter and hotter.
It has no crystals, that's why you can see through it.
Once the quartz has formed the glass, the molecules
can't rotate and orientate themselves into regular patterns,
which a crystal is, so they're trapped in irregular shapes. That's what keeps the glass clear.
I'll get it. You clear off that way, yeah?
Oh. Oh, wow.
There we have glass from the beach.
There is something really wonderful about being able to make glass from sand.
And it's really green.
That's because the sand we've used has got a lot of iron in it, which makes it brown.
When it forms a glass, the iron changes chemically to form the green compound.
Most of the sand in the beaches around the world will have iron in it.
So our beaches are rusty.
'What a great day. Not only have we succeeded
'in making glass from sand, but the craftsmen of Waterford Crystal
'have made something that harkens back to the very foundation of Waterford itself,
'a Viking ring pin.'
That is beautiful.
Oh, Richard, that really is lovely.
That's got designs all the way along it,
and it's like a symbol of Waterford, isn't it?
The Vikings and the glass.
Leaving County Waterford, our journey continues to County Wexford, via the Passage East ferry.
On the far shore lies Ballyhack,
base camp for the 140-mile Sli Charman, or Wexford Coastal Path.
Travelling up the peninsula towards Hook Head, there's a little inlet known as Herrylock,
where beach and cliff face are made up of layers of old red sandstone.
And all over the beach, there are these strange regular bowls in the rock.
You could walk past this and think it was natural, you could just overlook it.
It was maybe cut by the sea or the wind,
and if you look really closely you start to pick out strange marks, cut marks.
These are the marks left by tools that have been used to cut something out.
Once you get your eye in, you realise they're all over the place around here.
Now, I'm not going to pretend I don't know why these holes are here.
These are the remains left behind by quarrying for millstones which are used to grind flour,
and right up until the end of the 19th century, Herrylock was famous for the quality for its millstones.
The incredibly hard, gritty Herrylock sandstone was ideal for millstones. They were sold all over Ireland.
But how did they manage to extract the stones intact from the rock?
To find out, I'm meeting up with local stonemason Paul O'Hara.
Paul has a fascination with the old stonemasons' techniques.
I'm just working on a bit of the stone here.
What is the process then?
How do you start with a piece of bedrock and end up with a millstone that's free?
Well, initially you'd mark it out.
Roughly a 4ft diameter is
the stone that's been quarried here, then you score around your shape,
skirting down along it, and follow the channel all the way around the circle.
They would have gone down maybe 16 inches.
How long will that take with a hammer and chisel?
I'd say roughly three weeks, they would have taken.
-To take out.
And once you've cut this gutter
around the millstone, how do you get it off the bedrock?
How do you get it free?
You would bore a hole, again using your hammer and chisel,
then fit a timber wedge, and maybe a willow timber, cos willow has a great absorption.
The sea would have come on in, flooded the channel...
..the timber would then expand, and the stone would have lifted.
So as the wood expands with the moisture, that is enough force to crack this?
That would have been enough force, yes.
I dunno, I've got a lovely picture of the actual, the scene here.
Up beyond there was ten houses or so,
there must have been great comradeship between them.
And then when the conversation went dead,
the only thing you would actually hear
would be maybe the clanging of the hammer and the stone.
By the late 1800s, the Herrylock chisels sang no more.
Cast iron replaced old red sandstone as the perfect material for making millstones.
Is it just me, but I feel a little sad this ancient industry came to an end?
Cutting a millstone like this one involved some of the hardest physical labour imaginable.
But what makes it such a satisfying story is that the secret ingredient was human genius,
using the power of wood swollen by water to break these free from the bedrock,
so the final tool that they had in their armoury was the power of the sea.
Placid as it might appear, this peninsula has a terrifying reputation for mangling ships.
No surprise to find a lighthouse then.
But it's perhaps the oldest intact operational lighthouse in the world.
In fact, historian and author Billy Colfer believes it dates back 800 years.
Now this, I've got to see.
Well, Billy, it does look like it's taken a pounding over the years,
but how do you know it's as old as you say it is?
-Let's go inside, Neil, and I'll show you.
Now, Neil, if you look up, you'll get your first impression of a medieval building.
Right, oh, yeah, it's like a castle keep or a cathedral.
-It's so massive.
-Exactly, they used castle technology to build the place,
that's the reason for the roof vaulting.
And why is it black?
It's black with Welsh coal, because for 500 years the light was
kept burning mostly with coal, and this was the coal store. OK?
The three chambers are similar,
each vaulted. The stone vault can be seen as a fireproofing feature.
If you have a big fire burning on top of your building, you don't want wooden floors.
Over 500 years, that big fire to create the light meant importing thousands of tons of Welsh coal.
Whoever built this place had a lot of clout.
The first historic record of the building come from the Pembroke Estate papers in the 1240s,
when the monks of the monastery of Rinn Dubhain are given money for the maintenance of the building.
So, was the tower built by a monastic order, is that whose idea it was?
No. They were financed by one of the most powerful knights in England, William Marshall,
who controlled this area.
William Marshall, the builder of this lighthouse, was one of the new breed
of adventurers, really, who came to Ireland, one of the Anglo-Normans.
He had this lighthouse constructed at this extremity of the Hook Peninsula to guide his shipping
up Waterford Harbour to his new port of Ross, which he was determined to make into a financial success.
So, this was a practical addition to the landscape by a businessman on the make?
Yes, it was highly practical and functional, but it was also a highly visible symbol
of Marshall's power and status, which became an iconic feature in the Irish landscape.
The lighthouse's builder, William Marshall, had powerful connections.
It was his father-in-law, Strongbow, who first landed a Norman army on Irish soil,
just beyond the lighthouse at Baginbun and Bannow Bay.
The irony is the Normans first came here as mercenaries, not invaders.
They were invited. But they liked what they saw.
They settled. And they dominated Irish history for centuries.
This is Carnsore Point.
From now on we're heading north.
Next stop, Rosslare.
Rosslare has thrived since the need arose for a harbour with a deep enough passage for steam ships.
Yet it's so well positioned facing the UK, you'd expect to find a far more ancient port here.
And there is one, a couple of miles up the coast.
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 2,000 acres of Wexford Slobs
is airborne and heading back out to sea for the relative safety
of the Wexford sandbanks.
What an incredible end to the day.
The sun's just setting, and behind me the sky is absolutely black
with geese coming in from every direction to roost for the evening.
It's a truly unforgettable experience.
From Wexford we head north along a huge long beach.
This is Curracloe.
Because of its resemblance to the Normandy beaches,
Curracloe was chosen by Steven Spielberg as the location
for the bloody opening sequence of his film, Saving Private Ryan,
which recreated the American assault on Omaha Beach.
The actors have long since gone, but a battle still rages.
From here almost all the way to Dublin the coast is vulnerable,
crumbling, glacial sediment that has been constantly gnawed by the sea and weather.
No wonder that there's little trace of settlement, ancient or modern, until we get to Arklow, then Wicklow.
Even here for safe measure there have been three lighthouses,
just to be sure, to be sure, to be sure.
From Wicklow we travel north to 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 first 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 25lb 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.
It's around 160 years since Robert Mallet conducted his ground-breaking experiment.
# Hallelujah! Hallelujah... #
It's over 260 years since the Hallelujah Chorus
was first heard here in Dublin at the world premiere of Handel's Messiah.
From first footings by the Vikings, almost 1,200 years ago,
Dublin has grown into a vibrant capital city
and a cultural and commercial nerve centre.
But like all the major ports we've visited on this coast, from Cork
to Waterford, and from Wexford to Wicklow, Dublin was founded and has
flourished by being connected to its neighbours and the rest of the world,
by the sea.
But for now, Go n-Oirigh an bothar leat, may your journey be swift and easy.
Until we met again on the next stretch of Coast, slan!
Coast breaks new ground with a spectacular journey following the southern shoreline of Ireland, from Cork Harbour all the way round to Dublin Bay.
In Cork, Neil Oliver explores Titanic's last port of call and tells the tale of the Irish priest who disembarked the doomed vessel at the last minute. Father Frank Browne's iconic photographs of the ship would soon appear in newspapers around the world. Neil also joins the Irish Naval Service as they conduct a no-holds-barred training exercise to board a suspect ship.
Alice Roberts tries to decipher some of the earliest writing in the British Isles as she encounters the curious carvings on one of the mysterious Ogham Stones. Alice's other challenge is to make glass from sand on the beach at Waterford as she explores the art and science that lie behind Waterford Crystal.
Miranda Krestovnikoff goes in search of the beautiful and rare white-fronted geese, which every year make an epic migration from Greenland to Ireland to feed on the rich grasses of the Wexford 'Slobs'. Dick Strawbridge takes a ride on 'Brunel's Folly', the dramatic coastal railway that the great engineer constructed to cling to the cliff face at Bray Head.
Hermione Cockburn creates an earthquake on Killiney beach to discover how a local man, Robert Mallet, invented seismology - the study of earth tremors that has helped to save countless lives since its beginnings in the 1840s.