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There was a time when people thought Ireland's West Coast
was the edge of the world.
A vast ocean meets this lonely shore
and mighty cliffs rise up to mark the boundary between land and sea.
For millennia, people have stood here in awe of what lies beyond.
Now we are following in the footsteps of those who battled to survive
and to thrive on this wild Atlantic shore.
A voyage of discovery along Ireland's north-west coast.
And the team's along for the ride.
Alice is searching for Ireland's first farmers.
Yes, I've got a stone! That is remarkable.
Miranda tracks down Irish mountain hares lying low on the coast.
More hares than you could shake a stick at.
Barefoot Nick explores a magical island community.
That's the smallest school I've ever seen in my life.
And I'm all at sea...
Am I going in, yeah?
..relying on the lifeboat crews
and aircrews of the Atlantic rescue services to keep me dry and high.
This is Coast and beyond.
From the west coast of Wales,
we've come to the west coast of Ireland
for a 600-mile journey around the shores.
It'll take us all the way up to Aaranmore Island in Donegal.
But our journey begins in Galway.
The walled city of Galway.
There's nothing between here and North America but sea.
An ocean of sea.
In the 19th century, wave upon wave of emigrants trusted their luck
crossing the Atlantic to flee poverty and famine in Ireland
for a new life in a new world.
The family ties and shared history that bridged 2,000 miles of ocean
now bring Irish descendants back across the water.
In June 1963, a famous son of America returned here in triumph
to the land his great-grandparents had left in despair.
All of Galway turned out to salute the world's most powerful man.
And I'm here to look for the man who took this photo.
He arrives in Galway to be welcomed by Mayor Ryan
and Bishop Brown of Galway.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy
was in Ireland to reconnect with his roots.
The whole of Galway spilled onto the streets
for the biggest party the city's ever thrown.
Kennedy's great-grandparents had emigrated
to Boston, Massachusetts, over 100 years before in the potato famine.
Now, JFK wanted to remind the crowd of the family ties
they also shared with the states.
If you ever come to America,
you would see down working on the docks there...
..some Doughertys, Flahertys, Ryans and cousins of yours
who have gone to Boston and made good.
In the crowd that day,
taking pictures of JFK for the Galway City Tribune,
was a 19-year-old photographer caught on film on his first big job.
Almost half a century later, I'm here to meet Stan Shields,
the man who took the picture that brought me here.
That's the picture.
It's the picture, out of all the ones I've took
in my career that I remember.
-And I take pride in having took it.
It wasn't easy.
Every time Stan got close enough,
there always seemed to be something or someone in the way.
Stan had to seize his last chance as JFK got into the limo.
I saw him in the car and I stared at him until he looked my way.
I pointed the camera and pointed to him. He said, yes.
I opened the front door of the car, jumped in, lifted up the camera
and this fellow jumped at me.
His nightmare was somebody getting too close to the president with the wrong idea?
Yeah, but I didn't realise that.
Kennedy said, "It's OK, Jim. He's a friend."
Really? He said, "It's OK, Jim. He's a friend"?
Yes, he's a friend.
Knelt up, took the picture and shook hands with him
and thanked him for coming.
These images of joy are sadly prophetic.
The motorcade, the open-topped limousine.
So much like the day in Dallas just five months later
when JFK became the victim of an assassin's bullet.
How did it feel, those months later,
when you heard that he'd been shot?
I got an awful shock. You felt you'd lost a friend. Seriously.
You felt you'd lost a friend.
Grief washed across the Atlantic.
Pain shared between people bonded by blood.
On our journey along Ireland's north-west coast,
we've reached Cleggan.
Its bustling harbour is the point of departure
for islanders and travellers.
The local pub is run by Noreen Higgins,
who is Cleggan born and bred.
The busiest times tend to coincide with the boats.
There's a service going to Inishbofin all year round, weather permitting.
Fine weather brings them out from under the stones.
You know, a good day like this, people come to Cleggan.
If they come to Cleggan, they want to eat the crab,
they want to eat the lobster, you know?
Particularly in summertime, you can be jam-packed.
And then the boat will be leaving at 7:30.
At 7:25, the whole place clears out.
Thanks very much, folks. Thank you.
I think when you've lived on the coast,
it's very hard to live anywhere else.
We love the blue skies, the calm weather and that.
But there's a real beauty to it in the winter time as well.
You can get raging, powerful seas.
It's a very nice lifestyle,
if not the busiest or maybe the most lucrative.
But there's a good quality of life here.
People that like it, like it. It's lovely.
We're heading east, towards the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick.
Wherever there's a beach, you'll find a smattering of holiday retreats.
The temporary residents of this shore seem compelled
to journey as far west as they can, to the very edge of Europe.
And they're not alone.
For thousands of years, people have been drawn here.
The mountain of Croagh Patrick is the main attraction
for those on a spiritual journey.
Following their well trodden path is Nick Crane.
I'm on the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick,
where St Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days.
Once a year, thousands of pilgrims make the climb
to the 762 metre summit, many of them in bare feet.
Some Catholics brave the pain
of this barefoot pilgrimage as a penance.
But I'm here on a mission of my own.
The pilgrimage I'm making
is to celebrate one of nature's great spectacles.
And you need to get high up to take it in.
The extraordinary islands of Clew Bay.
It's a beguiling waterworld, unlike anything else in the British Isles.
Local mythology counts Clew Bay's islands at 365...
..one for every day of the year.
I'm intrigued to discover how this community of islands once
supported a community of people.
Mary Gavin-Hughes still sails these waters.
She's one of the last generation of self-sufficient islanders
who fished and farmed in Clew Bay.
So, what was it like living on the islands?
It was heaven on earth living on the island. It was very peaceful.
Mary grew up in a world of no electricity,
in a tight knit community separated by water.
What's that building over there, Mary?
This one here is known as Collan School. It's Collan Island.
-That was the school.
-That little white building?
It's the smallest school I've ever seen in my life!
By the time Mary was a teenager,
she was roving around Clew Bay on her own.
This picture here shows how we'd row to and from home.
It's a heavy looking boat. These oars are huge!
They're like telegraph poles.
They were handmade. My dad actually made them.
They were good and sturdy.
But we needed them for the weather we were up against sometimes.
-You look as if you're enjoying yourself.
-Of course I am.
Smile, Charlie! That's his home.
Mary's father taught her to feel at home on the water,
harvesting the sea's bounty.
But they didn't live on fish alone.
We did all our farming on the island, our fishing.
We were very self-sufficient.
The grass seems really quite lush and rich.
The soil on the island is very rich.
You can see just over here, where we grew our own crops.
-The evidence of the ridges.
-Those lines on the turf?
Yeah. It was fantastic for the potatoes and all the vegetables.
You had to be able to turn your hand to everything,
living on an island.
The fertile soil is a clue to how the extraordinary
landscape of Clew Bay formed.
Its islands are made of the rich residue left behind by glaciers.
20,000 years ago, much of Ireland was covered by a vast ice sheet.
As the climate cooled and warmed, the ice advanced and retreated,
moulding the land underneath
and creating the distinctive features that became Clew Bay.
Paul Dunlop is an expert on how glaciers made the mounds
which formed these islands.
These are known technically as drumlins, aren't they?
Where does the word come from?
The word drumlin comes from the Gaelic word druim,
which means a small hill.
Any glacial landscape you go to, you find these.
They are always called drumlins.
What's so striking is the repetitive pattern
of drumlin islands across the bay.
Paul's developed a theory that a wave-like motion
under the melting ice created these distinctive shapes and patterns.
It's a process similar to what happens when the tide goes out
on a beach, leaving those familiar wavelike ripples in the sand.
If you take a look around nature, you find wave patterns everywhere.
You find them in the clouds, on the beaches.
-Ripples on the seashore, on sand?
And ice flowing across sediment can produce the same scenario.
It's the way it goes up, leaving sediment on the surface of the land,
-which then becomes a drumlin?
It's amazing that the most brutal forces,
working deep beneath the ice so long ago,
left as their legacy this beautiful bay.
For seafarers who know these islands and reefs,
it's a place of protection from the north Atlantic.
But without local knowledge, it's also a treacherous maze.
400 years ago, this territory was controlled by an extraordinary
Gaelic leader who lived in this.
The tower house at Rockfleet sits on a natural slab of bedrock.
And at high tide, it's surrounded on three sides by water.
-Can I come in?
You're more than welcome. But mind your head.
Denise Murray knows every nook and cranny of the Rockfleet tower house.
But first, I have to find her in this warren of a castle.
Each floor has a spacious room.
But the passages and stairways twist and turn,
as well as being unbelievably narrow.
Who's the most famous occupant of here?
The main occupant was a woman named Grainne Ni Mhaille,
who lives on in legend as the Pirate Queen of Connaught.
Which does her a disservice, because she was much more than that.
She was a trader, pirate, mother, grandmother
and wife of the man who eventually became the Overlord of Mayo
with her financial backing.
-Shall we go further up?
-Yes. And mind your head.
-Very impressive that the most famous occupant here is a woman.
To be remembered from that time.
Grainne Ni Mhaille, the Pirate Queen,
is sometimes referred to by an Anglicised version of her name,
Grace saw the sea as her domain.
So anyone who crossed it was fair game.
She would stand here, having come up from her hall,
and look out across Clew Bay.
She would see a ship.
Down below, she had three galleys, 200 fighting men with oar and sail.
They would take off across this bay like rockets
and capture whoever was passing.
She particularly despised the merchants of Galway,
who had a monopoly on the wine trade.
Many a Galway-bound merchant ship fell prey to Grace O'Malley's ships.
Eventually, they came looking for her.
She could defend this castle from attack, which she did in 1579.
Ships were sent from Galway to arrest her because of her piracy.
And she beat them off.
So much so that the man in charge of the expedition actually said
he was afraid she was going to capture him.
This is warriorship.
She had the values martial society valued.
She just was a woman and a mother.
Grace brought up her children here.
And although the tower would have had its home comforts,
its primary purpose was to protect the O'Malleys from their enemies.
What on earth are these for?
They're quite simply for dropping things down on top of people.
Grainne is standing here, her castle is under attack,
the last thing she wants them to do is get in the door.
So she's here. They've got oil, pitch,
anything that will burn or is disgusting.
You just pour it down here.
In the O'Malley house, security was paramount.
Even if attackers got into the ground floor,
Grace had installed another line of defence.
Instead of a stone staircase,
there was a wooden ladder that could be removed.
Even if they got past that, there was another surprise in store
for any 16th century raiders.
This is not an easy building to get around, is it?
No and deliberately so.
To get through that door,
even someone as short as me has to bend down to come through.
A fully armoured man in here has the advantage, he can just kill you.
If you had managed to get up those wooden stairs,
the first person up would be cut, their throat would be cut
and they would be thrown back down -
it's called the murder hole - onto their comrades below,
as a little disincentive to come any further.
This is one wild country.
It's the wildness of the ocean that dominates now
as we journey north-west to Achill Island.
Massive marine ramparts speak of the power struggle between land and sea.
People, too, have left their mark in stone.
The remains of communities who finally conceded defeat
in an age-old battle to cling on to this coast.
Further around the coast of County Mayo,
communities still thrive at Beal Derrig.
Beal Derrig doesn't have a village centre, as such.
Each family home is surrounded by fields - precious land for farming.
It's an agricultural tradition that goes way, way back.
Alice is time-travelling back to its beginnings.
Underneath my feet are the preserved remains of the oldest farm site
in the British Isles.
The discovery was made back in 1934, when this man, Patrick Caulfield,
was cutting peat in these fields
and kept on striking stones buried in a regular pattern.
Patrick's son, archaeologist Seamus Caulfield
has continued his father's investigation
into the stones beneath the bog.
Seamus came up with this very simple technique of probing
to plot their locations.
The probe goes through the bog really easy, doesn't it?
What am I hitting there, Seamus?
You are hitting ordinary ground level.
Now we're hitting on something higher.
You can actually hear it hitting on the stone.
Yes, I can.
The deeper you probe the peat, the further back in time you go.
The depth and pattern of the finds
forced Seamus and his father to an astounding conclusion.
The stones were placed here before Stonehenge.
That's a stone that someone lifted into place 5,500 years ago.
It hasn't been seen or known about for 5,000 years.
-And we're hearing it now for the first time.
-Which is amazing.
Mapping the site, they realised they might be
following the lines of buried walls.
We're hitting a wall in section, are we?
We are. We're coming across the wall.
It should now begin to drop,
the far side of it.
Some of this massive site has been excavated, to confirm the theory
that the lines of stones plotted with all that probing
were collapsed walls
that would originally have stood around a metre high,
and a metre wide.
These buried walls once marked out the British Isles'
oldest network of farmers' fields.
We've established that they extend over this mountain,
over the mountain in the distance,
and their large, enclosed fields appear to be grazing land for cattle.
It's likely that 5,500 years ago, people were engineering
the landscape here to rear animals for food.
These are the fields of Ireland's first farmers.
The long, parallel walls run all the way from the cliff edge
for over half a mile inland.
The layout suggests cattle were reared here for meat and milk,
as walled fields meant the farmers could separate stock
and control grazing.
This extensive farm would have supported as many as 1,000 people.
This is a massive undertaking. People must have been working
as a team to build all these miles and miles of stone walls.
There had to be.
It's not a single operation. It's not a few families,
it's a large community making a decision
to divide the terrain like this into these long, large fields.
Someone was making the decision, and they were sticking to it.
The move to farming was a revolutionary change in lifestyle.
Nearby, on the Belderrig coast, there's evidence of other people
who lived here just a few hundred years before the farmers.
-Have you got some archaeology appearing there?
-Yes, we do.
We have a range of archaeology.
Graeme Warren's searching for the leftovers of meals
eaten 6,000 years ago, buried amongst the stone tools of people
surviving by hunting and gathering along this seashore.
Something making this site so important
is that we have some preserved fish bone.
Just in here, underneath this stone, you can just about make out
some very small creamy white little flecks
sticking out of the soil.
-They don't look like very much,
but they are actually pieces of prehistoric fish bone.
In some places, we find these
with lots of stone tools,
and lots of carbonised hazelnut shells,
so we're very certain these are the results of human activity.
I have some here that we had from the excavations,
and where they've been processed.
You can just about see there's some tiny, tiny pieces.
They're very, very fragmentary.
But now and then, you get something recognisably
of a certain type of bone.
Those are tiny little fish vertebra.
That's a fish tooth, I think, actually.
Yes, I think that's a fish tooth. Very, very small.
The stone tools and fish remains
reveal that these people lived by fishing and foraging on the coast.
But the discovery of the farmers' fields nearby
shows that times were changing.
In a landscape so heavily associated with Neolithic farmers,
through Seamus' work,
to be able to look here at the very final hunter-gatherers
gives us an opportunity to answer some very basic questions.
Were these the same people who were hunter-gatherers and farmers?
Or was there a wave of different people arriving?
Or small groups of different people?
Whoever these predecessors of modern farmers were,
they'd taken a crucial step towards controlling their food supply.
Now, they could plan ahead for the winter, and leaner times.
But there's an enigma surrounding these early beef and dairy farms
that remains a puzzle. Where did the first Irish farmers
get their first livestock,
and their first crops?
Someone had to introduce cattle, sheep, wheat,
and barley into Ireland.
It wasn't here before that.
The question that still remains is,
did these Balearic fisher-gatherers switch to farming,
or were they replaced by farming?
We just don't know.
Beyond the mystery of Ireland's Stone Age farmers,
we pass the towering sea stack of Downpatrick Head.
We're heading towards the sheltered haven of Sligo Harbour.
Here, rivers run into the Atlantic,
forming an estuary that's full of life,
where an unusual encounter with nature awaits Miranda.
You might expect to see a great many things along the coast.
Birds, seals, even a passing porpoise.
But I'm off to look for something quite surprising.
It's thought to be Ireland's oldest native animal.
I've been told the best place to see them is on an island.
I've come to Oyster Island, looking for hares.
Irish hares, to be precise.
Hi, Neil. Have you spotted any yet?
'Dr Neil Reid studies changes in hare populations all over Ireland.
'He's already on their trail.'
We know this is a hare run, as opposed to a footpath.
There's dung every few metres.
-You can see there's a cluster of dung right here.
They're a different shape from rabbits' droppings.
They're about twice as large,
and they put them every few metres along
all their runs round their home range.
There he goes along the beach.
'Before long, the Irish hares overcome their shyness.'
I didn't think we'd see so many!
More hares than you could shake a stick at.
They are very different from the European hare I'm used to seeing.
-The ears are much shorter.
-The Irish hare is a mountain hare,
but doesn't live in the mountains.
It lives throughout the altitude,
from the sea into the mountains. It's everywhere.
Over the last century, Irish hare numbers have generally been falling.
But on Oyster Island, the population's actually increased.
It's because these hares are used in a field sport
that in other countries, including Britain, is controversial.
Hair coursing conjures up very brutal images
in my mind of hares being chased across fields,
and killed by dogs, but it's quite different over here, isn't it?
In England and Wales, hare coursing, with all hunting with dogs,
was banned in 2005.
But it's still legal in the Republic Of Ireland.
In fact, it's quite popular. There are 75 coursing clubs.
These hares on Oyster Island were introduced
by the hare coursing clubs.
Every so often, in preparation for a coursing event,
they capture some of the animals.
At the competitions, two greyhounds pursue a wild hare.
The winner is the first dog to turn the hare.
The dogs are muzzled to minimize injuries.
After competitions, the hares are released back to where they came from.
I'm not comfortable with the idea that hares are managed for sport
but here, there MAY be a positive side to it.
A coursing club manages places like this, to have a stockpile of hares.
-They're managing these hares on this island...
-They're very healthy.
Exactly. They find good spots, with good habitat.
On the island, they're away from predators.
Intuitively, hare coursing might help some populations
which are well protected.
Hares have been here in Ireland for over 30,000 years.
They've seen glaciers come and go,
adapting to wherever they've found themselves,
including the seashore.
They're running along the beach.
Is there something there they like?
When the tide's out, they will be down there.
I've seen them graze in the seaweed. They will take seaweed.
I think it's quite unusual behaviour, and not well documented,
but I assume there are salts and nutrients in the seaweed
they won't get from the grass up here,
so they're mixing their diet, and having a varied diet.
-They're a very coastal hare?
NEIL OLIVER: Hares are making their mark here now,
but travel further up Ireland's west coast,
and the animal tracks are much older.
The relentless Atlantic has eroded the coastline to reveal the remains
of an ancient life form,
which has given the headland its name.
If you take a walk along here,
and come across these shapes in the rock,
you could be forgiven for thinking they're the remains of snakes.
For centuries, that's exactly what people thought they were.
It's hardly surprising,
because snakes play a starring role in Irish mythology.
Legend has it that every loathsome and poisonous serpent
was driven from Ireland by St Patrick.
True to the legend, there ARE no snakes in Ireland now,
but, then, there's no evidence there ever WERE any.
So, what's going on here?
Every one of these WAS once an animal,
living around 340 million years ago.
They were a kind of coral.
We know they only ever lived in the warm water of shallow tropical seas.
These tube-shaped creatures grew up from the seabed,
capturing their food from the water in the same way as sea anemones.
An ancient, primeval seabed,
now exposed to the brooding Atlantic.
In the worst of its moods, most people seek shelter.
But not those who brave the sea at Tullan Strand.
The sweeping three mile beach is a second home
to Easkey Britton. She shares her unusual name, Easkey,
with a famous surf wave.
In Irish, it means fish.
Hardly surprising she's turned out to be Ireland's champion woman surfer.
This part of the coast is really special for me.
It's where I learned to surf.
When I started, it was a small scene,
and I was the only kid on my beach in the middle of winter.
All my friends thought I was mad.
Now it's really popular.
Everyone wants a little taste of it.
Surfing's definitely defined who I am, the choices I've made in life.
Whatever mood the ocean's in defines how our day will be.
This wave here at Tollan's great. It's our swell magnet spot.
Because of the cliffs, the waves bounce off it and makes them bigger,
right along the cliff edge.
What really draws me to it is that aspect of freedom.
It's such an unpredictable environment.
The ocean's energy is infectious.
You catch a wave, and tap into something bigger than yourself.
What drives you as a surfer
is to get that feeling only a surfer knows.
That buzz where you even lose the feeling of yourself being separate
from that experience.
It feels sometimes like you're on that wave forever.
It actually only lasts a few seconds.
Skirting the cliffs of Slieve League,
I'm on the final leg of my journey to Arranmore Island.
Around here, you can't escape the power of the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
It's carved out massive sculptures to remind us that,
for millions of years, it's battered Ireland's north-west coast.
The islanders have an intimate relationship
with the fickle sea.
So, at the heart of the community,
there's a lifeboat station.
There's no way I could leave these shores without meeting the men
who know more than anyone else
about the harsh realities of life on the edge of the Atlantic.
The lifeboat men,
who brave the wildest storms to bring help to those in peril.
The RNLI in Ireland is the same organisation
that operates in Britain.
Yet the crew of the RNLI's Arranmore boat are Irish men,
operating in Irish waters.
It's remarkable that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's presence
has survived the struggle for independence,
and the Troubles that followed.
It begs a question for Terry Johnson,
one of the RNLI's top brass.
I must admit, I'd never really thought about it.
It was almost a surprise to think there's a ROYAL
National Lifeboat Institution in the Republic Of Ireland.
Well, it's always been the RNLI.
It was operating for nearly 100 years
before Ireland's government was formed in 1922.
They approached the Irish Free State and said, "We're here in Ireland.
"Our lifeboat crews want to continue the work".
The government said, "We welcome and support you in that".
It's not about national boundaries -
England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and Northern Ireland.
It's about the sea.
If you're in it, the RNLI'll come and get you out of it.
The Irish Coast Guard work with the RNLI to provide a vital
search and rescue service for mariners in the North Atlantic.
The search and rescue helicopter
is on its way to join us for an exercise to test both crews' skills.
There's about to be a seafarer in trouble.
So far, I've done a lot of talking about the Atlantic Ocean.
Now, it's only fitting I get a proper taste of the beast itself.
Am I going in, yeah?
Let the air out of your suit.
Without my dry suit, I wouldn't expect to last more than a matter of minutes.
Being adrift in the ocean, as the lifeboat disappears from view,
In a real emergency, my distress flare could be a life-saver.
The plan is to pick me up and land me
on the deck of the moving lifeboat,
a procedure the crew practice for rescues
when there's a number of people in the water.
Imagine this in a ten-foot swell.
With the ten-ton helicopter hovering directly above me,
I'm blasted by the down draught from the rotor blades.
The lifeboat's purposely travelling INTO the wind,
and I'm flying through the air at 15 knots, FOLLOWING it.
It gives the pilot more control,
because, flying forward, the helicopter gains lift.
So it's more stable, if more scary.
I would never even contemplate taking part in an exercise like this,
if it wasn't with the RNLI and the Coast Guard.
Not only will they rescue anyone,
irrespective of nationality or creed,
they'll go out 100 miles into the worst the Atlantic storms
have to offer to get their job done.
Now, THAT's class!
From the wilds of the west of Ireland,
our journey round the British Isles, and beyond,
continues next time along the majestic west coast of Scotland.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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