Living on the Wild Atlantic Way

Marie-Louise HeffernanBlogLeave a Comment


I always think it is strange that Irish villages that are historically so linked to the atlantic ocean turn their back on it. Look here in Connemara we have Clifden right on the sea which 150 or so years ago had all its supplies brought in by boat and yet the feeling is not of a seaside town. The villages Carna, Rosmuc, and Ballyconneely, to name but a few, are just the same; they face away from the ocean.

The Altantic Ocean is certainly worth looking at; it offers us an ever changing landscape with waves crashing along the shorelines and other sections of the coastlines are calm shallow inlets and bays. The expanse of ocean and the ever changing light is a reason that so many artists make their home here.

The sea around us is also a hotspot for biodiversity certainly with one of the richest ecosystems not only in Ireland but Europe wide. Cill Ciaran bay is particarly interesting with a high number of species that are rare or in Ireland occur in the area. Including beds of red algae “Coral” or maerl. Within these communities there are a number of rare anemones; one of particular interest is a burrowing anemone called Mesacmaea mitchellii and known from only this location in Ireland. Some areas of this bay are characterised by the sea cucumber communities and other areas are dominated by oysters or sea grasses

Galway has some 70% of seaweeds in Ireland. The Sheltered shores are dominated by egg wrack (Ascophyllum) and in the more exposed areas rich Kelp forests (laminaria) are found off shore. On very low tides we can collect Carrageen and Pepper dulse to eat or serrated wrack for a seaweed bath. There are lots of seaweed to eat from dabberlocks, bladderwrack to channel wrack. Our shores benefit from our low population density with clean high quality waters and we are in the unique position of being able to eat direct from the shore in many locations.


The waters also support sea mammals. Seals are common around Inishbofin Island and these are mainly Grey Seals. Common seals can be easily seen hauling out in Mannin Bay on sand banks exposed at mid to low tide and over 100 of these use Cill Ciaran Bay for breeding and hauling out.

Otter are extinct in parts of Europe, for example in Switzerland, but are common and widespread in the west. Ireland is the stronghold for Otter in Europe and they are found all along the Connemara Coast. They are most often seen at dusk. One I regularly see swims from Renvyle beach around the coast as the light disappaers in the evenings.

Probably the most evocative mammals are the Dolphins and Whales that swim along our coastline. A pod of Bottlenose Dolphins range from killary harbour to Bellmullet. It is estimated that there are 120 or so of them in the waters here. I was lucky enough to encounter mother Dolphins with their 3week old calves a few years ago while up near Bellmullet. The Dolpins were weaving around the boat and the mothers were keeping the young well away but looking on from distance. Basking shark are seen a few times each year off the coast with Minke Whale seen occasionally.

Ireland has very important seabird colonies and some of the most interesting are just off our coastlines in Connemara. We have puffins, fulmas razorbills and Guillimots breeding on the Cliffs of Inishturk, Inishlacken Island supports 10% of the national Little Tern population and Inishbofin supports a breeding population of Corncrakes.

Every section of coastline here has something of marine interest be it rocky shores with red fan worms, Cormorants feeding at sea, princess scallops, seal haul outs, kelp stands or otter runs. It is time that we turn to acknowledge the Atlantic Ocean on our doorstep.

Marie-Louise HeffernanLiving on the Wild Atlantic Way

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