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Kerry – Ireland. Gallery 1

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The story behind the picture…

The Wailing Woman – Skellig Michael

Perfectly placed to impress; this magnificent stone outcrop. It cannot just be a coincidence that the stairway leading up to the monastery passes so close to this huge monolith. An impressive sight anywhere, but here on the extraordinary Skelligs it is nothing less than we would expect. Visible from the mainland, the Wailing Woman takes its name from the early lighthouse keepers, who thought it resembled a sad and lonely figure silhouetted against the steep skyline.

Lighthouse Storm, Valentia

The January storms of 2014. A combination of high tides and 100 year plus event storm conditions left a trail of destruction through the west of Ireland. Beaches were stripped of thousands of tons of sand, and at Ballinskelligs a Neolithic forest of tree stumps was revealed. The seafront at Rossbeigh was destroyed or buried under stones thrown up from the foreshore. The wreck of the Sunbeam, that laid undisturbed since she founded 110 years ago was displaced. Kerry took a severe battering, so do not be surprised if things look a little different now or are no longer in the same place that you last saw them.

This picture was taken from inside my car, with the occasional wave breaking over it. I had to do so because it was too windy to stand up; an exciting experience, if a little unnerving.

Riding the White Horses

A Gannet soaring above a big breaking wave, searching for fish in the boiling tumult below. The 'White Horse' waves here on the west coast of Ireland can be enormous, having had more than three thousand miles of uninterrupted ocean in which to travel and grow. The prevailing westerly winds that propel them also result in this air being the purest in Europe; if not the world, thanks to the vast Atlantic Ocean between here and the eastern seaboard of America.

 

 

 

The Skelligs

Projecting high into the Atlantic sky off the South West coast of Ireland, these huge, jagged, canine-like rocks are a truly impressive sight. Anyone with a sense of wonder or imagination is drawn to them.

In the 6th Century, monks settled here in an attempt find a place for uninterrupted prayer and meditation and to get nearer to God. The monks were successful for six centuries in rocky isolation and enduring severe deprivations, wild weather and repeated Viking raids. They eventually established a new monastery in nearby Ballinskelligs. Why they did so is unclear, although climate change is one possibility and changes within the church another.

Often referred to as Ireland's best kept secret, they are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to thousands of sea birds. The larger of the two rocks, Skellig Michael, can be visited during the summer months; weather and conditions permitting.

The small rock in the foreground is known as 'The Lemon Rock' and is three miles from the Skelligs.

Skellig Storm, St Finian's Bay

The Skelligs; here appearing like torn teeth through the breaking waves against a threatening storm cloud. This photograph was taken from St Finian's beach in Co Kerry using a long zoom lens which compresses the perspective. The waves and the Skelligs consequently look closer together than they actually are, as in fact there is a distance between them of several miles. These huge waves make St Finian's Bay very popular with both surf boarders and bass anglers, and whether calm and tranquil or wild and stormy, it is a constant draw for visitors to Kerry.

Skellig Puffins

These comical little characters, with their black and white suits and big, colourful beaks have unique appeal and are the stars of the Skelligs. Many people go just to see them; the Skelligs being an added bonus.

After spending the winter months out on the stormy Atlantic seas (it has recently been discovered that Skellig Puffins over-winter off the coast of North America, Canada and Greenland), they return to the Skelligs to breed. This is the only time they spend on dry land, and they return to the same hole/rabbit burrow to nest year after year. They seem to have no fear of humans and it is possible to get extremely close to them as they go to and fro, fishing tirelessly to feed their young.

Often referred to as the 'clown of the seas' or the 'sea parrot', the comedic quality of the Puffin's appearance belies their ability to survive and thrive in often harsh Atlantic conditions. By early August, the parent Puffins and their young have left the Skelligs – at sea once again until the following spring.

 

 

 

Dingle Bay

Dingle Bay is the most famous stretch of water on the west coast of Ireland. Visitors from near and far are compelled to stop, look and marvel at it. Out comes the camera phone, and with the bay over the shoulder, another 'Dingle Bay selfie' is taken. First made famous in the 1970 film Ryan's Daughter and filmed in Super Panavision, the local landscape was used to the full by director David Lean. Fans of the film today still seek out the various locations that were used, and so the film is said to have put the town of Dingle on the tourist map. This huge vista, with its ever-changing light and drama, is a must see here in Kerry.

A tip whilst looking at the bay is to keep an eye out for another local celebrity...the famous Kerry mountain goat; you might even see King Puck himself!

The Sunbeam

In January 1903 whilst navigating Dingle Bay and on route from Kinvara to Cork, The Sunbeam was driven towards the shore in bad weather and ran aground on Rossbeigh Strand. A 79 foot schooner, she worked as a coaster delivering cargo all around Ireland. She was built in 1860, and when she came to grief was already a middle aged lady of 43.

Submerged by the tide twice daily, she survived here undisturbed where she had foundered for 110 years until January 2014, when severe weather battered the west coast of Ireland, moving and sadly destroying her photogenic looks forever. However, what is left of her can still be seen.

About a mile or so along the strand from the village, she provides a convenient turning point for local joggers & dog walkers.

Franciscan Friars – Skellig Michael

In the spring of 2015, I had the good fortune to attend and photograph a mass held on Skellig Michael within the remains of the monastery there.

The mass was conducted by six Franciscan Friars hailing from America and France, who live in, work with and support the community of Moyross, Co.Limerick. They had travelled to the Skelligs on a mission to go back to the roots of their faith; to explore its history and to anchor themselves in this historical landscape.

The whole experience was humbling and quite emotional. I hope that I have captured some of the spirit and solemnity of the service in this photograph.

The five Americans and one Frenchman were great company, along with skipper Dan McCrohan, on a rather choppy boat crossing out to the Skelligs and back. Far from the dour image that we may have of the religious orders, these gentlemen were interesting, humorous and very entertaining. I felt extremely honoured to have been invited into their assembly and to be able to observe their worship.

With filming of the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens taking place on Skellig Michael, the eyes of the world have been turned onto this ancient landmark. It is generating a great deal of excitement locally. However, these men of faith are a timely reminder of the spiritual foundations of this remarkable site.

 

Photographic tours of South West Kerry are a great way to make the most of your visit – click here for more information.

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