David Mullen pays a visit to the birdwatchers paradise off Co. Wexford
Located around five kilometres off Kilmore Quay, the Saltee Islands (Little and Great Saltee) are home to an enormous colony of nesting sea birds. Gannets, puffins, shags, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes all provide huge interest to naturalists, while grey seals inhabit the waters around the islands.
Such is the importance of the Saltees’ natural heritage that they form part of a Special Area of Conservation designed to protect the wildlife from unwarranted interference. In doing so, they provide an irresistible lure to birdwatchers and photographers.
Likely inhabited in Neolithic times, the name of the islands stems from the Norse words ‘saltr’ meaning salt and ‘ey’ meaning island”. An ogham stone found on the islands indicates a presence (and probably a church) there in the early-Christian period (sixth to ninth century), though, after the Normans arrived nearby, the islands later passed into the hands of the monks of Tintern Abbey who may have farmed the land.