GARY AHERN takes a boat trip to the Saltee Islands. The islands are a protected habitat and are home to over 200 species of bird, including Puffins, Gannets and Razorbills.
In the fishing port of Kilmore Quay, on the south coat of Wexford, under a clear July sky, morning activity seems confined to those heading out of the village to various destinations. The odd fishing trawler or small lobster boat ‘putt-putts’ its way out of the harbour mouth, between its protecting breakwater walls.
Kilmore has a long sea-going and fishing tradition and many locals are among those who have lost their lives along this coast. Starkly, the area has been called ‘the graveyard of a thousand ships’.
One reminder of the many ship-wrecks on this coast in the days of sail is the large rusty anchor lying upended on the village green. In preparation for the application of a coat of paint which will preserve it, this is being lovingly scraped of loose rust by a local community volunteer.
He pauses to inform me of a little of the history of the anchor, telling me that it came from the wreck of the SS Idaho, wrecked when it hit the submerged Coningbeg Rocks in 1878. This was a sailing steamship of 3,500 tons, bound from New York to Liverpool. In addition to a crew of eighty-three, the ‘Idaho’ carried sixty-three passengers. All aboard were fortunately taken off by the ship’s lifeboats and, following a night on the Great Saltee, they were taken to Kilmore Quay next day.
Down by the quayside, my attention, and that of a dozen or so others of numerous nationalities, is on the ferry-boat which will take us out to the Great Saltee Island. This lies five kilometres off-shore and is famed as the breeding ground of many sea-birds, particularly gannets, who annually multiply there, in their very many thousands.