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  • Writer's pictureSam Whitton

Discovering Ireland’s Wild and Wonderful Islands

Ireland is a country bursting with culture, mythology and spectacular wildlife. In The Emerald Isles, actor and comedian Ardal O'Hanlon guides us through the lesser-known islands that adorn its coastline. Here, we meet the extraordinary people and resilient wildlife that have flourished on these secluded island gems. With a total of 61 days on location, our crew documented 14 different islands, from Rathlin in the far north to southerly Fastnet Rock – the last sight of land before North America. Altogether, the team made over 64 boat and ferry journeys to get on and around Ireland’s island jewels.


 

The Sound of Summer

Tory Island, nine miles off the coast of County Donegal, was one island that felt particularly remote. The team came here to film a secretive bird that has almost completely vanished from the Irish countryside within the last century: the corncrake. Slightly larger than a blackbird, corncrakes are chestnut brown, finished with elegant dark streaks to provide the perfect invisibility cloak for disappearing into the ground vegetation. For many people, corncrakes, with their resonant, raspy calls, are the quintessential sound of summer; infusing the air with the warmth of the African climes they seek during the winter months. Over the past few decades, this beautiful chorus has fallen silent throughout much of the country as the Irish breeding population teeters on the edge of extinction. Yet, on Tory Island, the sound of the corncrake is extraordinary. It’s one of a handful of sites in Ireland where these sensitive birds have clung on to existence, thanks to the absence of mechanised farming. Tory islanders are clearly very proud of their special summer visitor, with landowners taking an active role in creating and preserving habitats for them to breed in. It was a truly magical experience filming and hearing such a rare a bird that is so clearly cherished by the Tory islanders.



Filming on Ireland's most isolated isles was both challenging and highly rewarding. 260 miles south of Tory are the dizzying peaks of two ancient mountains that thunder out of the Atlantic Ocean. The Skellig islands are surely one of the most dramatic natural wonders in all of Ireland. It made international fame when it became Luke Skywalker's island sanctuary in the Star Wars films 'The Force Awakens' and 'The Last Jedi'. To film on this UNESCO World Heritage site, the team had to sit tight for a break in the weather as the ocean here can be violently unpredictable. After a week-long wait for the five metre swell to settle, the crew were finally granted special access to land on the island.



A Lucky Break

Over 8,000 puffins breed on Skellig Michael during the summer season, bringing a patchwork of colour to an otherwise cold rock. 218 metres up, at the summit of this spectacular island, is one of the most extreme settlements in the country. Here you can find an ancient 6th century Christian monastery which stands as a testament to humankind’s determination and spiritual devotion. For the monks that lived here all these years ago, this would have been the very edge of the world. They built six drystone huts resembling domed beehives, a church and vegetable garden using materials quarried from its precarious slopes.


You cannot help but marvel at the overwhelming spectacle before you. The sheer explosion of birdlife in all directions. Puffins zip overhead like bullets, before crash landing onto the side of the island with a beak crammed full of sandeels. It’s like journeying back to a land lost in time.


 

Looking Forward

The Emerald Isles is a captivating three-part series which unveils the defining spirit of each of these island treasures and introduces us to the resilient islanders that thrive in a realm where the ocean reigns supreme. With limited resources and a strong dependence on the environment, these vibrant communities are pioneers of sustainable living. They have forged ingenious solutions to live and work without damaging the wildlife around them. Proof that both humans and the natural world can thrive together in harmony. Join us to uncover the profound lessons that these unique islands hold; lessons that can inspire us all to forge a harmonious path forward, whilst cherishing our planet's precious resources.


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