Coast Diary – February 5th

Totally Tropical…

This week I was rushing around the country again, first to a weekend workshop in Clare, which was a great experience, but it was a few miles from the sea and we spent the whole weekend tucked away in the countryside, working. When I left I decided to hit the coast. But once again, I found myself as unimpressed by Clare’s coast as I am by the rest of the county. It quite bemuses me that people rate it as a destination. I suppose there are some good views from the Cliffs of Moher though there’s too much tourist, car park and interpretative centre for me – and if you’re a surfer, Aileens and other places are quite beautiful to surf, at least judging from Mickey Smith’s filmwork. But for land based stuff…meh. So I got as far as Spanish Point – so exotic sounding I actually thought I hadn’t been there before. I imagined standing like a lady pirate, windswept, on a high headland, weeping for my lover, a dashing survivor of the Armada, whom I had to kill as he was drawing attention to my piratey behaviour…but its just another scrubby beach that had slipped my mind. Sorry Clare – the only good thing about you is your name.

I headed north to Connemara then, because really, once you navigate the trauma of the N24 as far as Limerick, its best to get as many visits in as possible. Connemara beaches are my favourite , though the much vaunted Roundstone leaves me cold – alright, I’m picky, sue me – so I travelled through it in order to visit a coral beach I am fond of. The tide was in and the weather grey and blustery so the white sand and turquoise sea was not much in evidence but I went for a brief walk on it anyway and the magic struck again. I don’t know if its the tiny pieces of coral, washed in from far tropical places on the north atlantic current, the shells, or the pink, red and black rock, scored by time’s passing, all vibrant even in dull light but even the little bit of rubbish – two oranges lying in the sea weed some distance apart and further up two cartons of Tropicana orange juice – seemed to tell a story. What story it was I still haven’t imagined. I looked for signs of life or death, but the only other creature I saw was an unfortunate Portuguese man o’ war tangled in the seaweed. These beautifully blue/pink, gas filled, bladder like creatures are siphonophores – often mistakenly identified as jellyfish – travel at the mercy of the sea and wind, trailing their deadly, prussian blue tentacles. They can be lethal even to humans and better not touched even in death.

Later, I travelled on, deeper into Galway, towards other favourite beaches which will remain nameless. At the end of the line my artist friend, not seen for a number of years, had set up a bakery. Heaven is here.

Sunday Archive: Sea Potatomania


I am thinking of my Connemara friend this week as its her birthday so here’s this post from five years back..

For years now I have yearned to find a sea potato, those fragile, heart-shaped, star-marked members of the sea urchin family. Given the amount of time in my life I have spent walking beaches with a bowed head it has quite aggravated me that these delicate sculptures of nature have eluded, an aggravation that is exacerbated by the fact that no-one else seems to have any problem finding them. One friend has them scattered about his car and claims they are ‘everywhere’. Another friend said he would find one for me, walked a few paces and picked one up and presented me with it. I promptly broke it. Nature, it seemed, had deemed me too clumsy and uncouth to be allowed communion with these fey tubers of the sea. I finally gave up. You can imagine my joy when, on a trip this year to Connemara, as I walked on beautiful Glassilaun, I spied on the grainy white sand a single, perfect sea potato framed artfully by thong weed (that stuff with which mermaids make their knickers) as if waiting for me. I had finally been accepted into the Sea Potato Club.

I often claim not to indulge in magical thinking but it is a claim that is false and I immediately saw in the sea potato a change in my fortunes. The clouds had parted, good things would surely come. I had let go and all that I wanted had come to me. I paced the rest of the beach with an outstretched hand that gently cupped my talisman of good fortune like a coronation herald carrying a crown on a cushion. I could rest easy now, content that I had found what I was looking for. My search was over…

Within five minutes I was wondering if I could find more. The thought of more took hold of me. I would find one more and give it to my friend’s little girl, Feile. Bolstered by my altruism I veered back to the magic spot to see what I could find. I found that my sea potato had been the last of of a long scatter of sea potatoes jumbled on the shore line, some in pristine condition, some cracked or broken, in shades of ochre, grey and white. There were even some hairy ones. I had managed to walk past all of them without seeing them and probably even crushed one or two under my clodding, ignorant feet. I did not deserve such beautiful things and I felt momentarily abashed. Then I greedily began to gather as many as I could.


One for me, one for Feile, one for my niece Charlie, one in case one got broken…The difficulty of carrying a couple of kilos of fragile objects back to my car soon became obvious and I came to my senses kneeling on the white sand, surrounded by blue and green heaving mountains above the bright shore lapped by azure waters feeling as embarrassed as a Dutch burgher in 1638. I eventually took five sea potatoes. As I walked back up the beach my magical thinking head moved up a gear. Life is like my sea potato search, it thought. You look endlessly for the things you want not realising that they are in front of you all the time, that you are in fact trampling all over them. Try as I might though I couldn’t remember stomping on any nice young men or piles of money. My sour thinking head broke in to suggest that everything is random and the only patterns-besides my flibberty gibbet thinking patterns-are the ones on the tiny, alien skull-like sea potatoes, each evenly, delicately perforated with the outline of an outstretched star, arms open to the heavens. Maybe that’s enough.bMy friend and her daughter did not collapse with joy when I presented them with my treasure. In fact they seemed sort of underwhelmed and though I may have imagined it I thought I heard a mutter…

“Those bloody things. They’re everywhere…”