Wednesday, December 08, 2004


The coastal route between the towns of Balbriggan and Skerries in Fingal County provides a delightful walk for lovers of sea and shore. I walked this route recently on a glorious Tuesday morning in mid-November. The morning was calm, slightly chilly and refreshing. Soon after leaving Balbriggan, the vista of Skerries Bay opened before me. The sea mirrored the clear blue sky, giving an azure sheen to the water, more reminiscent of the Mediterranean seascapes with which I am familiar. In the distance, the Rockabill lighthouse could be seen clearly, standing guard over its treacherous twin rocks.

Proceeding towards Skerries, the narrow coastal fields to my left gave way to a stone wall at the “Lady’s Stairs.” From here to Barnageera, the wall guards against a steep drop of some forty feet down to the seashore below. It drops progressively from there to my destination in the quaint harbour of Skerries. Beneath the wall lies the alternating sand and shingle of the shore, with rocky outcrops that are only visible at low tide.

Redshanks, curlews, oystercatchers, herring gulls and greater black backed gulls teemed along the coastline while solitary dunlin scavenged for food among the rocks. Cormorants dried their wings on perches in the bay and herons, stiff and stoop-necked, stood sentry along the entire coastline. A short distance out in the water, small fishing boats putt-putted from buoy to buoy setting lobster pots, watched by the ever-present grey seals that live in the harbour. A few sailors practiced their manoeuvres in the safety of the calm bay. In the far distance, the curvature of the horizon was perfectly profiled in the sharp winter light.

To walk on such a day and in such a place is to walk in Heaven. Cares are lifted; worries fade; troubles diminish in significance and, for a brief while, one is transfixed by the beauty of one’s surroundings. Even the noisy traffic that passes within an inch of the traveller cannot break Neptune’s embrace. The siren call of the sea is too powerful for any man-made distraction.

As I walked along, the views and wildlife were so magnificent that I was compelled to stop regularly to absorb the beauty before me. I leaned over the wall to take my ease and rest momentarily on my journey to Skerries. But as I leaned on the wall and cast my eyes downward rather than outward a different spectacle greeted me. A sordid, ugly and defiled landscape lay below.

The five kilometre length of the coastline was strewn with litter of every kind. Washing machines, dishwashers, carpets, beds, mattresses, ceramic tiles, an old radiator, household refuse in plastic sacks, plastic bottles, beer cans, a shopping trolley and much more lay strewn across this heavenly setting. An occasional condom gave testament to other human activities played out in this virtual wilderness.

My heart sank heavily as I beheld this destruction of land and sea. Every last vantage point where, in the dead of night, a vehicle could stop secretly and unnoticed for a few moments was a dumping point for rubbish. Hardly any place that afforded access to the coastline was free of filth and debris.

People who, like me, walk and drive this beautiful stretch of coastline, did this. I gazed in revulsion and cursed the vileness of these creatures of the dark; night raiders who spurn the sun and suck the lifeblood of Mother Nature. They skulk in the shadows, eschewing the light, waiting to dispense their detritus on a defenceless, exposed landscape.

To destroy beauty diminishes and demeans us all. To destroy our environment is to destroy life itself. Some, like me, abhor such actions, while others, long past caring about their responsibilities in a fragile world, see no harm in adding more to the burden that we ask the earth to carry. They should be ashamed, but they are not; they should cry for mother earth, but they do not; they should care about the land that their children will inherit, but no such troubles bother them.

I curse and spurn them and their deeds. If I could I would expose these vampires to the light and let them feel the silver sword of justice piercing their wasted, empty hearts. May their reward be to dwell for eternity in the filth and squalor with which they burden their fellow citizens. May they be called some day to account to their children and to their children’s children for the poison and death they have left behind. And may they never be at peace while one scrap of their waste lies on the earth.