18th December

Clare Island Survey Past & Present

A re-survey of Clare Island currently underway (first conducted by the Royal Irish Academy, 1909-1911) has completed 26 fieldwork studies encompassing five disciplines: archaeology; history and culture; botany; geology and zoology).

The survey is a major Academy venture, bringing together more than 100 experts from all over the island of Ireland and Europe to document changes in all aspects of the island's heritage, environment, and biology.

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The Clare survey team who conducted their first survey in 1909. Photo RIA

The survey provides a fresh baseline study using up-to-date methodology, and gives a comprehensive description of the island from its bedrocks to its biotic communities. The survey also traces the history of human occupation and the impact of human activity on Clare Island.

 Robert Lloyd Praeger, former President of the RIA, organised the original survey in 1909. The work resulted in a special three-section volume of proceeding. This was the first major multidisciplinary survey of a specific area anywhere in the world. It also represented the most ambitious natural history project ever undertaken in Ireland.

“The original survey was the most comprehensive inventory of nature in a single geographical location during the early part of this century, and made Clare Island a unique site for further study’, Síona Breathnach of the RIA told Inshore Ireland.
 
To date the project has produced four publications:

Volume 1: History and Cultural Landscape
Volume 2: Geology
Volume 3: Marine Intertidal Ecology.
Volume 4: The Abbey

Clare Island lies at the entrance to Clew Bay in County Mayo, some 5km from the west coast of the Irish mainland. The dominating feature of the island is a ridge that runs east to west, attaining a height of 465m at Croaghmore and forming precipitous sea cliffs along the northern shore. 

The island's rock surfaces have been scoured by glaciers in the last Ice Age and a mass of glacial sediments has been dumped on its southern slopes. The cliffs of Clare Island are listed as an area of international scientific importance, sheltering rare arctic-alpine plant communities and seabird breeding colonies.

Clare Island has a long history of habitation from at least 3500 BC. There is an abundance of Bronze Age sites, a 13th century Cistercian Abbey adorned with painted frescoes (now a National Monument in urgent need of repair), and the island harbour is guarded by the fort of Grace O'Malley, the battling pirate queen of Elizabethan times.   

 

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