On Thursday (22 August), we made an excursion to Mizen Head, Ireland’s southwestern-most point. Not only was it an extremely beautiful drive, but we learned a great deal about the area’s history, geology, and biology. A major transatlantic shipping route passes just south of the Mizen Head Signal Station, making it the last sight of Europe for many seafaring voyagers. During Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1852), many of the famine ships sailed past this point, offering its passengers their last view of Ireland. Construction on the signal station was finished in 1910 and it remained in operation until 1994. Not only did this station play a vital role in preventing shipwrecks, but also it played an extremely important part in early transatlantic communication (particularly in the pioneering work of Guglielmo Marconi).
The geology of Mizen Head is pretty complex, but even as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago, the area resembled the modern-day Alps. The folding and bending of the rock layers are stunning, leaving us in awe of the sheer power of geologic forces. We were all taken by the harsh and scenic beauty of the place, and a few of us were left with dead camera batteries. The biology of Mizen Head is also truly amazing. Not only was the land covered in heather and gorse, but also a myriad of other flora. The cliffs in the area are nesting sites for numerous seabirds, including Kittiwakes, Cormorants, and beautiful Gannets, which we could see occasionally plunging into the water to feed. The area also offers great whale and dolphin watching, though we only saw a couple seals. What a great place to learn about Ireland’s seabirds and dip our toes into the geology and history of west Cork.
At the end of our visit, about eight hours after our field trip began, our group played an inadvertent prank—to leave me (Dylan) at the Mizen Head Signal Station as the visitor center was closing. Although I would have gladly stayed there another few days soaking in the scenery, I luckily realized this plot soon enough to run (or at least I tried) back to the group, across the arched bridge and up the “99 steps.” Like it or not, the rest of the IRES students are stuck with me for the next four weeks.