As part of the completion process for the module on Environment and Society (SP420) for final year Arts students at the National University of Ireland Galway, a fieldtrip to Roundstone – at the foot of Errisbeg in Connemara – and its surrounds was undertaken by the class on Saturday 20th February 2016. Eleven students made the trip on what was a typical wet February morning but, nevertheless, an enjoyable day out was had by all to a location many students had not visited in the past.
The location was chosen after we had covered in class Tim Robinson’s 1987 piece ‘The View from Errisbeg’ in the Frank Mitchell edited The Book of the Irish Countryside. We had chosen this particular article as an attempt to better understand the many interactions between landscape/nature and human inhabitants of such sites as geological history can provide certain clues about its potential appeal to human inhabitants. In Robinson’s writing he provides a detailed description of the landscape around Errisbeg in North-West Connemara using many place names as reference points and aids to understanding interactive patterns of land use:
As elsewhere, it is human activity that determines the texture of what appears at first glance to be untouched wilderness, a fact that complicates the conservationist case somewhat. However, the core of this area, which is becoming known as Roundstone bog, having been spared by forestry and turf-cutting so far, most certainly should be preserved as it is; apart from it ecological uniqueness, it harbours one of the rarest of resources, solitude (Robinson, 1987: 42).
The hill is Errisbeg, which shelters the little fishing village of Roundstone from the west wind, in Connemara; the portion of the world’s surface visible from its summit comprises the suite of landscapes grouped around Galway Bay which it has been my wonderful and wearying privilege to explore in detail over the last fifteen years, the Burren uplands in County Clare, the Aran Islands, and Connemara itself (Robinson, 1987: 42)
After a really pleasant (although wet) ramble from Roundstone village to the beaches some twenty minutes walk away, we returned to a somewhat deserted village deep in the slumber of ‘off season’. So we made our way to Ballynahinch Castle for some well-deserved warm soup and tea/coffee. Set in a private 450-acre estate of woodland, rivers and walks in Connemara, this Castle Hotel stands overlooking its famous salmon fishery, with a backdrop of the Twelve Bens Mountain range. The Castle was built in the 17th century for the Martyn family, one of whose better-known members was ‘Humanity Dick’ founder of the RSPCA, and was also home at one time to the Maharajah Ranjitsinhji. In 1924, the cricket legend Prince Ranjitsinhji, Maharajah of Nawanager, made a trip to Ireland and forged a link between India and Ireland that survives today.
“Once you look past the beauty of the landscape you start to notice the effects humans have had on it. There was a noticeable amount of trash as well as coastal erosion on the dunes nearby. The encroach of holiday homes was clear as the trailers seemed to settle as close as they could. In people’s efforts to experience and appreciate the landscape, they often end up causing some damage along the way” (Rachele Carbutt)
“It was clear how big of an impact tourism has on the Roundstone area. I was surprised to see how dead the town was, it made me wonder how far the local residents have to travel for work and shopping/other needs when it isn’t tourist season” (Katherine Anderson)
“The field trip to Roundstone was an enlightening trip to see how the town and the two bays were affected by tourism” (Ashley Westbee)
“I found the fieldtrip very enjoyable. I found looking at man’s impact on the natural landscape particularly interesting. It was fascinating to see the construction of famine walls and cottages, and to observe how the area has transitioned from a small fishing community to one based on the income from tourism” (Kyle Moore)
“One thing I noticed during the visit to Roundstone was that there was a lot of trash around the town and the beaches. Almost as though the tourists don’t care about their surroundings” (Sarah Bryson)
“The fieldtrip was a great experience. It very much highlighted what we had been studying in class, the question of sustainable tourism and household planning. Is this a landscape worth preserving? Or does the household landscape ruin it or improve it? In terms of Dog’s Bay, I found the holiday homes could’ve used more planning and thought as to where the houses were built and what type of houses they could’ve used” (Bob Groome)
Robinson, T. (1987) ‘The View from Errisbeg’, in Frank Mitchell (editor) The Book of the Irish Countryside. Belfast: Blackstaff, pp.42–52.