Killybegs & Arranmore, Ireland

May 15, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

The sun rose on another glorious day in the Emerald Isles as we sailed into County Donegal and our first stop of the day, the fishing port of Killibegs. The morning’s activities included three options: a walk up the rolling hills of the surrounding area, a visit to a local archaeological burial site, or a visit to a local, traditional wool mill.

During our walk, the hill was awash with the new blush of spring blossoms. From abundant hawthorn in the hedgerows to wildflowers in the verges. Germander speedwell, flag irises, lesser celandine, and thrift were some of the species that added a splash of color to our journey.

The warm spring air was filled with flitting birds and the sound of their songs. Sedge, grasshoppers, and willow warblers played for attention among the meadows and rushes, while reed buntings, stone chats, and wheatears advertised their presence on high vantage points with puffed chests. The climax of our walk was a watchtower with a panoramic view of the sea and surrounding fields.

After lunch, we set sail for Arranmore—a three-hour journey that gave us some time at sea and the opportunity to hear a presentation from one of our naturalists. We heard an excellent talk titled “Why Seabirds Are So Great,” which was met with great enthusiasm. The talk covered the life histories of some of our most charismatic marine birds, from Britain’s deepest diver—the common guillemot—to a long-distance-flight specialist and cousin of the albatross—the fulmar. After the talk, we headed outside to watch some of these amazing birds in action. Northern gannets wheeled around the ship, occasionally diving, but mostly soaring back and forth on the search for food.

Upon arrival at Arranmore, we disembarked at a quaint jetty and set off either to explore the cliff faces, walk down to a picturesque lighthouse, or simply to explore town. Our walks were topped off with a well-earned pint of Guinness and traditional music in the local pub. And dancing, from both locals and visitors alike, began soon after. After a merry afternoon, we headed back to the ship, enjoying one last Zodiac zip across the bay in the beating sun.

Around dinnertime, the last rays of sunlight illuminated the rolling hills as we left Ireland behind us, and headed north toward the wild, west coast of Scotland.

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About the Author

Ella Potts


Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

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