AT A time when thousands of us are learning to appreciate the natural world within our 5km travel limit, a Donegal man is offering a fascinating insight into the wealth of plant and animal life around his North Clare home.
Cormac McGinley, who is an expert in zoology and marine biology, spent 11 years as a ranger at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre before setting up his own coastal walking tours company. While the pandemic put a bit of a spanner in the works, Cormac admits, he decided to make good use of his time by sharing photos, videos and expert insights on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
“I live in Liscannor, so literally, wherever I walk within the travel limits, there is something spectacular to see,” he said. “I was building up the tours business and working with Leaving Cert students giving Geography field trips, and also training companies based along the Wild Atlantic Way. Then, all on the one day last March, everything came to a complete stop. Like everyone, I thought the restrictions would be in place for two or three months. I decided to share some images and videos of what I was coming across on my own walks. I set myself the task of posting two pictures and a video every day and that’s been keeping me busy. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for almost a year at this stage.”
For someone who had spent most of his life avoiding social media, and didn’t own a smartphone until two years ago, the learning curve has been steep, but rewarding. “When I started the tours, I realised that I’d have to get on social media. I just walked into a phone shop and asked for one with the best camera and went from there.”
As well as posting stunning images of the ever-changing cliffs, Cormac produces short clips of such coastal creatures as Sea Lemons (members of the sea slug family), Strawberry Anemone and Star Ascidians. “We are just tripping over some incredible stuff all across the west coast. Dr Eamon Doyle who is a geologist with the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark has discovered some species that are new to science, and up to 50% of the organisms have never been seen before.”
Cormac is also been deeply involved in the Burren Eco Tourism Network and the development of the UNESCO Global Geopark. “Sometimes, I think people in Ireland don’t really realise the importance of this designation. There are organisations all over the world looking to achieve what we have. When you travel to the conferences overseas, you really see that this is a hugely sought-after international designation and we’re so fortunate to have that in Clare.”
A native of Teelin, Cormac grew up in fishing community, nestled under the mighty Slieve League. After studying Zoology and Marine Biology in Aberdeen, he spent a decade travelling. “I was transporting a fishing boat to Ghana when I found out I got the job at the Cliffs of Moher. I started as a ranger then took on an educational role which I loved and spent ten years doing. I left to start the tours business with the aim of spending even more time outdoors. While last year the pandemic meant things were tough, it’s been very fulfilling in other ways. At the moment, I’m conscious that there are so many people who want to get to the sea and the cliffs and they can’t because of the restrictions. We have such rich biodiversity and I really being able to show it to people and tell about it.”
For now, pandemic restrictions have curtailed the high volume of visitors that would normally flock to North Clare. For Cormac, however, the preference is to focus on small groups and to give people a deeper understanding of the area. “I would always aim to be working closely with five or six people instead of shouting to a huge group. Because I have worked with the Visitor Centre, I would have a good knowledge of the market and my target would be the higher end where people want the best possible experience. I would also get a lot of people who already have expertise and want specific information about this region.”
Working with schools is another passion for Cormac and local children have been involved in helping him count the sea bird population. “Numbers of sea birds are declining in Scotland and it’s important that we keep track of our population here. I developed a way of tracking them by taking a series of photos and counting up the birds in the pictures later. Getting the schools involved meant that the kids would work on one photo each and record the number of birds in it. I also did some work for the Garrihy family who run Doolin to Aran Ferries. They were looking for training for their staff and also got involved in conservation. They’ve offered tickets to the children so that they can get out and see the cliffs from the sea. It’s fantastic, because the kids are going to be the future landowners and they need to know and appreciate what is here on their doorstep.”
A faithful companion, and a reminder of home, is Cormac’s collie Teelin. “When I left the role at the Cliffs, I finally had time to look after a dog and she’s great in terms of getting me out the door in the mornings. She goes almost everywhere with me, whether that’s on land or water and she’s very photogenic too.”
More information on all of Cormac’s social media posts are available through his website Cormacscoast.com.