It’s late-February and a succession of storms have just swept across the Atlantic from Arctic Canada churning the vast ocean into a raging sea swell and sending gigantic waves thundering into the coast.
Nature’s full fury stirred up the boundless depths of the North Atlantic with the indifference of a playful toddler splashing bath-water in every direction.
Towering breakers crashing over piers, bashing beaches and re-shaping sand dunes were a spectacular reminder of nature’s boundless energy and a portent of a very uncertain future for coastal communities at the front-line of climate change.
Storm Ciara blew for three days; gale-force winds with gusts between 100-130 km, and in excess 140 km/h locally, dashing a heaving wall of two-storey waves onto the coast. Wind and tidal conditions lessened the impact of Storm Dennis, a week later, and, in between the storms, a Norwegian fishing vessel Manon took refuge in Killala Bay before returning to its homeport of Bergen.
Monster 15-metre waves, recorded by weather buoys far out in the North Atlantic, had lost little of their astonishing fury by the time they reached the Mayo and Sligo coastline.
Waves up to 12 metres slammed into Eagle Island off The Mullet and even the shelter of Killala Bay saw huge 9 metre surges crashing over Enniscrone Pier in a fearsome Wild Atlantic Way display.
The battered Enniscrone pier has withstood many of these sea poundings, a reminder of the engineering skills of those who designed and built the structure between 1884 and 1887, replacing an earlier breakwater that not surprisingly was destroyed in a storm.
Above the pier, I watched a storm-charged sea of mountainous, rolling white-topped waves, galloping ahead of a stiff westerly, furiously pounding the rocky shoreline.
At high tide, the roller-coaster sea swell tossed trailer loads of stones over the pier wall and scattered more stones over the elevated coastal walk as if they were mere pebbles. Along the beach, sand dunes were reshaped and sculpted into fascinating shapes by the surging sea.
Nature’s light show
Even more fascinating was to watch the curving slope of the pier’s shoulder deflect the huge breakers, forcing the colliding waves skywards.
In their recoil, the vaulting plumes of driving spray curved to frame the distant Killala wind turbines, briefly spot-lit from a dark and foreboding sky by the sun setting behind the Nephin Begs.
As I stood there enjoying another of those surf meets sky displays that no man-made fountain spectacle can ever match, my eye caught a glimpse of another magical ethereal performance far beyond Enniscrone’s rolling sandhills.
Nature’s changing moods never fail to gladden the heart. In the southwest, Nephin, dressed in a frayed cloak of snow, took centre-stage in a calming shifting scene of cloud and light above the turmoil along Enniscrone’s sandy shore.
Sunlight peeping through a crack in the dome of one of Storm Ciara’s smothering squalls drew back the curtains of greyish blue from the mountain to reveal a theatrical vista of pastel yellows and creamy clouds; a wondrous but fleeting natural light show.
In the coming days, hay-carts full of seaweed ripped from the rocky ocean floor will be thrown up on beaches by the incoming tide. Storm harvests that sustain the biodiversity of our shore life and over the centuries provided coastal communities with precious fertilizer and therapeutic treatments in the nearby seaweed baths.