Visiting The
Erris Peninsula

Unique Irish Experience  - A Visit To The Erris Peninsula

    Having the opportunity to visit the Erris Peninsula in County Mayo enables one to experience an area filled with many natural treasures.  For those who venture to this part of Ireland, there is an amazement at the wide expanse of open land.  There are scenic views of the coastline, miles and miles of bogland, an abundance of sheep and cows, striking contrasts of light and dark, and an impressive variety of marine and bird life.

    Our family had the privilege of discovering the Erris area for the first time in 2004.  We have been drawn back on two separate occasions.  Our visit during this past summer 2008 brought very mixed feelings.  There was still the pleasure of returning to an area of extraordinary natural beauty,  but there was also a great sadness.

    For people not familiar with the area, a controversy has developed over Shell's plans to operate the Corrib Gas Project - an onshore gas refinery in the area.  The dispute that has evolved between members of the Erris community and Shell Oil is complicated. The controversy became central to the entire country when five landowners in the Rossport area refused to obey an injunction and allow Shell Oil to access their land in June of 2005.  The "Rossport Five" were subsequently imprisoned for ninety-four days and their incarceration proved upsetting to a majority of the Irish people.  Those interested in learning more about their ordeal can read their book  "Our Story: The Rossport Five."

    Public opposition to the imprisonment of the Rossport Five in 2005 escalated.  Shell eventually dropped the injunction and the men were able to  walk free.  They were released on September 30, 2005, and were met with  marches, celebrations, and welcome-home signs and bonfires.  In the time that has followed since their release, there are still many struggles about the development of the project and the rights of the landowners in the area.  Support for the work of the Shell to Sea

campaign has intensified.

    Our family lives on an old farm in Maine in the United States and we know the importance that comes from the land.  We had read a little about the Corrib Gas Project before our third visit, but we could never imagine all the changes that were taking place.  Upon arrival in Pollatomish, our immediate reaction was one of a sense of violation to the land, violation to the water, and violation to the people.

    We had the opportunity to speak with a few people in the area and the message that seemed to be repeated again and again was the importance that land played in their lives.  They explained the land as part of their being. Anyone familiar with Irish literature and history and culture can identify with the value that land has played throughout Ireland.  John Keane's play "The Field," which was made into a movie, focused on the significance that land plays in the life of a farmer.  Countless stories in Ireland's rich literary tradition emphasize the connection that Irish people have had over the centuries with land, oceans, rivers, and mountains.

    Erris is home to farmers and fishermen.  It is an area filled with several Special Areas of Conservation.  The pristine waters of the bay have harbored dolphins, seals, whales, and many species of fish.  Bird enthusiasts appreciate the area, as well.  It is an extremely scenic and

sensitive environment.  The thought of having a gas refinery in their midst and gas pipes on their land has torn apart the lives of many residents.  There has been a grave concern for how this

onshore gas project will affect the climate and geological composition of the area.

    Visitors to this website might find this "Unique Irish Experience" quite surprising.  All the other entries on the site are oriented towards fairly well-known tourist spots or cultural opportunities.  They are profiles of places of historical or scenic significance.  They are not controversial in nature.  Visitors to our site have asked us to share some of our meaningful "Unique Irish Experiences,"  and visiting the Erris area this summer certainly proved to be memorable and the one that has affected us most deeply.

    Our third trip to Pollatomish on the Erris Peninsula this past summer proved to be shocking.  The formerly serene area  was taken over by  gardai, lorries hauling rocks,  construction vehicles, and barriers.  Access to  Glengad  Beach has been blocked off with a massive series of gates.  Bulldozers had begun work on building a causeway in the bay and there was an unsettling sense of disruption from the noise of all the machinery and trucks.  

    The trailer outside the Bellanaboy gas processing plant is still being used as a meeting place for protesters.  Signs of protest to the Corrib Gas Project are obvious throughout the area.  There are protest murals and banners.  The external unrest is highly visible. Landowners who resist the project have refused to allow the road to be widened in front of their homes.  Volunteers still reside at the Solidarity Camp.  Weekly meetings of the townspeople opposed to the project still take place.  Kayakers delivered a letter of protest to the Captain of the large pipe-laying ship involved with the project.  The opposition to the Corrib Gas Project has by no means gone away.

    Our family had the opportunity to visit with Willie and Mary Corduff of Rossport.  Willie is a member of the Rossport Five group.  He and his wife, Mary, have been passionate members of the Shell to Sea campaign. They are a family of farmers.  Four generations of their family

have lived in the area.  They have managed to survive by cutting their own  turf and producing their own milk and meat and vegetables.  They have been able to live off their land and they feel a very deep connection for their land and their way of life. Their ultimate goal is to hand their land down to their children and grandchildren in the wholesome and environmentally-friendly way that it has been farmed and in their family for many years.

    Willie accepted the Goldman Environmental Award in California in 2007 on behalf of all the people in the Erris area who were contesting the right of Shell to erect gas pipes on their land.  This

honor recognized the efforts of the people of Erris in their struggle to protect their environment.

    Our family listened to the Corduffs explain how all semblance of their lives prior to the Corrib Gas Project had disappeared.  Their present-day lives left no time for relaxation.  They conduct

interviews, welcome visitors, attend meetings, and research laws and environmental issues.  They worry for the safety of their family and friends on both an immediate and long-term level.

    The Corduffs speak about the dramatic changes that the Corrib Gas Project will bring about in the quality of their lives.  They focus on the health issues that will emerge.  They worry about the aluminum levels in Carrowmore Lake - a body of water that provides drinking water to many residents of the area.  The gas emissions and the toxins that will destroy the land, the atmosphere, and the aquifiers weigh heavily on their minds.

    The landslide that occurred in 2003 in Pollatomish is fresh in the memory of both Willie and Mary Corduff.  They are shocked that pipe lines would be planned to be laid in such an unstable area.  They are deeply apprehensive of the extremely high and risky level of  pressure that is planned for the transportation of the gas in the pipes. They bring up their fears of corrosion of the pipes.  The real possibility of an explosion has multiplied their fears.  They are anxious about how the  pollutants will wreak havoc with the various ecosystems.  There is a concern for the marine life and the effects on agriculture and the foods and animals that they raise and consume. 

    The Corduffs and the people of Erris worry about how toxins from the project will impact health.  There are concerns about medical issues such as cancer, lung conditions, asthma, and leukemia.  All the environmental changes and the feelings of violation and the loss of civil rights have contributed to high levels of stress and mental health concerns.  The emotional well-being of many people has already been tested beyond reasonable expectations.

    In addition to their thoughts on the dangers of the project, the Corduffs speak about how they have come to view the entire ordeal with a new perspective on their government and the arrangement that has been made with the large corporations interested in tapping the gas resources.  They feel that laws have been broken and there has been corruption with the project splitting that has taken place.  They have lost faith in their leadership and the laws of their country.

They are appalled that none of the gas from the project has been earmarked specifically for Irish consumption.  They feel that there has been a great deal of greed and corruption that has not been addressed.

    While the Corduffs share their story, it is interesting to observe how this sense of sadness and concern has not stopped their fight.  They remain passionate and completely dedicated to the idea that the situation must be resolved. They have explored efforts to change the route of the pipeline

far away from the area where people live.  They have a profound love for the area where they live.  Willie will admit that schooling and reading and writing were never his  strongpoints.  He is a man tied to his land and his farm. People will call on him to help with the birthing of their animals in the middle of the night.  His life has taken many turns since the Corrib Gas controversy.  He has become educated about highly technical and bureaucratic matters.

    Willie Corduff explains the situation as he sees it.  The picture he sees right now isn't a pretty one.  He feels that opposition to the project is so strong that people will absolutely refuse to let the gas pipes be laid on their land.  He emphasizes that opposition to this project from the local people

of the area is not related to the desire of people to receive compensation, as it so often has been portrayed.  People are against the project because of how it is tearing the area apart physically, emotionally, and socially.  Noise levels from the work on the roads and the continuous stream of lorries hauling materials back and forth has destroyed the former sense of security, exceptional natural beauty, and peace that were intrinsic to the area.  Some residents have expressed feelings of frustration and intimidation as Gardai can be seen whenever you are walking or driving.  A quiet, safe walk to the beach on the road isn’t possible these days with all the construction traffic.

    A loss of life in this struggle is clearly possible some day, according to Willie Corduff.  He stated firmly that "I would rather die than allow the pipes on my land."  Willie Corduff is a man of conviction.  He said he will go to prison again if that is what must happen.

    Attached to this reflection of our visit to the Erris Peninsula this summer 2008 are some photos on a separate webpage that we took of the area.  Due to poor weather and visibility we were unable to capture quality photos of the incredible natural surroundings of the area.  The photos speak for themselves, however, in illustrating an area where there is much protest to all that has been happening.  Visiting the Erris Peninsula in 2008 proved to most certainly be a "unique Irish experience."  We wish we had not left with such a feeling of sadness for all that has been


    Our family hopes that somehow a peaceful resolution can be brought to the area.


Mary and Willie Corduff

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