Audio clip from the free Norman Way GPS audio tour: http://thenormanway.com/audio-tour/
If you are a budding twitcher, no trip to these parts would be complete with a visit to the Saltee Islands, regarded as one of the most important birdwatching sites in not just Ireland, but Europe with over 220 species of birds recorded. There are three main groups of birds on these islands: 1) breeding sea birds, 2) resident land birds and 3) migrant birds.
Birds are but one of the many travellers to these islands. Besides the Anglo-Normans, Celts and Vikings, the islands was home to pirates, monks, rebels, fishermen and farmers. Believed to be named by the Vikings (Norse Salt Ey meaning Salt island) from the phenomenon of the salty spray which sweeps across the islands at times of high winds and waves, especially during the winter.
On a more colourful note, the islands have had some flamboyant owners in recent times. In December 1943 the Saltees were purchased privately by the late Prince Michael the First. Since his death in January 1998 the islands are now owned by his five sons Michael, John Manfred, Paul, Richard and daughter Anne. He is buried in the family vault in Bannow Bay, Co.Wexford. His title was passed on to his eldest son Michael.
In around the year 1920, a nine year old boy named Michael Neale made a vow to his mother that one day he would own the Saltees and become their first Prince. Twenty three years later in December 1943 he realised his dream. However his coronation on the Great Saltee did not take place until July 1956. A throne, flag-staff and obelisk were shipped to the Great Saltee, the obelisk bearing a plaque with his likeness in profile. The throne is a memorial to his mother and features a coat of arms and the following inscription:
"This chair is erected in memory of my mother to whom I made a vow when I was ten years old that one day I would own the Saltee Islands and become the First Prince of the Saltees. Henceforth my heirs and successors can only proclaim themselves Prince of these Islands by sitting in this chair fully garbed in the robes and crown of the Islands and take the Oath of Succession" - Michael the First.
One of the first jobs undertook on the Great Saltee was the levelling of a field in the centre of the island as a landing strip for his private airplanes. He was taught to fly by Capt.Darby Kennedy (Weston Aerodrome) and regularly flew his Miles Messenger aircraft to the islands. Between 1945 and 1950 over 34,000 trees and shrubs were planted on the island. The most successful of these were Cordyline Palms, which are flourishing to this day.
Little Saltee, half the size of the main island, remained inhabited up until the end of the second World War. Then in 1977, Henry Grattan Bellew and his partner, Shirley, made the restoration of Little Saltee Island their active retirement project when they came back to Ireland from southern Africa. Grattan Bellew also put pen to paper with his account of his stay on Little Saltee and environs entitled 'A Pinch of Saltee' which by all accounts is quite a thrilling read.
To explore the Great Saltee, you'll need to take a boat there from Kilmore Quay operated by Declan Bates. Please note that there is no port on the Great Saltee and that you will be transferred to a dinghy to complete the trip. Be in good health, wrap up and wear appropriate footwear for the trip! Image used from Wild ireland.
The Norman Way, Wexford, The Saltee islands, birdlife