Another Life: Donald Trump, the wall and the ocean that giveth and taketh away

The US presidential candidates hopes a €9m wall will save his golf links in Co Clare. But nature might be more powerful than that

Tallamh Bán: around a high bend on the Wild Atlantic Way. Illustration: Michael Viney

Tallamh Bán: around a high bend on the Wild Atlantic Way. Illustration: Michael Viney

 

Early on the first of the last days of summer I walked to the edge of the sea. This is much farther than you might think, especially when the tide is out. Tallamh Bán gives tourists quite a gasp when they round a high bend on the Wild Atlantic Way and see wildness, indeed, in the gleaming kite of sand spread out below.

Its tail begins where the boreen ends and the mountain river starts its long curve to the waves. I crossed its channel cautiously, propped by a pair of walking poles from China, the gift of a thoughtful friend. Too eccentric for the road, they serve as great stabilisers for wading the copper torrent in my wellies.

After that came the strand’s main drag, well patterned with curlicues of tyre marks spun by the summer’s four-by-fours. Their delirious circles will melt in the reach of September’s spring tide, leaving me a mirror finely ribbed by the small, ebbing waves.

At the corner of the long spit of dunes I tried to judge how much had been lost in the violent storms we have shared. The whole arm of sand, after all, perhaps a kilometre long, with the flat lawn of machair behind it, took the ocean and its winds just a century to build.

I tried to picture the profile of its terminal bluff as it stood just a decade ago. I’d buried the head of a dolphin somewhere in its slope, hoping to recover, in due course, another sculpture for the garden. Now the whole slope had gone. Smoothed by this rainy summer, the scarp of the dunes is all bland parabolas, the ridges thatched with marram with seed ears tight as wheat.

The ocean giveth and taketh away. It works within a local cell of sediment, typically trapped between headlands, to sustain the dunes of a sandy shore in a perennial budgetary cycle. In winter, storm waves bite and scour, dragging sand out to store in a bar offshore. This can leave the strand low and hard, any bedrock ribs exposed. In calm summers the sand is ushered gently in again, building the foredunes and nourishing the whole system with fresh, wind-blown particles described, nicely, as “aeolian”.

What I had come to check – my excuse, at least, on a rare and glorious day – was the summer’s due gift of sediment. I stepped into it on cue in a generous band above the highest tide, boots and poles piercing a surface as fluffy and soft as snow.

This early the strand was empty end to end but for an angler who had taken his jeep to the very bottom of the tide. He made great casts that flew like birds on the stiff offshore breeze and landed with bright splashes. I stood a long way off, at the last lapping of the waves, lost in the play of light through the shallows: shades of jade and turquoise deepening into indigo.

I was thinking, begrudgingly, of the appalling Donald Trump and the wall he wants to build to save his golf course on the dunes down in Co Clare. Actually, not strictly a wall but a revetment: a sloping scarp of three-tonne chunks of local limestone 2.8 kilometres long and rearing up to 5m high. If it goes ahead it will cost him up to €9 million – “small potatoes”, as he smirks.

Most of the local community, understandably enough, want it built, protecting their jobs along with the dunes, parts of which were indeed deeply gnawed in the last big storms. Its NGO opponents point to the downsides of such hard and monstrous engineering and urge the softer measures of a “managed retreat”.

Trump’s company tried to lure An Bord Pleanála into rating the wall as “strategic infrastructure development”, but the buck was returned to Clare County Council, to deal with after the holidays.

Loss of the revolving sand budget I described above could have several physical results, including undermining the wall so that it sinks, and sending waves alongshore to bite where revetment ends. The dunes, it’s argued, would become fossilised for want of blown sand and less hospitable to the minute, EU-protected snail Vertigo angustior (whose numbers at Doonbeg have lately been doing rather well). Surfers could lose the kind of waves they prefer.

Would Trump’s 200,000-tonne colossus of Canute do such harm to total biodiversity? Probably not: enough cracks and holes in the blocks would, in time, make homes for marine life more typical of a rocky shore.

Trump himself is a specimen the planet could have done without. I did, eventually, manage to ease him out of my mind and lose myself, instead, in the joyful shrieks of terns diving for sand eels, out beyond where the third wave should have been.

Michael Viney’s Reflections on Another Life, a selection of columns from the past four decades, is available from irishtimes.com/irishtimesbooks

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