Saltee Islands

County Wexford

Once the haunt of privateers, smugglers and ‘dyvers pyrates’, the Saltee Islands now have a peaceful existence as one of Europe’s most important bird sanctuaries. More than 220 species have been recorded here, most of them passing migrants; the main breeding populations include chough, gannet, guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake, puffin and Manx shearwater. Boats make the 4km trip from Kilmore Quay harbour, but landing is weather-dependent. Book through Declan Bates.

The 90-hectare Great Saltee and the 40-hectare Little Saltee (closed to visits) were inhabited as long ago as 3500 to 2000 BC. From the 13th century until the dissolution of the monasteries, they were the property of Tintern Abbey, after which various owners were granted the land. The islands are now privately owned.

The best time to visit is the spring and early-summer nesting season. The birds leave once the chicks can fly; by early August it’s eerily quiet. There are no toilets or other facilities on the islands (landing often means getting your feet wet), and no shelter, so bring rain gear.

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