Pollution, Past and Present


Human beings have always created waste as a by-product of industrial and agricultural processes, but never as much now.  Much of this waste ends up in our coastal environments, having a negative impact on our ecosystem.

Although West Cork is valued for its beautiful scenery, its rich maritime environment has also suffered from pollution.  Members of the West Cork community discuss two examples that demonstrate how pollution has impacted this coast: plastics and sewage.


Marine pollution from plastics is a global issue, but West Cork’s coastal communities have observed an increase in the amount of plastics found on their beaches.  Local historian Terri Kearney observes that the shells and glass that used be washed up on the shores have been replaced by plastic:

‘I bring my nieces and nephews beach-combing…You could always find glass, but now it’s plastic, plastic, plastic….The amount of plastic you see on the beach [is] really frightening – [it’s] everywhere’.

Artist Angie Shanahan is struck by the way in which this plastic waste is damaging the environment:

‘You have your beds of seaweed on the beach and copiously interwoven through it are…tiny snatches of nylon rope which are cut off from maybe the mussel beds’.


Sewage contamination is often thought of as a nineteenth-century issue.  A primary concern at the time was

But sewage pollution very much a current issue in West Cork.  Paula O’Riogan explains

‘There is no sewage treatment in Cape Clear.  So the problem during the summer is that no swimming is allowed here’.


Pollution has a detrimental effect on our ecosystem, and this is the most important reason for trying to reduce the amount of waste that enters our coastal environments.

Our research suggests that the two aspects that people value most about the West Cork coast are its scenery and being place for recreation.   As Angie and Terri have shown, pollution has a negative impact on these too.

It makes sense, then, for the whole community to be involved in addressing the issue of pollution, as it is something that affects us all.

More Information

  • View our online exhibition on Pollution in Nineteenth-Century West Cork.  [Coming soon!]

Get Involved

  • Head over to the Clean Coasts website to see if there is a group near you – if not, why not start one yourself?