The beach stretches in front of you: 800 metres wide and five kilometres long. At 6.30 a.m. it’s mostly empty, although when you arrived, you met a handful of early risers in the car park.
(A man glanced at your camera and asked, “Anything special today?” He thought you were a birdwatcher or a photographer. But you know very little about birds and don’t have the right equipment to photograph them.)
You’ve come here to walk.
When you step onto the sand, you think about the island’s origins, its emergence after the building of the Bull Wall in the 1820s. It seems impossibly fast to you: a single generation to build an island and a beach.
You remember coming here when you were a child, back when you thought the island had always existed. You remember sitting in the family car, the thunk of wheels on the wooden bridge that leads to the beach. The bridge scared you a little. It creaked and bounced under the car’s weight.
You remember how busy the beach seemed then; know how busy it is still on sunny afternoons. But you prefer it on mornings like this: quiet and indifferent. Lonely at the edges.
You walk until you’re too tired to walk any more.
On the way home, you stop on the causeway, dig out a pair of binoculars. A little egret moves through the water, hunting. You watch its delicate footwork, the quick stabbing motion of its beak. You’re glad of the chance to observe this bird. But uneasy too. You know the egret is new to these parts; his presence a reminder of climate change you’d rather not think about.
You put the car in gear and head off, thinking of the birds that make their home here throughout the year: the brent geese and the oystercatchers, the grey plovers and the redshanks. In winter, thirty thousand waders roost on the island, making it one of the most important wetlands in the country.
You’ve lived a long time without paying much attention to facts like these. It seems late to start now.
You think you might buy a long lens. Start taking some photos.
Bull Island (and its beach, Dollymount Strand) emerged following the building of the North Bull Wall in 1820-1825. It grew steadily in its first one hundred years and by 1900 had reached 4.5 kilometres in length. Since then, it has continued to grow slowly.
The North Bull Wall was built to prevent silting in Dublin Bay and together with the South Bull Wall (completed earlier in 1795) succeeded in deepening the entry to the River Liffey. The silt scoured from the river bed was deposited on the North Bull (sandbank) and an island began to emerge.
The island quickly became popular with Dubliners, especially with the opening of a horse tram service to Clontarf in 1873. Today, it’s popular with walkers and nature-lovers, swimmers and kite surfers.
The island is an internationally important bird habitat. Species include redshank, curlew, oystercatchers, brent geese, shelduck, little egrets, and reed buntings. In winter, the island is home to some 5000 ducks, 3000 geese and 30,000 waders.
Bull island was designated a Nature Reserve in 1988 and is listed by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. It is a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.