KILFENORA, IRELAND – Day two of our field course in western Ireland took us back to the limestone outcrops along the south side of Galway Bay. Dr. Best took the group to a set of amazing bedding plane exposures that preserve snapshots of communities of organisms that once lived on the Carboniferous sea floors of this region. Here, students gridded off the outcrop and carefully produced a series of amazingly detailed maps of fossil locations that helped us recreate the paleoecology of this ancient reef system. We were able to literally see how colonies of corals, groups of brachiopods, bryozoans, and sponges were arranged across the seafloor! We ended day two examining deep marine, black shale deposits exposed in the sea cliffs at Fisherstreet Bay. The mouth of Fisherstreet Bay is clogged with an amazing storm beach of imbricated cobbles and boulders that had been stacked well outside normal tidal range by powerful Atlantic storms. The fact that you can easily hear these boulders being smashed together in the swash zone with force of each incoming “normal” wave made seeing these rocks so high on the beach face very impressive.
On day three, we traveled to Loop Head in the farthest southwest corner of County Clare to visit exposures of the Ross Sandstone. On the way to Loop Head, we made a quick grocery stop in the beautiful beach town of Kilkee, which apparently has a bit of a revolutionary streak and is apparently the birthplace of a former Governor of Montana. We spent the rest of the day examining more exposures of the Ross Sandstone along the southern and northern sides of Ross Bay. These outcrops preserve amazing “mega flute casts”, a massive (2 x 3 km) submarine slide deposit, and the first sets of fault-related folds that we’ve encountered in Ireland (yay!).