5 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with filmmakers of 'Farraigí na hÉireann' - Series Explores Beneath the Surface of Ireland’s Seas
26 Sep 2011 : By Mandy Hegarty
'Farraigí na hÉireann'
Ireland’s unexplored 220 million acre marine resource is about to be revealed in the first Irish Ocean Wildlife series of its kind ‘Farraigí na hÉireann (Seas of Ireland)’. ‘Farraigí na hÉireann (Seas of Ireland)’ is a new six-part Irish Ocean Wildlife series which began broadcasting on TG4 on Tuesday September 20th at 8pm. The unique series is the first of its kind in Ireland, with approximately 70% of it being filmed underwater. IFTN spoke to one of the creators behind the series Ken O’Sullivan, to find out more about the pioneering documentary.

Funded by the BAI and TG4, the Irish language documentary series (with English subtitles) is produced and directed by Katrina Costello and Ken O’Sullivan, with Gordon Bruic editing. The series journeys through the beautiful oceanic world encountering an enormous diversity of wild and colourful creatures; playful dolphins, giant basking sharks and exotic jellyfish. But the documentary doesn’t just focus on marine biology. “We tried to combine coastal heritage with wildlife,” says Ken. “We want to show how ancient coastal communities connected with wildlife. As filmmakers, our approach is that we try not to use science as the beginning and end of the story. We like to look at people’s connection with these natural worlds.”

While not using a presenter, the story is told through contributors. “We have passionate marine biologists and we have small fishermen, from places like the Aran Islands and Kerry, reflecting about their time at sea and how they relate to the sea, to try and convey the story. We have one 94 year old man in the Aran Islands talking about how they made the fields. It is an amazing story. Just like the John B. Keane ‘The Field’ story, they made the field in Inis Oírr with seaweed and sand. The story blew me away, I didn’t realise that this was prevalent along the West Coast. Hopefully, all these contributors bring a narrative to the unique underwater photography.”

Meanwhile, the Underwater cinematography uncovers all sorts of hidden gems and exposes a part of Ireland that has never before been broadcast. Trying to secure funding for the project took the guts of two years, with filming taking a further 12 months and post production taking approximately another seven months. “The BBC would typically spend a year per hour when shooting wildlife film. We have three hours worth of underwater footage which we did in a year. And underwater filming is massively difficult.” The underwater filming requires special housing for cameras which is hugely expensive. Deep-water filming was also captured by HD cameras on an unmanned submarine. The filming was extensive, taking place all over Ireland. “We filmed in every coastal county in Ireland bar Louth. We filmed a lot in Northern Ireland and on a lot of the islands – Rathlin Island, Inishboffin, the Aran Islands, the Skelligs, the Blasket Islands and lots of small islands off Clare. It was predominantly on the Atlantic Coast because that is where the most wildlife is and the best conditions are.”

Ken has worked as a freelance underwater cameraman for the past six-seven years, mostly working outside of Ireland. He explained that BBC Cameraman and Director John Brown, who has worked on several films for BB2’s ‘Natural World’ strand, as well as productions for Granada Wild, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and The Discovery Channel, came over to Ireland for a several weeks, to act “as a father figure” and guide the documentary series.

Ken picks out some of the highlights from the series saying “the underwater world is unique because it hasn’t been seen before. But dolphins are always special. You might not realise how many dolphins we have in the Irish water. We have 27,000 common dolphins and half the population of Bottlenose dolphins in Europe. Any time dolphins arrive, it’s awfully exciting. I mean you could just be having a dive and five or six of them arrive along and it’s just incredible.

"Basking Sharks are also spectacular. I swam with one that was ten metres long for the documentary. They look like Great White Sharks and are very impressive, about 30 foot long. And they have been here since before dinosaurs, they look prehistoric. But they are quite timid. It really struck me how easy they would have been to hunt and they were hunted extensively in the past.”

With the first episode airing last Tuesday September 20th, Ken says the reaction so far has been “incredible”. “After years of knocking on doors and trying to get it made, it’s finally out there. We’ve probably got some of the most beautiful, pristine underwater habitats in the world and it’s crazy to think that they’ve never been seen before on Irish TV and from an Irish production.”

‘Farraigí na hÉireann (Seas of Ireland)’ comes from independent Sea Fever Productions, Lahinch, Co Clare - the company behind the critically acclaimed surf documentary ‘Sea Fever’, which won ‘Best Cameraman’ Award at the Moscow Sports Film Festival in 2009. Sea Fever are currently in development with a British broadcaster on a Humpback Whale documentary. For more information on Sea Fever Productions, visit www.seafeverproductions.com

The second episode of ‘Farraigí na hÉireann’ will be broadcast on TG4 on Tuesday September 27th at 8pm, with a repeat on Sunday at 9pm.

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