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THE WONDERS OF THE WEST

“The remote areas of the West of Ireland continue to yield exceptional discoveries with a significant impact in understanding the history of life and what was happening on Earth many millions of years ago.”

Tom MacSweeney reports from his regular THIS ISLAND NATION supplement in the Marine Times

That is a wonderful tribute to the western counties. It came from international scientists who examined and analysed the finding of a 435 million-years-old fossil starfish in the Maam Valley in County Galway.

The Maam Valley is in North Connemara between Leenane to the west and Cor na Mona to the east. The Maamturk mountains are to the south/west and Bunacuneen is its northern boundary. Maam derives from a Gaelic word meaning mountain pass. It nestles on the edge of the Maamturk Mountains which are also known as the ‘pass of the wild boar’ and it is regarded as being in Joyce Country. The fossil was found by Dr. Eamon Doyle, Geologist for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark and Clare County Council. On my THIS ISLAND NATION radio programme he described finding the fossil. It has been named ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ in his honour for finding it, a new species of an ophiuroid starfish, commonly known as a ‘brittle star’. ‘Brittle stars’ first evolved around 500 million years ago and have survived relatively unchanged to the present day, although the ocean that was home to ‘Crepidosoma doyleii’ disappeared 400 million years ago due to plate tectonic movements of the Earth’s crust.

Dr. Eamon Doyle discussing rock find with visiting group in Clare

Dr. Doyle found it while examining a rock structure substance and described how he did so. You can hear him on the January 22 edition of the programme here

Prof. David Harper of Durham University, co-author of the study which examined the find said: “The remote areas of the West of Ireland continue to yield some exceptional fossils with a significant impact on understanding of the history of life. These unique specimens of fossil starfish from the Silurian rocks of Connemara are a key piece of evidence in the hunt for past life in the ocean that covered Ireland, some 435 million years ago. We owe a great deal to the painstaking efforts of Dr Eamon Doyle who combed these distant mountains for fossils during his Ph.D studies at University College Galway.”
Dr. Doyle told us about the Geopark and I commented that Clare County Council’s commitment to geology and the natural environment deserves praise, as does Dr. Doyle for his dedicated work which, with this discovery, highlights the need to protect our geological heritage.

The starfish fossil will be housed in the National Museum’s Natural History section in Dublin.