You know the old saying: If a story is too good to be true, well. . . .
Then again, the natural world could use a good-news story right about now, even if the facts sound, on the face of it anyway, to be more of the fake news variety than the genuine article.
Word earlier this week that a 300-metre stretch of beach miraculously reappeared on Easter weekend off the northwest coast of Ireland, after being washed away by a series of Atlantic storms in 1984 — 33 years ago, if you’re keeping count — has been greeted with joy and an almost giddy excitement by almost everyone who’s heard about it.
The idea that nature, given enough time and left to its own resources, can correct the past has considerable appeal to anyone concerned about the fate of the planet and the as yet unknown long-term effects of climate change.
Local tourism officials in the coastal town of Dooagh, on the island of Achill, have told visiting reporters hat their phones haven’t stopped ringing since word of the Brigadoon-like reappearance of a sandy beach that washed out to sea in the mid-1980s, back when Ronald Reagan was president, Amadeus won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Dallas and Dynasty were vying for the title of most-watched TV show in America.
Climate scientists and marine biologists who study the motions of the tides are apt to take a more conservative view. They’re inclined to base their opinions on empirical evidence and research models— science, in other words — not in the haste of the moment when emotions are running high and wishful thinking trumps reason every time. That’s the media’s job.
Even so, the idea that a sandy beach, washed away in the distant past, can one day reappear is a compelling story — in the same way that, deep down, most of us hope that Nessie the Loch Ness Monster is quite real, alive and well and living at the bottom of a deep, cold lake in the Scottish Highlands, much as he/she was when first brought to the world’s attention in 1933. Just ask the local tourism officials in Loch Ness.
Achill Island, home to Dooagh, has a relatively small population of 2,700, despite being the largest island off the coast of Ireland. Its sole secondary school — or high school, in American parlance — is on the mainland, which is connected by a bridge.
The local economy has fallen on hard times, like much of coastal Ireland and the UK, and is largely dependent on tourism.
And local tourism can only get a shot in the arm from a feel-good story that makes it into the international headlines. The overnight reappearance of a born-again beach “gives people hope,” as one Achill islander told the UK Guardian. “We live in a dark world these days, so I think that is why there has been so much interest in Dooagh beach since the story broke.”
Stories like this will always have their doubters, of course. Leave it to a grumpy Scotsman, then, to cast a pall over a silver cloud.
It seems a shame to cast doubt on such a tale of hope and joy, though. Travellers have made pilgrimages for centuries to the Catholic shrine of nearby Knock in County Mayo. So what harm is there in a side-trip to the beach?
The bigger story, about climate change, nature’s restorative powers and the ever-wavering line between faith and reason, will be ages in the telling.