Liam Hannigan

2019-2020 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Rowse crayon portrait of Thoreau. Photographer: Herbert Gleason (1855-1937)

Liam Hannigan, 14
Honorable Mention, 14-16 Age Group
County Donegal, Ireland

“Here we see a rare plastic bag, seen in its natural habitat,” I say, mimicking the legendary voice of David Attenborough. “The sandy beaches of Rathmullan are the perfect breeding grounds for this ghost-like creature.” I get a giggle out of my sister as we walk along, our home village of five hundred inhabitants sitting idyllically behind us . “Birds like to feast on this helpless breed, but they must be warned of its dangers when digested.” This joke falls flat. We see a gull sprawled lifeless on the sand in front of us and I reflect on the many birds and sea creatures that die each year because of ingesting plastic. Manifold whales have washed up on the shores of Donegal (my home county in the extreme northwest of Ireland) in recent years with plastic ruled as the main cause of death. The one million seabirds and one million sea mammals that perish every year become more than just figures when the destruction is seen first-hand.

Thoreau’s fears in 1858 are certainly pertinent in today’s world and align with my own fears. He worried about the destruction of the trees that stood around him and that they would eventually be forgotten entirely. He feared that the only proof that these trees ever existed would be found in “old deeds”. I feel that we are at a similar point at this moment in time, with many sea species on the verge of extinction or endangerment. The time to act is now, and young people have stepped up. Youth have been at the forefront of beach cleanups around the world, working to protect and rejuvenate natural places.

My own village had fallen into a state of disrepair. The beach was littered with plastic and the water was unsafe to swim in and we were not recognised as a Blue Flag beach. I knew change was needed. To quote Thoreau, “it is not an era of repose”. This statement certainly rings true and embodies my own attitude and drive for change. We cannot sit back and let our world go past the point of no return. Thoreau too stated, “it is time we had done referring to our ancestors.” I looked at my village around me and how adults had let this place of natural beauty become so ugly.

I asked myself what was needed to make Rathmullan a natural place that would continue to thrive for generations. I knew that it was important to build a natural legacy that would be passed down to the next generation. I began working and started by leading youth plastic collections on my local beach, with the accumulated waste being sorted, cleaned and recycled accordingly. I followed on with my goal to build a natural legacy in my local community and began campaigning for much needed public toilets and changing facilities.

The community has certainly responded to make the seaside cleaner, with everyone playing their part in making Rathmullan more desirable for tourists and wildlife alike. There has been a resurgence in the bird population at the beach and we were awarded our first Blue Flag last summer. I want to continue the good work and organise further beach cleanups in the future. I hope to continue protecting this natural place that is so important to me and hope to honour the legacy of Thoreau in preserving the beauty of nature.