Inishfearglin, Puffin Island, & Puffin Rock
In our last issue, we examined the distinctive, colorful birds of the planet’s northern oceans: puffins.
These avians spend half the year on the open ocean and the other half nesting on often spectacular cliffsides.
One of the joys of parenthood in the 21st century is becoming familiar with children’s shows to which one would normally not have access. One such show for the family at The Mountains Are Calling Headquarters is an Irish cartoon called Puffin Rock. This animated series was the partial inspiration for the investigation of puffins.
Released in 2015, the show aired on RTÉjr, a free-to-air children’s television channel in Ireland. Narrated by actor and comedian Chris O’Dowd, it follows the lives of a family of puffins, particularly youngsters Oona and Baba, as they navigate the difficulties and joys of living in the wild. The setting is an island fittingly named Puffin Rock. There, they encounter other critters, relish being young, and sidestep potential pitfalls.
It’s a lovely concept, which exposes children to nature and problem-solving. Listening to the Irish accent is a nice side benefit.
Until researching puffins for the previous article, I figured Puffin Rock was simply one of many ideas a children’s writer had for a program. In reality, Puffin Rock is based on something tangible!
Off the southwestern coast of Ireland sits Inishfearglin, the traditional name of an isle that today is named Puffin Island. Puffin Rock is Puffin Island!
And, as I’m sure you guessed, Inishfearglin is home to its namesake birds.
Oileán na gCánóg – Irish for Puffin Island – is relatively tiny, stretching just under a mile in length (1.5 kilometers) by a bit under half a mile in width (0.7 kilometers). Despite this size, the spit manages to rise almost 700 feet above sea level (213 meters). This height produces some wonderful cliffs, which we know puffins and other seabirds love for nesting. The island is just over 800 feet from mainland Ireland, separated by Puffin Sound, which allows humans to catch a glimpse of the intense avian activity that happens there.
In addition to puffins, Manx shearwaters and European storm petrels also roost on Inishfearglin. Because of its importance to these winged beings, BirdWatch Ireland, a conservancy group, bought the island in the early 1980s and made it a nature reserve.
Puffin Sound is a portion of St. Finian’s Bay, which nestles against the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. This section of Ireland is chock full of natural splendor. The Ring of Kerry is world-famous for its seacoast-meets-mountain views. Nearby is Ireland’s High Point, a beautiful crag called Carrauntoohil. Further off the coast are the Skelligs, a duo of islands that might look familiar to Star Wars fans, since scenes from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were filmed there.
If you’ve followed the project for any length of time, you’ve gleaned we’re big fans of nature as inspiration for art. Puffin Rock’s namesake location is a wonderful muse for a children’s program. The carton is beautifully drawn with a wide palette.
They even did a decent job at recreating Puffin Rock, as the island rises toward one end and displays a U-shaped corridor.
Inishfearglin isn’t the only Puffin Island on the planet. Another rests off the coast of Wales, while two Canadian islands sit off Newfoundland and Labrador. There’s even one for the Pacific species in Alaska. But, to date, only one Puffin Island houses an animated bird family.
Though just two seasons and 26 episodes were produced between 2015 and 2016, a film emerged in 2023, called Puffin Rock and the New Friends. Twenty-six episodes are currently enough for my daughter to watch on repeat, but, one day, she’ll realize she’s seen them all a few dozen times and hope for more. This new film gives some hope that Oona and Baba might continue to delight youngsters in the future!