Achill island has classic west coast scenery with dramatic cliffs and beautiful beaches. It is a popular spot for many watersports not just diving. If you are unfortunate enough to be blown out there is always surfing, with plenty of climbing and walking in the area too. The nearby island Inishgaloon has plenty of diving here ocean divers while sports divers can dive Achill Head and the Bills rocks, often described as Ireland’s best dive site. It’s a good drive though so we tend to take trips here for the long bank holiday weekends.
Orla Keane took a SD trip here in May 2010 while Aleisha Clarke took an ocean diver trip here for the August bank holiday in 2006. Previously Ciara Lynch did a couple of trips here.
Taking boats to Achill can be a little complicated. The last two occasions we’ve been, we’ve gone out of Purteen harbour. Inisgaloon is about two minutes from here so it’s very convenient. Also you leave from here to get to The Bills or Achill Head. On the minus side, the slip is ropey. You either need a 4X4 to launch and retrieve boats or else a system using a rope and two cars (as there isn’t enough room for one car plus rope to bring the boat out). Also the harbour dries out at low water, so you need to be careful about mooring the boat as you’re liable to beach it. It’s sandy in some places but at other spots the bottom is gravel and not too hull-friendly.
There’s another slip near Dereens, where you can launch into Achill Sound. As you leave Achill Sound (the town) and start going towards Achill take a left and Dereens is around ten minutes down the road. You’ll pass the RNLI lifeboat slip on your left (and probably see the lifeboat) about a minute before you reach the slip. It’s quite steep so you wouldn’t want to leave the boat sitting there for too long (unless you really trust your car and boat brakes). Also the drive around to Purteen harbour is twenty-five minutes in a flat sea and anything up to an hour in bigger seas. Check the forecast or you won’t be able to take the boat out of the water! Watch the approach to Achill Sound (at the south). The channel can get quite narrow, stay well in the centre and follow the (port) lateral marks. Don’t take the short cut north of Achill beg, there are rocks everywhere; i.e. you should pass the lighthouse to the south.
In May 2010 we went out with Joseph Carey of the Achill Dive Centre (details below) who has a RIB that can take up to 12 divers. Joseph goes out of Purteen harbour and is a great skipper. We also got air fills at the Achill Dive Centre.
The sites around here are not particularly tidal, which is great!
Inishgalloon / Inishgallon
Inishgalloon has a maximum depth of around twenty metres right the way around. The diving is all suitable for ocean divers, except the cave perhaps, and its proximity to the harbour means you can get out to some side of it in most weathers.
Gullies, north western corner
There are a series of gullies extending underwater from the north-western face of the island. You can get twenty-five metres out to sea with the bottom around twenty metres close in to the rock. In August 2006 the water was crystal clear. There all also many rocky outcrops standing off the bottom covered in dead man’s fingers. There are plenty of lobsters, congers, squat lobsters hiding in the holes between rocks. Lots of fish life too. It can be a very nice dive though the most interesting stuff seemed to be below fifteen metres. It was too kelpy above that.
Wall, east side
South of the north-eastern tip of the island, there’s a sandy bottom at around fifteen or twenty metres with a wall closer in to the island. Plenty of life to see, including the sand-lovers: dogfish. This dive is very sheltered.
Cave, east – west – northwest
If there is little swell, there is a nice little cave dive through the island. There are three passages and exits as shown by the dotted blue lines on the diagram. They are fairly straight forward to navigate. Just be sure to agree your exit point with the boat cox and again, avoid the dive if there’s a swell coming in. There is loads of life inside the cave but definitely bring a torch, it’s gets quite dark inside.
Impressions from Inishgallon and Achill Head on the May Bank Holliday 2010
We had 2 beautifull dives along the north side off the island as well as one off the south side. Mainly gullies with loads of life at depth between 15 and 25 meters (congers, pollack, gobis, blenies, loads of annemonies and the odd lobsters and scorpion fish). Rock formation can be quite dramatic in some places (archways over sandy bottoms).
One more dive along Achill head, just where the cliffs turn in towards Keem beach. Very relaxing wall dive with loads of boulders at around 30 meters. In lesser depth and closer towards the beach itself the dive get a bit more seaweedy but still has loads of life to see (quite a lot of dogfish sleping in the kelp).
The Bills Rock stand forty metres out of the sea, roughly eight miles from Purteen Harbour. They are one of the most famous dive sites around Ireland, famed for their spectacular underwater drop offs, crystal clear water and abundant sea life. Sarah Bothwell saw a Bluefin tuna when diving here. Most recently, (I think) we dived on the north western side of the rocks. We got cliffs, straight down to thirty five metres followed by a boulder field that continued on down to fifty. The water was exceptionally clear with the surface visible from thirty five. The cliffs formed great big gullies and the impressive walls were covered in anenomes. A few of us dropped down past a large shoal of fish while Will Fyans and Justine found two large crayfish at forty six metres. This will always be a superb dive and you’re lucky to get out to dive it!
Achill Head is a nice sports diver dive. The rock just off it has some lovely drop-offs, beautiful cliffs and gullies descending to maybe forty metres with nice clear water though not a huge amount of life. Very pretty scenery though another longish drive in the boat.
Other dive sites in the area include Saddle head, Deace’s Rock and Clare Island as well. All of these are fairly close by.
You need the usual boat safety equipment: O2, 1st Aid Kit, flares, VHF, GPS. Also make note of the following:
- Belmullet Coastguard
- VHF Channels 16, 67, 83, DSC 70
- RNLI Lifeboat station
- Achill Island
- Emergency services
- 112 (or 999) on land
- Recompression chamber
Dive centreJoseph Carey,
Achill Dive Centre,
Telephone +353 (0)87 2349884
We stayed in the Railway hostel in Achill Sound:Railway Hostel
Phone 098 45187
If you are going from Purteen harbour then somewhere in Keel might be closer and more convenient but the hostel was only a fifteen or twenty minute drive from the pier. We were able to compress just down the lane and there was room for the boat and trailer. There were cooking facilities and plenty of showers. Cost was around thirteen euro a night (as of 2006). Bedsheets were provided.
In May 2010 we stayed in a very large self-catering house in Dookinella. The house is only a 5 minute drive from Purteen harbour, can sleep up to 14 people with all bed linen etc provided. The Cross Roads Pub is only a short walk away.
Dookinella, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.
Contact: Catherine Lavelle
Tel: 096 70134
Mobile: 086 8788785
There weren’t many ATM machines in the area so it’s probably best to bring enough cash for the weekend. The shop in Keel did give cash back however. Apparently there are mobile banks, though we didn’t see or use them. There were a couple of supermarkets, one in Achill Sound and one in Keel. There was a petrol station just outside Keel.
We got food and drinks in Ostan Oileain Acla, opposite the hostel. The pub grub was nice, though fairly pricey and there was plenty of space for a big group. A nice place to go for coffee or lunch is the Beehive craft shop in Keel; delicious apple crumble!
A bunch of us went surfing on Keel beach. If there’s too big a swell to go diving, I’d highly recommend it. We got lessons and rented boards and suits all down on the beach.
May Bank holiday 2010 entertainment addon
After the dives we stopped in the Annex Inn on our way to the cottage (which was situated on the eastern end of Keel Beach). Very good place for a quiet Pint or more. They advertised life music for most evenings, but we never ended up there but stayed in the cottage (or walked to the Crossroads Pub).
You can get more information about the area from the following sources:
From Aston Quay take the N4 signposted The West. This will bring you on to the M4 and it’s motorway all the way past Mullingar. Continue into Longford. At Longford go through the town, turn right onto N5 (signposted Westport). At lights turn left onto Richmond St – N5 (signposted Westport). Travel along N5 through Strokestown (take 1st exit off roundabout in the town), then through Bellanagare, Frenchpark, and into Ballaghadereen. In Ballaghadereen bear left onto Main St. and turn right onto Market St (signposted Ballina, watch out for this as it’s easy to miss!). Straight on through Charlestown and into Castlebar(N5). At the roundabout take the 3rd exit onto R373 (sighposted town centre). At traffic lights turn left onto Market St (signposted town centre). Continue forward (one-way) onto Market St (signposted Other Routes). Follow signs for Achill R311. Enter Newport, at crossroads turn right onto Main St N59, branch left onto R319, signposted Achill.
To get to the hostel we stayed in, go through Mulrany and Tonragee. After Tonragee there is a football field on the left, then there is a garda station and a pub on the left. The hostel is opposite the pub on the right. If you cross the bridge and see Supervalu you have gone too far.
A nice place to stop for food is Keenans, just by the bridge in Termonbarry. Termonbarry is about ten or fifteen minutes after Longford .