Allihies is at the western tip of the Beara Peninsula, in Cork. The main attractions here are fabulous clear water and some very dramatic scenery – offshore you have the Cow and the Bull Rocks, and nearer to harbour you have Dursey Island. There are any number of nice scenic dives in the area and plenty of marine life to see – people were actually heard to voice complaints of there being too many crawfish in the way of the scenery.
Laura Nolan took trips here in August 2008 and 2009. Paul Tierney has also dived the area.
We launched and moored at Garinish Pier. Garinish is about 10-15 minutes drive from Allihies Village. The slip had recently been rebuilt and is good. We were able to launch and retrieve even close to low tide on some quite large springs. However, the bottom of the slip is somewhat slippery, if retrieving using a non 4×4 vehicle it may be best to throw some sand on it for traction. The slip also makes a dogleg which is covered at high tide – it’s not possible to retrieve a couple of hours either side of HW.
There were spare moorings in the harbour that the locals kindly let us use overnight, but it’s definitely best to ask. If nobody’s around knock on the door of some of the houses close by.
There are some houses near Garinish Pier and the residents may complain if you compress at the top of the pier at unsociable times. There is a flat part of the slip halfway down which has a wall that’s ideal to muffle the noise of the compressor, but this is submerged at high water. There is a small layby a few minutes up the road where compressing can be done. In the evenings we also pulled in at the bottle banks on the right hand side of the road just outside Allihies to compress.
There is a local hardboat for charter called the Silver Dawn: 086 8162899.
There are any number of potential nice scenic dives on the coast near the harbour, on Dursey Island, and offshore. Consult the charts.
The Bull is a large offshore rock, approximately 15km from Garinish Pier – it’ll take a while to get out there but it’s absolutely worth it. Above the water the rock is shaped like a pyramid with a large archway that goes all the way through the island – we had no problem driving the boats through it and the depth was at least 10m all the way through. There’s a small lighthouse built on the steep slope of the rock, with a helipad jutting out.
There’s several possible dives at the Bull. PT has done Bull Rock which is a little way directly west of the island and is apparently lovely, but it was a bit rough for the west side on the day we were out.
The dive we did was at the south-east corner of the island. There’s a cavern with a very scenic gully leading into it at a depth of about 20m up to 15m – lots of life in it, including scorpionfish, congers, crawfish. Outside the gully to the south, there’s a slope down to 35m, and you’d get quite a bit more depth further from the island.
Slack information for the Bull and Cow proved difficult to come by. Our best guess was HW Galway plus or minus four hours – this seemed to be fairly accurate, although we didn’t get absolute slack on the 2008 trip as we were on large springs. Slack information came from: this report. It was possible to dive in the lee of the rocks and experience very little current, so this wasn’t a problem.
The Cow is another large rock quite similar to the Bull although a little closer to the mainland. Again there was absolutely stunning scenery – the island looks somewhat like a cow with a sea-stack for its tail. Again there is a natural tunnel all the way through the island that you can drive a boat through.
We dove here, entering on the east side of the island in approx 30m and working our way up to about 12m in the tunnel. There were very sheer walls with lots of anemones and other life clinging to them, very colourful and clearly a very high-energy environment. We had perfect shelter until we got up to 12m, at which point we got caught in the current coming through from the other side of the island, bagged up and drifted back out along the wall. A really excellent dive.
The North side of the island is even better, sheer walls to 30m and bouldery slopes going down even deeper. Good life too.
Slack information is the same as for the Bull, see above.
The Calf is the third offshore rock, not far from the southwest end of Dursey Island. Unlike the Cow and the Bull we didn’t dive it. It has a reputation for very unpredictable and strong currents, and diving isn’t recommended.
Dursey Sound is a narrow strait between Dursey Island and the mainland. It’s approximately 15 minutes by boat from the slip. We dived here midtide and did a fast drift – it was absolutely ripping, the boat clocked us doing 3.5 knots and I had to hold my buddy’s BCD strap to avoid being pulled away from her. A short, but exciting dive. We don’t have good slack information for the Sound (possibly Galway HW +/- 4 hours, like the Bull and the Calf, but we didn’t try this). If people do want to try diving here at slack I would recommend taking a look at the northwest part of the sound, just around the narrowest part – there are some very interesting looking shelves of rock that are absolutely carpeted in soft corals and probably teeming with life.
For anyone who doesn’t relish the thought of a fast drift through the sound there are plenty of coves where divers can shelter from the tide.
Cullough Rock is just out of the harbour and turn left – it’s a nice sloping bouldery site down to depths of 50m if you go out far enough – also plenty of nice things to see between 20 and 30m. There’s lots of interesting little natural underwater gullies and amphitheatres to explore. This site does not seem to be very tidal (in common with the north side of the mainland and Dursey Island in general).
Bolus Point is a headland on the north side of Dursey Island. The site is a pleasant slope down to a good depth, we got over 30m and could have gotten more. Not a bad dive site but not as memorable as some of the others.
We didn’t do this dive but there are some rocks to the west of the harbour near the old slip that apparently make a decent night dive or fallback if conditions are too rough outside.
In 2009 we were unable to get out of Garinish one day due to westerlies. We launched at Castletownbere slip, about 20km from Allihies, and dived around the island. Castletownbere slip is usable any time, but the car ferry uses it so you need to time launching and retrieving around it (similar to Strangford).
Sites we dived were near the point at the west side of the island, just outside the sound, and on a headland at the southwest corner. Niamh McGreen had a pleasant dive in some gullies at the southwest corner, but everyone else found the scenery unremarkable and the site somewhat lifeless.
Dive Centres and Facilities
Cluin Diving in Allihies has a compressor which we could use in case of emergency. Contact number is 087 7420443. Run by Richie. However he will be reluctant to fill more than half a dozen cylinders.
There’s also a dive shop in Castletownbere: Beara Diving & Watersports, The Square, Castletownbere, Co.Cork. Telephone: (00353) 27 71682 (from May-Sep) or (00353) 876-993793.
Castletownbere has a decent chandlery on the square near the harbour which may prove useful.
On Laura’s trip we stayed in the Allihies Hostel, which can be contacted at +353 27 73107.
The hostel was clean, the kitchen was fine, and there were enough showers etc. Parking was fairly tight thereabouts as it was a bank holiday weekend. It’s right in the village and it doesn’t have substantial grounds, so you can’t compress there. We may be in bad odor there after causing some late night noise in 2009.
The Coppermine Villas are also close by if you want to book houses – we booked too close to the Bank Holiday weekend to get these, they go early. Strand View Holiday Homes 087 908233 are another possibility.
There is a campsite 15 minutes walk from the village, at Ballydonegan Strand – 027 73002.
In 2009 some people stayed in a B+B called the Sea Haven, landlady is Eileen Irwin, and the number is 027 73225. It is a good 20 min walk from the village.
The Sea view B&B is self catering, located in the village, and by all accounts does an amazing breakfast. Phone 027 73004.
There is a hostel on Dursey Island which would be a fun place to stay, unfortunately it was not open in 2009 due to closure of the cable car.
Accommodation wise it may be easier to get a full week here, which does not include the bank holiday, this should be considered for future trips. Especially in conjunction with a hardboat charter, which would allow access to Valentia and the south of the Beara there would be more than enough to do here for a week.
Allihies isn’t huge but it has a small petrol station, a food store with an ATM and a couple of pubs that serve food.
You can get more information about the area from the following sources:
- The Kenmare River chart, number 2495
- Dive Ireland: Bantry
The best route we have found is via Cork, through the tunnel, around the south ring onto the N22, then onto the R585 at Crookstown, to Ballylickey. Then take the N71 north up to the turnoff for the Beara.
When you arrive at the peninsula itself it is better to take the road to the south of the peninsula via Castletownbere than the slightly more direct road at the North – it is a much better road. Definitely do not attempt the north road with boats or trailers! To get to Allihies, drive through Castletownbere, when you get to a crossroad with two roads leading to Allihies keep left, as the right road goes over a mountain pass and will take longer even though it is geographically shorter.