June 2009 saw the first club diving trip to Ballinskelligs on the western tip of the Iveragh Peninsula. Regular trips have seen DUSAC venture as far south west as Valentia Island, however there are excellent sites close to Ballinskelligs which had not been explored by the club (bar perhaps a handful of the senior members).
David Forde organised the weekend and knows the area very well. Will Fyans, John Kenny, Ronan Cosgrove and Dee Brophy all coxed over the weekend so will have gained experience of the harbour and sites.
Ballinskelligs pier has a wide slip alongside it, with good room for turning/reversing. Retrieval 2hrs either side of low tide is not possible as the slip dries out.
While there is ample parking, use common sense and take fewer vehicles if possible. The local inshore rescue boathouse is directly opposite the slip so be sure to keep the area around the slip free of gear/cars/trailers once boats have been launched or retrieved.
There is plenty of room to tie the boats alongside the pier and there have been no reports of theft. As always, don’t tempt anyone by leaving your favourite torch etc onboard overnight. It’s best not to use the very bottom block as this is used by the larger working vessels during the day. There is no harbour master or local official that needs to be consulted before tying-up.
NB: The harbour is quite shallow so caution is required at low tide when navigating between the sound and the pier. As a rough rule for heading through the sound, follow the pier directly out until all but the western tip of ScariffIsland is blocked from view by Horse Island. Turn to starboard, keeping the western tip of Scariff just visible outside Horse Island. Keep close to the Horse Island side of the sound until you are almost through the narrowest part of the sound, then you can begin to turn west away from the island. There is a rock in the middle of the sound, submerged at all bar the lowest of low tides so this is the main reason for staying close to the island. This is also the deeper channel.
The boats can be retrieved at any time of the day from Ballinskelligs beach, access from the main car park which is less than a mile from the pier. The sand is usually quite hard and the gradient very shallow but only 4 wheel drive vehicles should be used (just in case!).
The boats can be retrieved at any time of the day from Ballinskelligs beach, access from the main car park which is less than a mile from the pier. The sand is usually quite hard and the gradient very shallow but only 4 wheel drive vehicles should be used (just in case!). There is also a slip in St. Finan’s Bay (3 miles away) which allows easy access to Puffin Island and Lemon Rock as well as being closer to the Skelligs. The slip is steep and I have seen 4 wheel drive vehicles struggle at times to get traction when there is growth on the concrete. Also, the road from any direction into St. Finians Bay involves numerous tight turns, narrow bends and steep stretches. Check it out for yourself before taking the boats up there from Ballinskelligs. If you cannot launch from Ballinskelligs because of the weather, forget trying anywhere else in the area and retire to the pub.
Ballinskelligs Bay itself is not of much interest from a diving perspective as it is quite shallow and sandy all the way around from Hogs Head (south eastern headland) to the sound between Horse Island and the Ballinskelligs pier. Indeed the shallow waters extend further south-east into Derrynane Harbour.
However, upon leaving Horse Island sound heading west, deeper water and more sheer drop-offs from the land is the norm. There are numerous sites all along the land back towards Bolus Head suitable for Sports Divers upwards. Bolus Head and Duchealla Head to the north of it (< ½ mile) provide deeper and more tidal waters, so caution should prevail when diving here outside of neap tides.
Approx. 7 miles south of the sound lie the islands of Scariff and Deenish, another target for the weekend as they remained unexplored by the club.
This coastline and all of the above sites are prone to southerly and westerly swells so if the forecast is poor, bite the bullet and cancel the trip. You will not find any decent sheltered sites in bad weather and it’s a long drive for no diving. Moderate conditions will allow access to the nearby sites inside Bolus Head but may dissuade from attempting the longer trips to the islands south and/or west to the Skelligs.
IMRAY Chart C56 covers the area. The nearest tidal diamond is too far away to be of any use. The Dive Ireland guide has quite a bit of information on the sites in the area, as well as a map. As always, speaks to the folks from the trip for the inside scoop!
“Under the Water”
This site proved to be the most popular of the weekend, approximately 3 miles west along the shore from Horse Island Sound. The site is easily recognisable as a waterfall spills from the mountain into the western corner of the cuas at all times of the year. On my first dive of the site we dropped into 15 metres and within 5 minutes had spotted 8 crayfish sitting proudly atop various rocks and ledges- the photographer in our trio was given every opportunity to bag some classic shots. The site dropped deeper from there to 35m with interesting nooks and crannies to keep everyone busy.
On the 2nd dive we dropped in east of the waterfall in the centre of the cuas. At first it was just the usual kelp and wrasse of the 10-15m range until we finned through a curtain of weed and over the edge of a lovely sheer wall which dropped to 35m. Following the wall south, we were treated to a hovering john dory, ling, crayfish and many more from the wish-list as well as anemones and life for the lovers of all things inanimate.
Small Skellig Rock, north-east corner
The rock is about 45min from Ballinskelligs by RIB which is approx. 10 miles. The most spectacular diving on these giant rocks is between 15m and 35m, but divers can choose their depth. There are sheer drop-offs, ledges etc. with visibility is often 30m plus….a photographers paradise. The rocks are a home to a colony of inquisitive seals, who often play with divers however we were not lucky enough to meet them on this occasion. While a spectacular site above the water, there was not so much wow factor below the surface with little fish life evident, much more encountered at the mainland sites. There was little current at the site for consecutive waves that morning.
East of Bolus Head
Just east of Bolus Head there is plentiful diving along the cliffs. Depths range from a nice shallow 20m to 50m deep off the head, with plenty of fish life. Out towards the head can be quite tidal so bag off early if you start to move and be careful on ascent to fin away from the land.
The north side of Duchealla Head was a very enjoyable dive with the option to fin east along the cliff or west out along the rock just off the head. Depths range from a nice shallow 20m to 45m, with lots of fish life and gulleys.
We decided to dive the north-west side of Scariff Island, just east of the rock formation named the Scariff Hedges on the chart. The visibility was >30m, with the island cliff dropping swiftly to 40m+. The site was similar to the north-east corner of the Small Skelligs in terms of topography however there appeared to be more fish life on this particular weekend.
You need the usual boat safety equipment: O2, 1st Aid Kit, flares, VHF, GPS. Also make note of the following:
- Valentia Coastguard: VHF channel 16 and working channel 24
- Emergency services: 112 (or 999 on land)
- Recompression chambers:
- Galway, 091 580580, ask for Dept.of Anaesthesia
- Dublin 1, The National Hyperbaric Centre (private) Tel: 01 8733044, Fax: 01 8733969, e-mail email@example.com Emergency Number: 087 9729366
- Nearest hospital
- Tralee general hospital, +353 (0)66 7126222 or 064 31076
- Lifeboat (RNLI): Valentia
The Ballinskelligs community have raised funds and formed a local Inshore Rescue organisation, which has been undergoing training/certification for 2 years. Once officially certified, the crew will be called upon by the Valentia Coastguard when necessary, so all emergency calls should be routed through Channel 16.
There is no village or focal point, rather the name Ballinskelligs refers to the region. Once the land base for the monks of Skellig Michael, the surrounding area has numerous pre-historic and early Christian ruins along its shores. Miles of golden, sandy beach and turquoise water attract holiday-makers with safe swimming and excellent opportunities for water sports. Horse riding, cycling and walking are also popular and each year the community hosts the annual Ballinskelligs Regatta.
The “Ballinskelligs Inn” bar/accommodation/restaurant is a short walk from the Trident Holiday Homes on the main road into the area, and has a patio overlooking the beach.
A few notes of general interest:
- No ATM in Ballinskelligs, nearest in Cahersiveen 10 miles away.
- Tennis courts on site (Trident Holiday Homes) so if you fancy a game some evening, bring rackets etc.
- Petrol station and grocery shop about 1 mile back the road out of Ballinskelligs, probably cheaper to fill up in Cahersiveen though. This local shop is open every day incl. bank holidays.
- No Aldi/Lidl/Tesco after Killorglan (Aldi here). Large SuperValue and EuroSpar in Cahersiveen will provide almost everything you may require.
- Should the diving be a non-runner:
- Blue flag beach so bring the togs.
- Kayaks, windsurfing gear available to rent at the beach.
- Excellent surfing nearby for those that want to bring a board in case the swell is huge!! (Boo-hoo…)
- Hill/cliff walking with fantastic views aplenty.
There are numerous holiday homes available in the area to rent, as well as a relatively new hostel of good reputation (http://www.skellighostel.com). The hostel gets booked well in advance of bank holiday weekends and other peak times so inquire well in advance. It has plenty of parking including room for the trailers, and is situated approximately 1.5 miles from the pier. The hostel is the cheapest option available but was booked for the June bank holiday weekend 2009. Given the quality of the rental accommodation in the area, this was not a significant issue.
We stayed in 2 rented houses in a small development, managed by Trident Holiday Homes (http://www.tridentholidayhomes.ie/Self-Catering/Ireland/Kerry/Ballinskelligs/Ballinskelligs-Holiday-Homes.aspx). The houses were finished to a very high standard and the consensus was that they were among the most comfortable to have been rented by the club in recent times. Prices vary with demand so don’t be afraid to look for a discount. The location was excellent, less than 1 mile from the pier/slip, with plenty of parking and space for the trailers. As the dwellings are well spaced, filling bottles at the back of the houses caused minimal noise pollution for neighbours.
The Gaeltacht village of Dungegan (you pass it 1km before the Trident Holiday Homes) or ‘Dun Geagan’ is home to an art gallery, church and pub (Tig Rosie). The art is the product of a project which restored thatched cottages in a deserted village Cill Rialaig. The cottages are used as an International Artists and Writers Retreat, and each artist leaves behind some of their work to help fund the upkeep etc. Admission is free and there is also a café open during the summer months.
Renard Point (1 mile beyond Cahersiveen, right turn off the road to Ballinskelligs) has a well established pub and restaurant serving locally-caught seafood. This is also the departure point for the ferry over to Valentia Island which can also be reached by land bridge from Portmagee.
- Leave the M50 at junction 9 to follow signs Limerick onto the N7
- 12km after passing through Birdhill on the outskirts of Limerick, take the 2nd exit at the roundabout onto Limerick By Pass – N7 (signposted Cork, Killarney)
- At roundabout take the 1st exit onto the N20 (signposted Cork, Tralee N21)
- Continue forward onto the N21 (signposted Tralee)
- Continue forward onto Limerick Road – N21 Entering Adare
- Continue on the N21 through Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale and into Castleisland.
- Continue forward onto the N23 to the village of Farranfore. Turn left at the junction after passing the airport, then take the next right 100m on at the crossroads onto the R561 (signposted Castlemaine).
- Follow the R561 through Fieries and Milltown into Killorglan. Cross the river Laune and go straight up the steep hill through the town, taking a left turn at a little roundabout signposted for Cahersiveen.
- About an hour to go from here… 40 miles of rallying left, take it easy as these roads are the worst bit of the journey. Good place to stop if you need some decent food, you’ll pass the Bianconi Restaurant and Bar in Killorglan having crossed the bridge before you climb the hill through the town. If you take a left after crossing the bridge, there’s a large open carpark 100m on the left, big enough for towers to park up easily and have a bite or a cuppa.
- Drive straight through Cahersiveen and 7 km later after a long straight piece of road, turn right onto the R566 (signposted Ballinskelligs).
- Follow the road for 10km, no more turns until you get to the houses. You will pass a shop/petrol station on your right, then 1.5km later The Ballinskelligs Inn on your left.
- The houses are just past the pub on the right, The Ballinskelligs Holiday Homes.
- Take the N6 to Limerick, and then follow the above directions from there.
- Take the N22 to Killarney.
- Follow the signposts in Killarney for Killorglan, taking the N72.
- From Killorglan, follow the above directions to Ballinskelligs.
51° 49′ 21.1548″ N, 10° 16′ 49.6452″ W