Kilkieran Bay (Annaghvaan Island) is where most of the diving club’s current members took their first little fin-strokes. The Novice Trip, our annual spring training trip, has been held here for close on ten years, and we just keep coming back. We also dive here on our annual New Year’s Trip, and we’ve also occasionally been down when it isn’t freezing cold. Why Kilkieran Bay? It’s so sheltered we can dive in most weathers, has really good diving for both novices and experienced divers, and is perfect for bringing a big crowd of divers. It has a very nice pub too.
The diving here ranges from very shallow for early training dives to around 50m with good drop-offs. In the sheltered channel at the back of Annaghvaan, we’ve been able to dive in most weather conditions. However, tidal currents can be quite strong both here and at Coral Beach.
Any past diving or training officer will know the place inside out.
The fishing pier, Annavaghan Island. Please note this pier is a working slip, so give way to local boats and park your cars so you don’t block access. Also, please be nice to the fishermen here as we depend on their goodwill. Remember to ask permission before mooring boats near the pier. It is usually given but it is courteous to ask.
At very low water, you can’t bring the boats up to the pier, and you may have a lot of mud to wade through. When going in and out of the harbour, there are submerged rocks to avoid, so having boat handlers familiar with the area is a must.
Coral Beach, Carraroe
This is the first dive site that many novices will experience. It’s a little distance from the cottages and the main sites we dive, on the east side of a north-south channel leading directly to sea. To get there from the cottages, cross back to the mainland and head towards Galway, then take the turn marked Carraroe (An Ceathrach Rua) and go through the village and on to Coral Strand.
Coral Beach is a good area to bring novice divers as it’s shallow (about three to ten metres) and gently sloping, is sheltered from westerlies, has clear water, and is easily dived from shore without boats. However, don’t swim too far out into the channel on an outgoing tide as there are strong North/South currents mid-tide. The bottom consists of sand, shale and coral. You’ll see small reefs and kelp beds with a variety of fish, crabs, lobsters etc. Keep your eyes open for congers too. Way back in 2001, a pod of dolphins appeared and raced up and down the channel amongst us. Maybe they’ll come back next time we visit …
Yellow rock is the closest dive site to the Annaghvaan pier. A large concrete obelisk marks the rock, which is quite extensive and very close to the surface in parts. The water depth near the obelisk is about three metres at high tide, dropping to six quite quickly. Heading south towards the pier, the bottom drops slowly to between twelve and fifteen metres, then more rapidly to around twenty five. More east of the obelisk, a boulder slope drops more quickly to around 30m. The area abounds with dead men’s fingers, crabs, wrasse, some kelp, anemones of all descriptions. There is even the odd lobster, including a massive old fellow who lives in about twenty metres.
Novice rock (boat from Annaghvaan Pier) is a shallow site that is great for carrying out training dives. To get there, go from the pier towards Yellow Rock, then turn left and head west through the narrows and past another obelisk into the channel between Lettermore and Inishtravin. The rock is on the north side, 300m or so from the narrows. Water depth is about six metres at the rock on a high tide, and drops slowly away to fifteen at the edge of the channel (see below). The bottom consists of a fine silty sand with rocky outcrops sticking up creating little oases of life. The area can often be quite kelpy – look out for dogfish egg pouches. This is a great dive for pottering around and seeing lots of marine life that would usually escape your notice; rays, flatfish and scallops can be seen here. It’s also good for novice diver assessments as it’s reasonably sheltered from the tide, and the bottom is nice and flat.
On the south side of the channel from Novice Rock is Bird Rock. Close in to the rock the seabed is shallow, sloping gently away northwards down a silty scallop bed with reefs poking out. In around 20m depth, you reach steeper walls marking the deeper part of the channel between the islands. Anemones, sponges, sea-squirts and hydroids cover the rocks here, and a good torch will show up a relative riot of colour! Crabs and lobsters are often seen, as are pollack and wrasse. You may also come across thornback rays sleeping on the bottom.
A good torch is a must for this dive in order to bring out the colours that make this one of the best dives in the bay. Currents can be strong in the channel, so delayed SMBs are essential.
The Channel (between Lettermore and Inishtravin)
The channel has some of the best diving in the area. It runs east-west, starting a little east of the shallows at the west end of Inishtravin. A kilometre further east, the channel passes through the narrows at the east end of the island, then continues towards Yellow Rock a further 500m or so east. We mostly dive the western section, running up to the narrows.
The west end is the deepest part. The seabed slopes gently at first, then drops fairly sheerly from 20m to over 45m at the deepest point, so diving here is only suitable for experienced divers. When diving the west end, we mostly dive the north side where the drop-offs are steepest. Don’t try to swim across from one side to the other here – you won’t get there!
Further east (closer to the pier), the channel becomes shallower and narrower. The bottom here consists of an exposed bed of cobblestones. As the channel narrows, the bottom becomes more scoured, turning to a rocky road where in good visibility it is possible to see from one side to the other. Depth is around 20 – 25m here. Diving on either side of the channel here, you’ll find lots of life inhabiting the rocks.
At the bottom, there is not much life to see. You’ll find large spider crabs and occasional fish down deep, but it’s as you make your way up the sides that you will find all the exciting stuff! When the tide picks up, you are swept past walls covered in encrusting marine life: sponges, jewel anemones, sea-squirts and dead man’s fingers. In the cracks, you’ll see velvet swimming crabs, prawns, squat lobsters, gobies and blennies hiding away. Plenty of wrasse live in the channel, and you’ll see pollock hovering, and congers tucked in holes in the rocks. The fish tend not to be very active till the water warms though. With so much to see in the mid to shallow depths, you can spend much of your dive here and carry out any deco stops you need.
Delayed SMBs are a must for diving the channel, as you can carried a good distance by strong currents. On deeper dives, a good torch is essential as there can be very little light. If diving on an ebbing tide, be very careful not to surface too far east, as the tide begins to race in the sudden shallows, and dive boats can be swept along and grounded on the rocks.
You need the usual boat safety equipment: O2, 1st Aid Kit, flares, VHF, GPS. Also make note of the following:
- Galway (04) / Clifden (26) Coastguard
- VHF Channels 04, 26, 16, 67, DSC 70
- Emergency services
- 112 (or 999) on land
- Recompression chamber
- Galway, 091 524222
- Dublin (private)
- Weather Dial 1550 123 855 (or 853 for Ulster)
- RTE Radio1 (88-89fm) at 0602, 1253, 1655, 2355
- VHF 0103, 0403, 0703, 1003, 1303, 1603, 1903, 2203
- Warnings on VHF (channel 16) 0033, 0633, 1233, 1833
Also, be aware of the following. Find out whether the tide is flooding or ebbing and plan your dive accordingly. Bird rock is hard work when the tide is flooding. Don’t carry too much lead if you are planning diving any of the drop offs. If the tide is running through the channel, eddies can form at the sides that can send you off in the opposite direction to the tide. The boat coxswain needs to keep a very close eye out for their divers because they might not pop up where expected!
There are no dive centres nearby. Bring your own compressors!
Every time we come to this spot, we rent a group of self-catering cottages on Annaghvaan Island. The 3-bed cottages sleep 6, have an open fireplace, electric heating, a washing machine and tumble dryer, fridge, microwave & cooker. Some have electric showers. There is a communal games room which we turn into a dining hall for the Novice Trip.
There are two shops close by that sell coal, firewood and food. They’ll have most things you’ll need for a small trip, but for big trips we tend to bring our own food. The shops take debit & credit cards, though it’s handy to bring cash.
There are two pubs close by that we mostly frequent. We mostly go to the Hooker, which is around 500m from the cottages on the road back to Galway, just at the bend leading to the causeway. The second pub is located in the golf club, which you reach by going straight on past the turn-off for the pier. This has a long room with a turf fire, and is the location for the annual boat race.
Maps, Charts and More Info
You can get more information about the area from the following sources:
- Admiralty charts 1820, 1924 and 2420
- Discovery Series maps 44 and 45
- Underwater Ireland book
Take the N4 from Dublin (join it by going West along the quays, then past Heuston Station, or going round the M50 – depending on where you’re starting out). Carry on as the N4 becomes the M4. Turn onto the M6 at junction 11 (60km from Dublin, just outside Kinnegad), and go on to Galway.
Stay on the N6 to go around Galway, initially following signs for Clifden and Salthill. At the Kirwan roundabout, go left into Terryland, past a big Dunnes, then right at the next (‘Bodkin’) roundabout (R338). Go straight on until you pass a small roundabout on a hill, then take the next right (R337).
Carry on west on the coast road (R336) through Spiddal. About 14km after Spiddal, the road bends sharply right – watch out! Keep on until you reach Costelloe (Casla), where you’ll see a Texaco garage on the right. Take the first right after this (R374), signposted ‘Leitir Mor’.
Stay on this road for 4km and you will reach a shop and a pub on the right hand side. Carry on across a causeway and pass the Hooker pub on the bend. About 500m down the road, you will see the cottages on the right hand side. Turn right and then immediately left into the cottages.
Or click here for driving directions from Trinity.
Directions to Pier
To get to the pier that we use throughout the Novice Trip (and any other time we are here), turn left when leaving the cottages. Follow this road until you come to another left. Take it and keep going straight. The road turns sharply to the left, the pier is here on the right, basically when you see water.