The Slieve League cliffs are amongst the highest sea cliffs in Europe, almost 600 metres high and pretty spectacular. There is diving right the way along them, much suitable for ocean divers, with caves for beginners, as well as a few forty metre drop-offs for more experienced divers. The water is usually very clear and there’s lots of life about.
While it’s a long drive, the beautiful area and nearby non-tidal sites make for a great trip.
For the purposes of this guide, sites from Rathlin O’Birne island, Malinbeg, and just outside Teelin harbour are also included. These are all suitable for ocean divers. There is so much diving around the area, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Slieve League is turning into an annual event at this point. Muriel Gallagher took the most recent trip in July 2009, Trevor Woods organised a trip in 2008, Mark O’Callaghan did a trip here a couple of years ago and Padraig O’Flynn (Podge) did the first two trips in a while in 2005 & 2006. UCD do a trip up to Malinbeg every year for the May bank holiday.
Bringing boats can be slightly tricky for this area. The best place to launch the boats from is Teelin harbour, though there is also a slip directly across the bay. You can then drive the boat around to the cliffs and further along the coast. If the weather is fine it’s possible to moor the boats in Malinbeg harbour which is handy if you’re staying over that side of Slieve League and also if you’re diving Rathlin O’Birne island. Generally though, you have to launch at Teelin at the beginning of the trip and then moor them depending on weather and accommodation.
The area is not very tidal and we dived at random stages of the tide.
This cave is marked on the chart. Its GPS coordinates are roughly 54° 38.7’N 8°43’W , and these should be sufficient to find it: you can drive a boat into it, the ceiling being around ten to fifteen metres high at the entrace. It is easy to navigate and find as it extends north-south: north brings you into the cave and south back out.The entrance to the cave is around fifteen metres deep. It gets progressively shallower as you go further in. The back of the cave is only four metres deep and it takes around 15 minutes to reach it. It is possible to surface at all points of the dive though it gets darker and darker the further you go in. A torch is definitely recommended towards the back. Inside, there are large boulders strewn everywhere. Lobster, shrimp and blennies hide out in between these and there are a lot of starfish. Compared to the outside though, there is relatively little life. The cave itself makes for an eerie, atmospheric dive but most people preferred the diving outside.
When you leave the cave the bright clear water is pretty spectacular. Dogfish lie around sunning themselves and there is tonnes of fishlife including the usual culprits wrasse and pollack. Most people went right upon exiting the cave and found gullies and about twenty metres in depth. Plenty of lobsters out here too. While it’s quite kelpy, the rock formations and lovely clear water more than compensate and it’s a very nice dive.
This is a great little shore dive with lots of life that is particularly suitable for a night dive too. There is a right turn off the road through Malinbeg (downhill towards the ruined tower) about thirty metres past the hostel. There is plenty of parking about a minute down the road. There is a nice easy entry from the pier, though the steps down to it are pretty tiring. The bay is quite sheltered and protected from most weathers bar a fresh southerly breeze or swell from the south. There is a sea stack at the entrace to the south west which is usually the focal point for the dive. The bay runs north-south making it pretty easy to navigate. A possible dive might run as follows. Drop in off the pier into a few metres of water. Follow the wall along the western side of the bay until it turns. At this point head south until you reach the stack. Head around the stack (around ten metres deep) and then return to the pier on a northerly bearing. If you’ve time and air (it’s all fairly shallow), head out east for a bit until you reach the sand and then come in north. There are rays and loads of plaice and other flatfish in the sand. While this dive can be quite kelpy there is still lots to see. The stack itself has lovely overhangs with daisy-like anenomes on their underside and it has plenty of little nooks and crannies. There are congers around it too as well as lobster, shrimp and squat lobsters. There was plenty of fish life including bib, pollack and wrasse and the aforementioned flatfish in the sandy spots. A few tompot blennies live under the pier. At night, everything comes out to play. A street lamp over the pier helps you to find your way home. There was a small bit of phosphoresence.
Mark O’Callaghan did a number of sites on Rathlin O’Birne island. See the Underwater Ireland book for further details.
The cliff on the right hand side as you approach the steps to the lighthouse was the first dive we did. A very nice dive, some good life, getting shallower as you approach the island. There was more life in the shallows. Depth was down to about 20m so perfect for ODs.
The Trenches, Underwater Island book, site 8
Another great dive, south of the island. Drop in on one side, the other side being ten metres away. There’s a sheer drop-off from five to thirty metres. Schools of fish, saw few scorpion fish and loads of these sun like things that suck in when to touch them. Huge ones. You swam into trench and the two sides meet so that you could swim in one side and out the other. Then come up to about 6m, do a safety stop holding on the kelp if you wanted and put up your SMB. We did this dive twice. Very good site but weather dependent.
Underwater Island book, Site 13
In afternoon as we were driving out about 10-15 dolphins came over beside boat and swam all around it. At front, at sides and jumping across in front of us. Very playful. Was deadly.
We dived on the far side of the island as you drive out from the harbour. It was more sheltered from the wind that day. I think this was the best dive. Loads of swim-throughs and everything was so over-awing, huge boulders to swim around and under. Massive craps and plenty of other life. Depth-wise: anything from 12 to about 40. We then saw two sunfish on surface when we were back in the boat.
Just outside Teelin Pier we dived the Teelin side of Mucross in June 2009. Shoal there that comes up to 6m but most of our divers dropped in at 20m approx 150m from headland and swam down for a little bit more depth (30m max). Spectacular site with great visibility and lots and lots of fish life in amongst really interesting rock formations. Crays and lobsters were spotted and lots of nudibranchs. Really great site and reasonably weather protected.
Glen Head – Tor Mor
In July 2009 we dived some sites further around the headland from Rathlin O’Birne, guided by Richard Timony in MV Smoothound. The coastline in this area consists of spectacular cliffs the whole way – plenty of exploring to be done here with the hardboat. The dive sites were caves and gullies with great vis, depth 15-25 m.
Latitude 54°37’8.33″N, Longitude 8°40’39.01″W
Use the tower on top of the headland and the incredibly beautiful clean slab of rock (known as Sail Rock to rockclimbers) to the right as visual references.
Drop in at the left most cave marked in red. There is a gully running down from 5m to 20m and beyond lie boulders and drop offs down to 40m and beyond. Lots of life in the shallows and very interesting rock architecture at depth.
The bottoms of the two caves to the right are weedy affairs unfortunately.
Less than 10mins from Teelin pier.
You need the usual boat safety equipment: O2, 1st Aid Kit, flares, VHF, GPS. Also make note of the following:
- Glen Head Coastguard
- VHF Channels 24, 16, 67, DSC 70
- Emergency services
- 112 (or 999) on land
- Recompression chamber
- Galway, 091 524222
- 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
You can get fills from the Glencolumbcille Activity Centre, see the accommodation section. Paddy Birne also runs the Nuala Star from Teelin if you’d rather not bring boats. Richard Timony is another skipper who goes out from Teelin in the M/V Smoothound, and knows the area very well.
We have stayed in a number of places around this area.
In July 2005 we stayed in a hostel close to the little harbour opposite Teelin. Podge would have more details. The following year Podge based the trip out of the Malinbeg hostel. Mark O’Callaghan stayed in another place again, the Glencolumcille Activity Centre. The Malinbeg hostel was comfortable. Mark spoke very highly of the latter:
The accommodation we stayed in was superb. It was hotel standard accommodation with all ensuite rooms. They were twin, double and triple (family) rooms. A very nice brand new kitchen for self catering. At the moment he could cater for about 18 I think but he seems to be expanding. The guy had a brand new electric compressor that filled 3 bottles at a time. It took about 20mins and he filled all our bottles for us. Which was great. He only charged us 20EUR a night including fills which was amazing price. Might not get it again but who knows. It is his first year so he is trying to get a customer base. The accommodation website iswww.arasgcc.com and his name is Paul.
The guy couldn’t do enough for us and everyone was really impressed. Filled bottles when ever we wanted and got us weather reports and stuff of net. Location wise it just in front of Glencolmcille hotel. As you come out of Carrick take the same left as for Malinbeg and just before you come to end of that road it is a large yellow building on right kinda back from road. If you were to come to the end of that road you are on you have gone too far. Turn back and it is about 30m up on the left.
In July 2009, a group of us stayed in a holiday cottage in Carrick, just up the road from Teelin. Conveniently, this house sleeps 10 people, which is the same as the number of spaces on the hardboats mentioned above.
Malinbeg has a small shop and Glencolumncille, fifteen minutes away has a shop with an off-licence but you’re best bet is to be self-sufficient for the weekend: bring enough food, drink and cash.
Carrick has a small supermarket, a restaurant and a couple of pubs.
There is no pub in Malinbeg but we watched the match in the hotel on the road into Glencolumncille. The hotel is a 100m walk from Mark’s accommodation. It also serves food.
If you like your scenery and you can’t go diving you couldn’t be in a nicer area. The Silver Strand beach in Malinbeg is very pretty and a bunch of us went for a good long swim after building superior dams further along the beach. Go visit them, they will stand the tests of time. There is a lovely walk beyond Glencolumncille up to Columcille’s well. Follow the road on the far side of the bay until it ends somewhere up the hill. A track leads all the way up to a look out tower and there are incredible views all the way. Teelin is a really nice, well kept little village if you fancy a drive. If you walk up the grassy slope beside the pier in Teelin, you’ll find the gable end of a building teetering on the edge of a cliff. Slightly surreal, but a great view through the empty window frame. Finally Slieve League and the cliffs themselves are well worth a look. There is a turn-off on the road to Teelin which brings you up to a viewing point. The mountain itself is a spectacular though somewhat gruelling walk.
You can get more information about the area from the following sources:
- Underwater Ireland book
- Dive Ireland guide
First, head for Donegal. Take the N4 or N3. People have been known to go up the M1 and then cut across as well. From Donegal head on to Killybegs via Dunkineely, like you’re going to St John’s Point. Then take the R263 through Kilcar and Carrick.
If you’re going to Malinbeg, head on towards Glencolumbkille. Before you reach Glencolumbkille there is a turn off to the left signposted Malin Beg. The hostel is on the right as you enter the village, opposite the shop. The journey from Donegal town to Malin Beg takes approximately 1 hour.
There is a turn-off for Teelin in Carrick, the same road that leads to the Slieve League cliffs. Teelin pier lies at the end of this road.
If you’re taking the Sligo road up, Roosky is a nice place to stop.