From descriptions of the stunning natural beauty of this rugged coastline with its lush green topping, to tales of notoriously warm hospitality and long, merry evenings in modest traditional pubs, mention any of the many small harbours or anchorages and you will trigger a story every time.
The South West coast of the Emerald Isle is a special and unique place, a bright jewel in Ireland’s glittering crown.
To pick a handful of locations from hundreds of possibilities in this region does little justice to a territory that can provide such fascinating and entertaining cruising season after season. And therein lies the clue to its popularity, SW Ireland is for life, not just for one season.
So, here’s our introduction to a destination that, once discovered, will draw you back again and again.
Given that most visitors will approach this area from the East there are two schools of thought as to how to plan your cruise. Some advocate starting from Kinsale and working your way west in a number of stops. To do this certainly provides a good opportunity to rest after the delivery. Kinsale is a bustling and vibrant town and provides plenty of facilities to stock up in preparation for the trip west where provisioning becomes more of a task.
Others prefer to extend their initial delivery passage to Ireland by heading as far west as they can first, before then taking a series of more leisurely day hops back to Kinsale.
Either approach is good and in reality, the choice will most likely depend on the weather that lies ahead for the period of the cruise.
When it comes to good food and drink you could spend your entire trip here. A wonderful town with so many great restaurants and pubs along with a lively atmosphere. Interestingly, once you head west the evening dining opportunities diminish while those of drinking, singing and dancing increase, so it’s good to make the best of Kinsale.
There are so many places to eat but our current favourites include:
Alternatively for a completely authentic dinner, simply buy your seafood from the local fishermen in the harbour and enjoy a night in aboard. Aside from the wide variety of evening entertainment, a round of golf on Old Head delivers some spectacular scenery that includes a lighthouse on the course.
With steep sided imposing cliffs on either side, the entrance to this harbour looks more like a giant natural gateway, its gateposts topped on one side with a lighthouse, the other a giant white obelisk. Once inside there is less navigable water than at first appears thanks to some awkward rocks in inappropriate positions. Nevertheless, this is Ireland's equivalent to Poole Harbour and extremely sheltered. Ashore, this village offers a number of bars and restaurants including The Lookout in the Waterfront Hotel.
Tucked away to the north at the top of Bantry Bay is Glengarriff. A spectacular natural harbour the village is often busy with tourists in the summer yet this is still a wonderful place to drop anchor. If you don’t have time to go all the way up the Bay, Bear Island, Lawrence Cove Marina and Castletownbere are good stopping points that offer a variety of facilities should you need them.
Lying to the north and running parallel to Bantry Bay there are many small harbours and spectacular anchorages on both sides of this river. Among the most popular is Sneem harbour on the north shore. A trip to the town of Sneem, (if you’re heading by water which is certainly the most picturesque way), will require a decent size tender with an outboard as it is two miles with rocks and tide to negotiate. But the scenery makes is completely worth the effort. And when you’re there, lunch in the Blue Bull is a familiar stop for many. While not perhaps strictly in keeping with the cruising theme, a run ashore to the luxury Parknasilla Resort and Spa will at least give you a taste of why this has become such a famous and renowned venue while offering a great restaurant for dinner.
This snug natural harbour tucked away behind Lamb Island may have a narrow, almost intimidating approach between a number of clearly visible rocks that are so close you feel you could touch them, but once inside this is a spectacular, must-visit destination. From the moment you’ve settle down at anchor or on one of the visitors moorings and have had time to take in the view, it is easy to see why this is considered to be such a special place. Sandy beaches one way, a 1000ft hillside backdrop on the other, you don't always need a quayside pub to make you smile. Mind you, once you enter Keating's Bar just a few hundred metres in from the shore that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Entering this pub is like stepping into someone's front room and so small that it would clearly need to be a very quiet night indeed to allow the dart board on the wall to be used. Simple and small though it is, this cosy pub oozes charm with local pictures demonstrating that this is a hostelry that has served more than just drinks to an entire community.
"From mystical mountains, Atlantic rollers and tucked away hidden anchorages Ireland has so much to offer you in your Oyster. Lynn and I have circumnavigated the island of Ireland twice on our Oyster 56 ‘Spellbound’ and we experienced the most wonderful times onboard. We will always remember the ‘shindig’ we threw onboard Spellbound one summer evening whilst tucked up at anchor on the stunning island of Inishboffin in Co. Mayo on the west coast. A couple of barrels of Guinness were delivered onboard for our guests and when the local musicians came out with their flutes, violins & bodhran’s (Irish Drum) and struck up some ‘diddly eye’ the party really began! So if you’re thinking of adventuring to Ireland we would say go for it! You will be most welcome in this magical wonderland!"
Paul & Lynn Armson, Spellbound Oyster 56-42
With so many harbours and anchorages between Kinsale on the south and Dingle to the extreme west there is no need to cover big distances to enjoy the SW Ireland experience. Even if you were to go no further than Crookhaven along the south coast there is easily a week’s worth of cruising here alone.
These cruise guides are intended as food for thought only based on the experiences of those who have been there and do not form a definitive guide. The locations should always be studied using the appropriate pilots and charts.
1. South & West Coasts of Ireland
2. Sailing Directions
Published by: Irish Cruising Club
3. Cruising Cork & Kerry – Graham Swanson
Published by: Imray