Perched on the northwest edge of the European Continental Shelf, Ireland is an island of contrasts. The Republic of Ireland takes up three-quarters of the island, whilst the six counties in the northeast of the Ireland are part of the UK. This is important for overseas travellers, who will need to consider visa implications for two jurisdictions. Cross-border travel is fairly relaxed these days, and the troubles in Northern Ireland are just a memory. There is great diving across the whole of the island, so don’t let this deter you from planning an all-Ireland diving trip.
Ireland boasts a cool temperate maritime climate. The “land of eternal spring”, means plenty of rainfall and no real extremes in temperature. Temperatures range from low teens to mid-twenties Celsius at the height of summer, to single digits and close to freezing daytime temperatures in winter. It rains almost every day in Ireland, but showers can last just minutes. Make sure you bring plenty of layers and some decent rainwear.
Water temperatures go from 5-6C January to March, to a balmy 15-16C July to September. Most occasional divers are happy with a semi-dry complete with a hood, boots and decent gloves, but for longer, more frequent, or of course deeper dive outings, you might be happier with a dry suit.
The best time to travel to Ireland for diving is May to October, when daylight is plentiful and the weather is likely to be at its most clement.
Just over 500km north to south and 300km east to west, Ireland is not a huge island; unless you are travelling from major city to major city, travel times aren’t long.
Ireland’s main diving will be found along the Atlantic west coast; however there are a plethora of good wreck dives accessible from Dublin and a good number of inlands lakes worthy of a visit. There is some excellent shore diving all along the west coast and beyond.
Most popular dive locations are:
The coasts of Co. Kerry and Co. Cork in the far south-west;
The coasts of Co. Clare, Co. Galway and Co. Mayo in the far west, including a few notable sites off the Aran Islands and Achill Island and the inland Lough Conn;
The coast of Donegal in the far northwest;
Wreck diving off the cost of Dublin on the east coast;
Strangford Lough, a large sea inlet on the northeast coast;
Some inland freshwater diving in various lakes and quarries across the country.
Marine life is plentiful no matter where you dive, and visibility can be spectacularly good.
Sea mammals such as seals, sea lions, and humpback whales can be encountered as well as dolphins, and even the odd basking shark. Larger wrasse and Pollock, as well as crayfish, crab, lobster, eel and ray abound, and even the plant life is plentiful. Some dive sites offer dense fern forests, whilst others have more coral than you might expect this far from the equator.
The Kowloon Bridge off Baltimore, Co. Kerry is the biggest diveable wreck in the world at 169,000 tonnes. Ireland’s only liveaboard outfit is based out of Kinsale, Co. Cork.
Shoals of mackerel and Pollock, with plenty of crustaceans peeking out from crevices, the west’s rugged coastline makes for excellent diving underwater too. Further south along the coast of Clare, spectacular wall dives, headlands and caverns offer fantastic dive opportunities, whilst further north, along Galway’s indented coast are endless bays and sheltered coves to explore, as well as countless islands and drift dives to experience.
Rugged cliffs and challenging environments, as well as some of the most inclement weather in the country, makes Donegal a dive destination for the strong-hearted. However, those brave enough to go will find plenty of wrecks to explore and amazing bird life on the surface, including puffins and cormorants.
East Coast – Dublin Bay
Known mostly for its wreck dives, the dive sites around Dublin are probably some of the most accessible for overseas visitors, some less than twenty minutes offshore. Depths range from 8 to over 25 meters. Despite the shipping traffic, marine life is plentiful including Pollock, crustaceans and sea anemones. There are a few good dive shops offering regular dive outings throughout the year, however some insist on a local orientation dive before heading to some of the more challenging spots.
Rathlin Island and Strangford Lough are Northern Ireland’s most popular dive sites. Rathlin offers some really good wall dives and a handful of decent wrecks. The more sheltered waters of Strangford Lough are home to abundant marine life and also a couple of wrecks to explore. Over 2,000 marine animal and plant species have been recorded in Strangford Lough alone, with porpoises, bottom-dwelling flat fish, all kinds of crustaceans and molluscs, extensive kelp forests, soft corals and sponges.
Main international airports are in Dublin on the east coast, Shannon on the west coast (both Republic of Ireland) and Belfast in the northeast (Northern Ireland). Frequent connections can also be made from London’s airports, with flights about an hour long between Dublin and London Heathrow. Ireland’s national carrier is Aer Lingus, and there are plenty of cheap flights from EasyJet and Ryanair from European locations.
It’s probably best to hire a car if you are planning a dive trip in Ireland, as most of the dive sites are in fairly remote locations, with the exception of the Dublin Bay dives.
Most of the island dive sites are accessible via dive shops on the mainland, with the possible exception of the Aran Islands where it’s best to dive from Inis Meáin, the middle island of the group.
There are hyperbaric chambers operational in Dublin, Haulbowline Co. Cork and Craigavon Co. Armagh. Another with limited operational hours is available in Galway, and there are a number of other private operators, which may or may not be accessible depending on your insurance situation. Best to check with your insurer before you travel.
The warm, nutrient-rich currents of the Gulf Stream mean no lack of amazing marine life in the waters around Ireland. Everything from dolphins, sharks and octopus to lobsters, hermit crabs and shrimp can be found, as well as plenty of sea fern forests, corals and sea anenomes. Lucky divers will encounter the famous Dublin Bay Prawn on dives along the east coast.
There is plenty to see and do for novices and experienced divers alike. Open water certification can be done in a number of secluded sea inlets around the country. Most dive locations are accessible only by boat, however local dive shops can advise the best places to look for shore dives and arrange some excellent drift dives. Some of the wreck dives off Dublin are for expert divers only, and any wrecks older than 100 years old will require a license.
Dive shops and resorts and tours
There are more than 80 independent dive shops across Ireland, with PADI affiliation being the most popular as well as good representation from SSI, BSAC and others.
The Irish Underwater Council’s website provides plenty of introductory information about diving and snorkeling the waters of Ireland, as well as a diary of dive events.
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