Ireland is politically divided into Northern Ireland, which forms part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland which covers about five-sixths of the island. As the second-largest island of the British Isles, Ireland is separated from Britain by the Irish Sea, the North Channel and St George’s Channel. The best diving sites in the area tend to be on the west coast of the North Atlantic but there are numerous worthwhile diving locations elsewhere on the coast as well as inland lakes that are sure to impress.
Best Diving Destinations in Ireland
Regardless of where you choose to dive in Ireland you’re likely to experience good visibility and an abundance of interesting marine life including some of the larger and more rare mammals such as humpback whales, dolphins, basking sharks and sea lions.
Situated in the north east of the island, Northern Ireland has two predominant dive locations that are regularly visited by keen divers in the area. Rathlin Island offers a number of ship wreck dives as well as a few exciting wall dive experiences. Strangford Lough is a big inlet that also features a number of wreck dives, some that are particularly well-suited for beginner divers due to their location in shallower waters. Sites in this area have reported an impressive count of over 2000 marine and plant species including various soft corals and forests of kelp. The large rocks and boulders that are prominent at many Irish dive sites are often decorated in sponges, sea squirts and deadman’s fingers.
The dive sites located on the opposite side of Ireland are both challenging and thrilling as a result of extreme and unpredictable weather. The underwater landscape in the areas surrounding Donegal are as varied as Ireland itself and include sites with deep and rocky gullies, sandy drift dives, kelp forests and caves. Above the water’s surface, jagged cliffs are often used as nesting spots for a variety of birds such as cormorants and puffins. For those not intimidated by the weather, you are sure to be rewarded with magnificent marine life when diving in the north west of Ireland.
Great diving is possible all along the magnificent west coast of Ireland and as such a trip along this jagged coastline is well worth a try. With limestone rocks, sunken lighthouses, sheer cliffs and of course various wrecks to visit, this side of the island is probably the most popular for scuba diving. Although some dive sites can only be reached via boat, you’ll be spoilt for choice with location types such as reef dives, wall dives, wreck dives, drift dives and even the possibility of night dives. In terms of marine life, everything from sun fish to sharks to seals and beds of scallops can be seen. In the many cracks and crevices you can find lobsters, crabs and crayfish and large conger eels. Particular areas with large concentrations of popular dive sites include South Connemara, Galway and Clare.
Valentia Island, Co. Kerry is a popular location for diving as is Co.Cork. The underwater terrain here is as varied as it is above water and includes rocky cliffs, gullies, drops offs, ledges and caves. At Stag Rocks near Baltimore lies the biggest wreck on earth based on number of tonnes: the Kowloon Bridge was a cargo ship carrying iron ore from Canada to the River Clyde. All 169 000 tonnes of this massive ship sank in 1986 after crashing into the Kedges.
East Coast – Dublin Bay
Easily accessible but still just as challenging as any other dive in Ireland, wreck diving enthusiasts are spoilt for choice on the east coast. The HMS Vanguard, Sir Charles Napier and RMS Tayleur are just three of the many wrecks that can be explored here and with relatively shallow waters and numerous bays, this area is certainly worth a visit.
Getting to Ireland
As is the case with most United Kingdom locations, both internal and international travel is hassle-free with a number of low-cost carriers to choose from. Major airports are located in Belfast (Northern Ireland), Dublin (Republic of Ireland) and Shannon (Republic of Ireland). For divers, it is recommended that you hire a car upon arrival as many of the diving locations are rather difficult to get to otherwise.
Many locations that are near popular dive sites feature independent dive companies that can assist with dive planning and transportation to the sites. In fact, over 80 dive shops are present across the island of Ireland, so arranging a dive should not be cause for concern.
When to Visit Ireland
Although it is likely to rain no matter when you visit Ireland, the most popular months for divers to visit are between May and October. In the height of the Irish summer the outside temperature is only likely to reach 25°C, but water temperatures during summer are a more comfortable 15°C when compared to the rather frosty 5°C average in winter and spring.
It is important to be kitted out correctly for the climate both above and below the water’s surface. Warm and waterproof are key concerns when exploring the Irish landscape whereas many divers choose to invest in a dry suit to stay warm and comfortable when exploring the underwater depths.
Where to Stay in Ireland
With great dive sites scattered all over and major airports making internal travel easy to do, it is actually possible to stay anywhere in Ireland. With the Gulf Stream contributing nutrients to the vast waters around the island, there is no shortage of marine life in any location. If renting a car, it would be best to select one particular region, such as an area on the west coast and plan your stay accordingly.
Thanks to a number of easily accessible and shallow wreck sites, even inexperienced divers can enjoy the thrill of exploring history underwater. However, some wrecks which are over a century old may need divers to acquire a particular licence before it is possible to dive them.