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Ballinskellig Bay

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Overview





Ballinskelligs Bay lies on Ireland's southwest coast on the extremity of the Iveragh peninsula close north of Scariff and Deenish Islands. It is a large southwest facing bay that provides an anchorage, principally, to the north of an island situated off of its northern entrance point. It has a pier and a small village and there are alternate anchoring positions around the bay in different conditions.

Ballinskelligs Bay lies on Ireland's southwest coast on the extremity of the Iveragh peninsula close north of Scariff and Deenish Islands. It is a large southwest facing bay that provides an anchorage, principally, to the north of an island situated off of its northern entrance point. It has a pier and a small village and there are alternate anchoring positions around the bay in different conditions.

Although the bay is open to the southwest, and thereby exposed to a heavy sea from the prevailing quarter, a tolerable anchorage can be found just north of Horse Island and it is especially good in predominantly west to northwest conditions. Navigation is straightforward as, apart from some immediate off-lying rocks fringing both entrances, a central path up to the anchorage at Horse Island has no obstructions.



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Keyfacts for Ballinskellig Bay
Facilities
None listed


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
4 metres (13.12 feet).

Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
March 14th 2022

Summary

A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
None listed


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed



Position and approaches
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Haven position

51° 48.730' N, 010° 15.870' W

The anchorage to the north of Horse Island.

What is the initial fix?

The following Ballinskellig Bay Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
51° 48.000' N, 010° 15.000' W
In the centre to north side of the entrance into Ballinskellig Bay.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location.

  • Keep clear of the Pig's Rocks off of Hog's Head.

  • Closer in note of Horse Island's eastward drying reef head called Bullig

  • Do not pass between Horse Island and the mainland.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Ballinskellig Bay for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Darrynane Harbour - 5.3 nautical miles SE
  2. Portmagee - 5.9 nautical miles NW
  3. Knightstown - 6.9 nautical miles N
  4. West Cove - 8.2 nautical miles ESE
  5. Cahersiveen - 8.3 nautical miles N
  6. Cooncrome Harbour (Cuas Crom) - 9.3 nautical miles N
  7. Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) - 10.4 nautical miles WSW
  8. Garnish Bay - 12.9 nautical miles SSE
  9. Ballycrovane Harbour - 13 nautical miles ESE
  10. Dursey Sound - 13.2 nautical miles SSE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Darrynane Harbour - 5.3 miles SE
  2. Portmagee - 5.9 miles NW
  3. Knightstown - 6.9 miles N
  4. West Cove - 8.2 miles ESE
  5. Cahersiveen - 8.3 miles N
  6. Cooncrome Harbour (Cuas Crom) - 9.3 miles N
  7. Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) - 10.4 miles WSW
  8. Garnish Bay - 12.9 miles SSE
  9. Ballycrovane Harbour - 13 miles ESE
  10. Dursey Sound - 13.2 miles SSE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
Ballinskelligs Pier within the north entrance point of Ballinskelligs Bay
Image: Michael Harpur


Ballinskelligs bay is a large horseshoe-shaped bay located in the southwest end of the Iveragh peninsula. Rural and remote, it has a pier set on the southern end of the large beach that sweeps around the bay's north shore that is protected by Horse Island. The small village of Ballinskelligs lines the road a short distance up from the pier which is used by small fishing boats and is an embarkation point for the Skellig Islands.


Horse Island, rear, providing protection to Ballinskelligs Pier
Image: Michael Harpur


Leisure craft may find a temporary anchorage in settled weather off the pier and to the north of Horse Island. It is particularly good here in conditions from west around through north. It is remarkably free of swell in moderate south-westerly conditions but keep an eye on the weather forecast should it show any signs of building.

The pier's adjacent slipway
Image: Michael Harpur


Be prepared to lift the anchor upon any indication that the winds might strengthen westerly and back to the south. The bay is quite open to the southwest and exposed to a very heavy sea with the wind from that quarter. This makes the anchorage highly uncomfortable and very difficult to sail out. An alternatively sheltered passage anchorage may be found north of the bay's southern entrance point.


How to get in?
Horse Island, Hog's Head (behind) with Deenish and Scariff islands offshore
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use Ireland’s coastal overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location for seaward approaches. Ballinskelligs Bay is entered 4 miles north of Scariff Island. Its entrance lies between Hog's Head, with it's off-lying Pig's Rocks, and Horse Island with its eastward drying reef head Bullig that dries to 0.5 metres. Between these, the northwest opening is 2¼ miles wide with deep water all the way.


Ballinskelligs Bay as seen from the east
Image: Michael Harpur


The islands and Hog Head, 162 metres high makes for a prominent sea mark. Pig Rocks, extending out a ¼ of a mile northwest of its extremity are always visible.


The Pig Rocks extending off Hog's Head
Image: Tourism Ireland


Inside the bay expands to 4 miles in width and 3 deep, with moderate depths. The northeast side of the bay is rocky with Blue Boy, awash at low water, lying at the outer end of a reef extending a little over a ½ mile from the shore. On the northwest shore, Bay Rock, is also worth making note of. It has 1.2 metres of water over it and lies ¾ of a mile northeastward from the northeast point of Horse Island and about the same distance east from the castle ruin on the promontory north of the pier.

Initial fix location Ballinskelligs Bay will be clearly visible as the initial fix is approached. From the initial fix head northwards towards Horse Island steering to pass its northwest corner. When passing the island keep at least 250 metres off the eastern side to avoid the off-lying Bullig Rock (awash) that lies close east of the island.
Please note

Do not be tempted to enter between the island and the mainland as it is connected by a drying bar.



Round Horse Island when clear of the extending northeastern finger and come into the protected north side where the local boats and moorings will be seen. Be careful not to stray further to the north as a 400-metre drying ledge called Reenduff extends from the western shore. It is situated approximately 800 metres north of Horse Island.


Local boat moored north of Horse Island
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Come in as close to the north side of the island as draught permits. A little to the south of the local lobster boat’s permanent moorings, if possible, is an ideal place to drop anchor. There is a lot of kelp in the area but the water is very clear and there will be no problem identifying a clear sandy spot where the holding is good.

Ballinskelligs Pier
Image: Michael Harpur



Land at the slip adjacent to Ballinskelligs pier. In very good conditions and when it in no way impedes the island ferry or fishing vessels, it may be possible to come alongside the pier.

Ballinskelligs slip adjacent to the pier
Image: Michael Harpur



The inner part of Ballinskelligs Bay as seen from the southeast
Image: Robert Linsdell via CC BY 2.0


Alternatively, and in very settled conditions, a day anchorage can be found in 4 metres and above with sand holding off Waterville 3¼ miles east by northeast across the bay. Make a note to avoid Bay Rock whilst traversing between these anchorages and the Blue Boy cluster of rocks.


The anchorage behind the low neck of Hog's Head Peninsula
Image: Michael Harpur


In southerly winds, there is a sheltered anchorage in deeper water around the southeast entrance to the bay on the north side of the low neck of Hog's Head Peninsula. Keep well clear of the two visible Pigs extending northwest of Hog’s Head Island and a reef that lies 200 metres west of the Pigs.
Please note

Anchoring in the centre of the bay is prohibited owing to the existence of submerged telegraph cables.




Why visit here?
Ballinskelligs, in Irish 'Baile na Sceilge' meaning 'homestead of the rocks', takes its name from the two prominent Skellig rock islands that lie close offshore.


Skellig Michael and Little Skellig off shore
Image: Tourism Ireland


These are Skellig Michael and Little Skellig, with the former, also known as 'Sceilg Mhichíl', being the home of an ancient monastic colony. In reality Skellig Michael, today the UNESCO World Heritage Property and archetypal 'remote island hermitage', was sustained by the extensive lands that belonged to the colony around Ballinskelligs Bay. So in reality Skellig Michael was not a peripheral island monastery, but an outpost of Ballinskelligs and other mainland church territories, situated on the important west coast seaways. And eventually the community of 'Sceilg Mhichíl' would move back to Ballinskelligs and construct a new Augustinian Abbey, dedicated to St Michael as was Skellig Michael, on the mainland here.


Skellig Michael monastic site
Image: Tourism Ireland


This happened in the early 13th-Century after a general climatic deterioration that resulted in colder weather and increased storms forced the monks to retreat to Ballinskelligs. But the increasingly inhospitable change of the environment was not the only factor. There were also numerous attacks by Vikings and a shift in the Irish church from a monastic to a diocesan structure that signalled the end of Irish eremitic island colonies. The move was most likely not a single event either, but a transition likely to have happened over a period of time. After the monks settled into the new priory 'Sceilg Mhichíl' would have continued to be used as a dependency of the shore-based priory and the island monastery would have been occupied by some monks during the summer months.


Skellig Michael monastic site
Image: Tourism Ireland


For centuries after this, the Augustinians maintained the structures on the island and actively promoted and managed pilgrimages to it as a penance. Legend has it that whilst on the island the Christian pilgrims would edge out onto a ledge to kiss a precariously positioned stone cross that has since toppled into the ocean.


Ruins of Ballinskelligs Abbey
Image: Kmcnamee via CC BY-SA 4.0


Today ruins of the priory is the first to be seen on the foreshore when walking from the pier towards the village. The abbey was largely rebuilt in the 15th-century comprising a number of buildings, mostly upstanding masonry, unroofed; surrounded by a historical graveyard, constitute the priory, among them a rectangular church are from this period. The church and other buildings were arranged around a central cloister, which had covered walkways for working and praying. Parts of the cloister and a large domestic hall still survive. The mass concrete sea wall constructed around its southern side was built in the early 1900s to protect the site from erosion. But the chancel to the abbey had already been lost by this point.


Ballinskelligs Abbey
Image: Phil Champion via CC BY 2.0


The next ruin on a narrow promontory at the western end of the beach are those of a McCarthy castle. Ballinskelligs Castle, more commonly known as McCarthy Mór Castle, is in fact one of the many 16th-Century tower houses that were built by local chieftains around the Cork and Kerry coasts. Much like the others, its purpose was to lay claim to the area, provided a defence location against incursions and a base from which to charge a tariff on incoming trade ships and fishing boats. The tower has a rectangular plan and was, most likely, never more than 2 storeys high. Excavations on the south side indicate that the site was used as a fish curing centre, a Palace, in the post-Medieval period, from approximately 1600 to about 1750.


Ballinskelligs Castle, more commonly known as McCarthy Mór Castle
Image: Kmcnamee via CC BY-SA 4.0


Today the small but sprawling village of Ballinskelligs is part of the 'Uíbh Ráthach', an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht enclave that draws hosts of teenagers to Irish college in the summer. It retains its unique historic connection to the monks that lived on Skellig Michael by providing boat trips to the island from May to September.


Skellig Michael tourist boat
Image: Tourism Ireland


Boats leave around 10 am and return at 3 pm, weather permitting (there are no sailings on two days out of seven, on average) and provide around two hours on Skellig Michael. This is the bare minimum to visit the monastery, take in the birdlife and have a picnic. The crossing takes about 35 minutes to 1 hour and it is a good option to take an organised boat trip from here as no reliable anchorage is available off the island so a reliable crew member would have to stay with the boat at all times.


The anchorage to the southwest of Waterville
Image: Michael Harpur


The anchorage is another location to enjoy the magnificent Skellig Ring between Waterville and Valentia Island. The area boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland with its wild rugged coastline, scattered islands, vast mountains and miles of golden beaches and turquoise water. Ballinskelligs is at the heart of this with its immediate landscape of predominantly low-lying farmland set behind a lovely, curving, sheltered beach with views of Waterville and the mountains to the west and east across the bay.


The view out over the entrance from Waterville's beach
Image: Robert Linsdell via CC BY SA 2.0


From a boating point of view a perfect location in settled condition west round to the north. But beware of a change in the winds; west through the southwest.


What facilities are available?
There are no facilities around Horse Island except for a pier at Ballinskelligs to land a dingy. There is a small store, newsagents and post office in the village and O'Leary's bar. Near the crossroads is the beach café which sells teas and snacks, and another further along.

The more substantial Waterville, across the bay, can better cater for provisioning. This is a long run in exposed water by dinghy so it is best approached by road or in settled conditions where you may temporarily anchor off as mentioned above. It also offers a bus service.


Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred in Ballinskelligs Bay.


With thanks to:
Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford.







A photo montage of Ballinskelligs Bay



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