In offshore or settled conditions, with the absence of scend, the harbour offers a tolerable berth. It should be avoided in even the most moderate of easterly conditions. Onshore winds create a heavy scend that wraps around the inner harbour. Access is straightforward night or day, at any stage of the tide.
Keyfacts for Donaghadee Harbour
SummaryA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position54° 38.707' N, 005° 31.860' W
The position of Donaghadee Lighthouse, a white tower Iso WR 4s 16m 18/14M, standing on the head of the south pier.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- From the south and east pass leave Mew and Copeland Islands well clear to starboard.
- From the north or Belfast Lough, with a favourable tide, pass between the south side of Copeland Island and the mainland coast in the well-marked fairway channel.
- Track in on a bearing of 234° T keeping Donaghadee Church between the pierheads of the entrance.
Not what you need?
How to get in?
Donaghadee Harbour is formed by a handsome cut stone South Pier that runs out northwestward from the rocky foreshore at the south side of the bay in front of the town. On its northern side is a single tidal basin that is sheltered to the northwest by an independent and isolated North Pier of similar construction.
Vessels approaching from the east should stay outside and south of the islands, leave Mew and Copeland Islands well clear to starboard, and then the run into the harbour will be unobstructed.
Vessels approaching from the north may pass outside the islands, as described above, or through Donaghadee Sound. Copeland Sound, however, is best avoided owing to the two challenging and unmarked rocky shoals called ‘Platters’ and ‘Ninaen Bushes’. ‘Ninaen Bushes’, situated out half a mile off from the northeast point of Copeland Island, is particularly dangerous with less than a metre of cover.
Donaghadee Sound is situated between the south side of Copeland Island and the mainland coast. The dangers of this route are the hazards that surround Copeland Island and attention needs to be paid to the Foreland Spit.
Vessels cutting into Donaghadee Sound around Copeland Island from the north will encounter the most dangerous unmarked rocks off Copeland Island, particularly Rid Rock off the west side of Chapel Bay. A drying area extends a quarter of a mile southward from Copeland Island’s south-westernmost point. This terminates at the continually exposed 1 metre high Carn Point. Foul ground then extends a further 200 metres southward from Carn Point to the covered Rid Rock. This is particularly dangerous during the southeast going stream that sets on to Rid Rock. Therefore vessels approaching Donaghadee Sound from the north are best advised to take the shipping channel through the middle of the sound by aligning on the Foreland Buoy.
Vessels passing through Donaghadee Sound should pass well to starboard of Belfast Lough’s South Briggs Red Can Buoy and at least 250 metres clear of the area to the north of Orlock Point. Then continue southeast into the shipping channel through the middle of Donaghadee Sound. This is marked by four buoys, port marks off the mainland, starboard off Copeland Island.
The first mark to steer for is the Foreland Red Can Buoy located two miles southeast of Orlock Point. This marks the very dangerous Foreland Spit.
Foreland Red Can Buoy - Fl R 6s position: 54° 39.640’N, 005° 32.307’W
Pass the Foreland buoy on its eastern side and realign to pass west of the Deputy starboard buoy. Continue southeast to pass between the Deputy and Governor buoys.
Deputy Green Can Buoy - Fl G 2s position: 54° 39.513’N, 005° 31.944’W
Governor Red Can Buoy - Fl R 3s position: 54° 39.360’N, 005° 31.991’W
Donaghadee Harbour lies about 0.7 of a mile south of the Governor Buoy and the same distance southeast of Foreland Point. It is made readily identifiable by its substantial lighthouse and piers.
Vessels approaching from the south should stay a mile offshore in the vicinity of Ballyferis Point. Closer approaches keeping 600 metres out from the shoreline, or on the 20-metre contour or deeper, clears all dangers.
Donaghadee Harbour - Iso.W.R. 4s 17m W.18/R.14M position: 54° 38.7´ N, 005° 31.8´ W
Track in on a bearing of 234° T, keeping Donaghadee Church, 600 further metres inshore, between the pierheads, all the way in.
This path clears outlying rocks that have from 0.9 to 2.4 metres of water over them. These extend 200 metres from the pier heads both to the north and south of the entrance. Make particular note of ‘The Wee Scotchman Rocks’ sunken ledge with less than 2 metres in places that extends 300 metres east-northeast from the South Pier, where Donaghadee Lighthouse stands.
Once between the piers turn hard to port as the single visitor berth is to be found immediately inside and to the southeast at the end of the South Pier. Alongside depths from 2.1 to 2.7 metres may be found at low water over a 30 metre stretch of the pier.
Local boats moor stern-to on running moorings along the wall further in. Beyond this, the harbour gradually shelves to the foreshore that shows a clean sandy beach. It dries out as far as the inner end of the north pier.
If the harbour becomes uncomfortable, or an adverse weather forecast is received, it is recommended that an approach be made to the harbour master for advice regarding the availability of berths in separately administered and privately owned Copelands Marina. This is a very well protected but often overcrowded marina six hundred metres to the south.
Why visit here?Donaghadee derives its name from the Gaelic"Domhnach Daoi" of which the original meaning is a little uncertain today.
What is clear is the initial Domhnach part of its name is derived from an early term for ‘church’. Borrowed from Latin dominicum it has traditionally been associated with St. Patrick and Ireland’s Early Christian period. This would indicate that a church was established here during these times but no evidence of its existence remains today. It is the latter Daoi part of the name where the uncertainty exists. Some believe it is derived from the Irish word Díth, or Domhnach Díth ‘church of loss’ alluding to the dangerous seaway immediately offshore. Others believe it might be the church of a Saint David, the 6th-century bishop of the Welsh, whose Welsh name Dewi is very close to Daoi.
The most likely origin is thought to be based on the word daoi meaning ‘embankment, moat or house’. It is thought likely that this refers to Donaghadee’s medieval Anglo-Norman Motte. This is situated on the high ground overlooking the town and is the area’s earliest known and remaining structure. If this is the correct origin, that the name stems from Domhnach Daoi 'church of the motte', it would appear to date to Anglo-Norman times rather than the Early Christian period. The Motte, or the Moat as it is known, remains one of the town’s most prominent features. It was initially used as a defensive structure, and provided an excellent look-out post over the town and seawards towards the Copeland Islands. Apart from this, little else is recorded of the immediate area or the town until it was planted by Sir Hugh Montgomery in the 17th Century.
Being the closest point to Scotland, on most days the Scottish coast is visible to the naked eye, a small jetty had been built and maintained as the result of a 1616 Royal Warrant. The jetty’s size limited travel between the Ards, the Rhins of Galloway and Portpatrick, that was also owned by Montgomery, so he built a small harbour here in 1626 that was subsequently improved upon in 1640. By 1711 ownership of the town belonged to the Delacherois family. Daniel Delacherois renovated Montgomery’s original harbour between 1775 and 1785 and this structure remained until the completion of the new harbour.
The new harbour had to have greater depth to accommodate steam packets that catered for the flourishing mail and ferry traffic. This required significant rock to be blasted from the seabed within the harbour area and further south in what became known as the Quarry Hole at Meetinghouse Point. The castellated powder house structure standing in the Motte was built in 1818 to house the explosives required for the blasting. The final harbour consisted of two independent piers running north-westwards out to sea; parallel nearer the shore, they converge at the outer ends to form a harbour mouth 150 feet (46 metres) wide. At low tide, the water offered the steam packet fifteen feet of water (4.5 metres).
Though the hustle and bustle of the Packet Ship departed Donaghadee the town was left with a magnificent harbour, and hotels and boarding houses turned that into an advantage. By this time the town was linked by rail to Belfast. As Belfast grew, the increasingly prosperous merchants of the city were attracted to the idea of holidays by the sea. Where better than the short and convenient ride out to Donaghadee with its dry climate and invigorating atmosphere? So as the 19th century progressed into the 20th, Donaghadee was transformed into a Victorian-Edwardian seaside resort of new hotels and fashionable dwellings.
Variously described as 'Port of Newtownards' and 'The Dover of Ireland’, the town is probably best known today for its lighthouse and harbour. The two massive stone piers stand today as relics to the former importance of the harbour when it was the terminal. The historic town also speaks of its past with architecture reflecting its phases of development, the occasional medieval and Jacobean remnants with a core of late Georgian buildings, and a predominance of late Victorian and Edwardian buildings. The town boasts a notable pub, Grace Neill's, that is reputed to be the oldest pub in Ireland. Opened in 1611, as the ’King’s Arms’, Peter the Great is claimed to have been a visitor in 1697. The castellated structure in the ancient Anglo-Norman Motte provides a good vantage point over the town’s picturesque seafront, the Scottish coast to the east on a clear day, and views across Belfast Lough to the north.
Donaghadee has changed little in the past century, it calmly retains its charm and character in a fast-changing world, thus making for a wonderful visit for the cruising boatman.
What facilities are available?Water, diesel, and electricity are all available at the south pier and some repairs are available locally. Donaghadee is very convenient as shops, pubs and restaurants, that serve the local population in excess of six thousand, are easily reached within a small area local to the harbour. Donaghadee Sailing Club welcomes visitors and is open Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
The harbour is about 29 km (18 miles) from Belfast and about 13 km (8 miles) northeast of Newtownards. A bus service is available to Belfast which offers connections to any location in Ireland. Likewise flights to domestic and international destinations operate from Belfast City and Belfast International Airports.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred at Donaghadee.
With thanks to:Charlie Kavanagh - ISA/RYA Yachtmaster Instructor/Examiner. Photography with thanks to Mattrhysmic, Stephen, Albert Bridge, Shaun Dunphy, Matthew Johnston, Aubrey Dale, Ross, David Bolton, Rossographer, Caroline and Paisley Scotland.
Aerial views of Donaghadee and Copeland Island
Donghadee Harbour on a still day
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