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Portballintrae

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Overview





Portballintrae is situated on Ireland’s north coast and is a small village on a horseshoe-shaped bay at the southern end of Bushmills Bay. It offers an anchorage in the middle of the bay with the possibility of landing a tender at its pier.

Portballintrae is situated on Ireland’s north coast and is a small village on a horseshoe-shaped bay at the southern end of Bushmills Bay. It offers an anchorage in the middle of the bay with the possibility of landing a tender at its pier.

The anchorage in the cove provides tolerable shelter in offshore winds, but it is entirely exposed to anything with a northerly element. Access requires attentive navigation as there are outlying reefs on either side of the bay’s entrance, with a covered rock on the eastern side of the entrance that requires particular attention.



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Keyfacts for Portballintrae
Facilities
Water available via tapShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPost Office in the areaBus service available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterSailing Club baseScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
DANGER: Subject to conditions that could trap and destroy a vesselNote: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 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
January 25th 2023

Summary* Restrictions apply

A tolerable location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Water available via tapShop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPost Office in the areaBus service available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open waterSailing Club baseScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
DANGER: Subject to conditions that could trap and destroy a vesselNote: strong tides or currents in the area that require consideration



Position and approaches
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Haven position

55° 13.145' N, 006° 32.880' W

This is in the middle of the mouth of the cove in about 2.5 metres.

What is the initial fix?

The following Portballintrae Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
55° 13.444' N, 006° 32.974' W
This is 600 metres north-northwest of the bay on the 10-metre contour. A bearing of 175° T steering to a prominent slipway at a ½ distance, on the beach and at the head of the cove, leads in the anchorage through the outer dangers.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in northeast Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location.

  • The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area as covered in Rathlin Island's Church Bay Click to view haven entry.

  • General approaches to the area, from seaward or utilising the inshore passage through Skerries Roadstead, may be found in the Portrush Click to view haven entry situated less than 4 miles to the west.

  • Keep clear of Blind Rock which lies off the eastern entrance point.

  • Tracking in on a bearing of 175° T (almost due south) of a slipway at the head of the cove clears Blind Rock.


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 Portballintrae for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Portrush Harbour - 3.8 nautical miles W
  2. Coleraine - 6.3 nautical miles SW
  3. Ballintoy Harbour - 6.4 nautical miles ENE
  4. Seatons Marina - 6.4 nautical miles SW
  5. The Lower River Bann - 7.5 nautical miles WSW
  6. Ballycastle - 10.6 nautical miles E
  7. Church Bay - 12.9 nautical miles ENE
  8. Portnocker - 12.9 nautical miles W
  9. White Bay - 13 nautical miles W
  10. Portkill - 13.2 nautical miles W
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Portrush Harbour - 3.8 miles W
  2. Coleraine - 6.3 miles SW
  3. Ballintoy Harbour - 6.4 miles ENE
  4. Seatons Marina - 6.4 miles SW
  5. The Lower River Bann - 7.5 miles WSW
  6. Ballycastle - 10.6 miles E
  7. Church Bay - 12.9 miles ENE
  8. Portnocker - 12.9 miles W
  9. White Bay - 13 miles W
  10. Portkill - 13.2 miles W
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

Resources search

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.

Expand to new tab or fullscreen



What's the story here?
Portballintrae quay at the east end of the cove
Image: Michael Harpur


Portballintrae is a seaside village set at the head of a small, shallow, horseshoe-shaped cove just outside Bushmills and 4 miles east of Portrush. Formally a fishing settlement the village is now based around its mix of apartments and holiday homes clustered around the cove and dropping down the cliff edge to its small working harbour and beach. The village has a population of about 700 that centres around leisure as the local area's principal tourist attractions lay around the cove. These are the Giant's Causeway 2 miles eastward, Dunluce Castle 1½ to the west and Bushmills about the same distance inland.


Portballintrae slipway
Image: Michael Harpur


The small cove provides good shelter in offshore winds, but in winds from a north quarter, the swell breaks across the mouth of the bay and the Atlantic Ocean rolls in. It is therefore important to keep a watchful eye on the forecast to exit well in advance of such a wind to avoid being trapped in the bay.


The clubhouse of the Portballintrae Boat Club immediately above the slipway
Image: Michael Harpur


The very welcoming Portballintrae Boat Club has its clubhouse immediately above the slipway with a pub. They are connectable by Landline+44 (0)28 2073 2301 and their Facebook Page External link.


How to get in?
Portballintrae as seen from the southwest
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Offshore details are available in northeast Ireland’s coastal overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location with local approaches to the area, from seaward or utilising the inshore passage through Skerries Roadstead as covered in the Portrush Click to view haven entry situated less than 4 miles to the west. The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area and these are covered in Rathlin Island's Church Bay Click to view haven entry.


Dunluce Castle, 1¼ southwestward, with Portrush in the backdrop
Image: Tourism Ireland


Portballintrae lies 4 miles east of Ramore Head, 3 miles southwest of Bengore Head and is readily identified from seaward by its modern housing development. It is conspicuously the only tight grouping of housing along the coastline between Portrush and Ballycastle. Moreover, the eminent ruins of Dunluce Castle are situated on the summit of a cliff that overhangs the sea just over a mile westward of the cove.


Steer in on a bearing of 175° T on the slipway at south end of the cove
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location The Portballintrae Initial Fix is positioned about 600 metres north-northwest of the bay to keep vessels well clear of Blind Rock. The Blind Rock, or the 'Blinn' as it is locally known, guards the east side of the entrance to the bay and should be given a wide berth. It lies off the eastern entrance point between the cove and Bushfoot Strand, port side, and is the key danger to identify.


The dark shape of Blind Rock as seen from above
Image: Flight Photography NI External link


It lies approximately 250 - 300 metres out from the shoreline and is steep-to with a least depth of 0.4 metres LAT over it. The sea breaks on the rock in quite settled weather along with shoreline reefs that extend out here.


The approximate position of Blind Rock
Image: Michael Harpur


Steering a bearing of 175° T from the initial fix to a slipway on the beach at the head of the cove leads into the anchorage through the outer dangers. The slipway stands prominent, at a ½ mile distance from the initial fix, and has an access road cutting through the banks with a wall on its west side.


The slipway in the south end of the cove
Image: Michael Harpur


It is essential that vessels following the coast from eastward should not be tempted to cut in from the adjacent Bushmills Bay into Portballintrae. Anyone attempting this will most likely come up on the reefs extending from the east side of the cove and Blind Rock and/or its outreaching reef. Keep a minimum of 300 metres or more out if approaching along the coast from the east.


Entering boat steering on the slip
Image: Michael Harpur


The helm should watch for a cross set on the tide when entering. The River Bush can sometimes offer a good indication of tidal flow across the mouth of the cove. After substantive rainfall, a brown tongue of water enters the sea and its path provides a good guide to the direction of the tide.


Portballintrae Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location The shallow cove shoals quickly from the centre of the cove’s mouth. 4 metres can be found in between the two headlands inside the entrance, and this drops quickly to 2 metres between the west pier and the southeast pier situated close inside the small bay. Anchor according to draft and conditions clear of the local moorings in the centre of the cove.


The slip inside Portballintrae Quay
Image: Michael Harpur


Land at the small quay on the east side of the bay has a least depth of 0.8 metres LAT at its head.


Why visit here?
Portballintrae derives its name from the Irish 'Port Bhaile an Trá' that means 'harbour or landing place of Ballintrae'. Ballintrae is itself derived from the Irish 'Baile an Trá', meaning 'townland of the strand'.


Lissanduff earthworks location
Image: Michael Harpur


The little bay lies at the mouth of a shallow river valley that was once the outflow of melting glaciers. Evidence of Bronze Age (3,000BC) occupation can be found high above the village on the elevated promontory that divides Ballintrae and Bushmills Bay; accessed today through the Beach Road Car Park. This is the 'Liosán Dubh', Lissanduff prehistoric earthworks which is a State Care Monument. The carefully chosen site would have provided a lookout position on the surrounding landscape. It is historically significant because it consists of a pair of earthen concentric rings with an inner and outer enclosure that is believed to be an ancient Bronze Age water ritual site.


The Lissanduff Earthworks
Image: Jo and Steve Turner via CC BY-SA 2.0


The site is often referred to as 'The Cups and Saucers' due to its shape. One ring is clay lined and appears to have been designed specifically to hold water for what is presumed to have been water rituals. The other is a more typical 'lios' or 'rath' and would have served as a fortified settlement for people and animals. The site has yet to be fully understood or archaeologically excavated but theories suggest that the central ring could have been a spring-fed pool.


The eastern side of the harbour retains most of its old fishing character
Image: Michael Harpur


In a later period a small harbour village formed around a fishing settlement situated at the mouth of the River Bush immediately east of 'Ballintrae'. The settlement extended to a cluster of whitewashed cottages in a line along the shore. During the 1600s Portballintrae served as a small fishing port and a landing area for the important Dunluce castle and village. As Dunluce prospered and developed into a thriving marketplace many Scottish merchants settled in the harbour area and a Customs House was established to cater for the brusque trade. Traces of these Scots remain to this day in St Cuthbert's graveyard with one of the headstones of a merchant that dates back to 1610. The flow of commerce must have been continued as a new Coastguard Station was built in 1874 to keep it in check.


The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland's first UNESCO World Heritage Site
Image: Tourism Ireland


Rapid growth occurred here in the 1970s that changed the character of the area. Almost all the recent dwellings are being used as second homes along with a considerable proportion of the older housing. The area today has a population of more than 700 people and less than half of the dwellings in the village remain as permanent residences.


Eroded rock on the Causeway Route
Image: Tourism NI


Portballintrae has managed to retain some of its historic character from the time when the local fishing industry was active. This can be found in several prominently situated and listed old whitewashed cottages that still stand on the older eastern end of the harbour. These stand in short terraces set slightly back from the pavement in semi-detached units restored to their traditional charm. In addition to these, there are other classic examples of Ulster's Architectural Heritage throughout the village, such as the Coastguard Station and the 18th-century bathing lodge Seaport Lodge.


Some of the Causeways' 40,000 basalt stone columns
Image: Tourism Ireland


Today Portballintrae is a seaside village with a small sandy beach and a pretty harbour area that is the focal point for many of the village's water activities. Runkerry Beach is also a wonderful place to explore but is not suitable for bathing or water sports due to rip currents. Locals and visitors alike are drawn to the area's coastal walks, golden beach, rugged rocks and dunes. The most attractive walk has to be out to the Giant's Causeway two miles to the east.


Sunset at the Giant's Causeway
Image: Tourism NI


A geological wonder steeped in legend and folklore, The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns was formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago. The Giant’s Causeway now features a Visitor Experience that illustrated the legend of the Giant Finn McCool and assists in locating distinctive stone formations such as the Camel, Wishing Chair, Harp and Organ. The stones and coastal path to it are operated by the National Trust and are open all year.


Dunluce Castle
Image: Tourism Ireland


A little over a mile to the west of Portballintrae is the spectacular Dunluce Castle which has to be one of the most picturesque and romantic Irish castles. With evidence of settlement from the first millennium, the present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was inhabited by both the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans. Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display for public viewing although admission charges apply for these exhibits.


Dunluce Castle
Image: Tom Bennett via CC BY SA 2.00


If that is not enough a mile upstream is Bushmills, Portballintrae's more famous inland neighbour, which is home to the world-renowned Bushmills and Black Bush Whiskies. Tours are available to experience the unique whiskey-making tradition at Bushmills. The site goes back to a royal licence to distil that was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips, a retired English Army Officer, who was a major figure in the 'Project of Plantation' in this area. Although he was forced to give up many of his holdings and was described as becoming "obnoxious to the Irish Society" and he became their fiercest critic, the grant has held fast to this day. This makes the Bushmills site Ireland’s oldest working distillery. A distillery tour is available that provides a guided walk through the working core of the distillery and samplings. An admission charge applies for the guided tour but please note that children under 8 are not permitted to join guided tours.



Whiskey sampling on the Bushmills tour
Image: Tourism NI


From a nautical context, Portballintrae is world-famous for being the operating bay for the greatest recovery of Spanish Armada treasure. The story dates back to a wild October night in 1588 when more than two dozen fleeing ships from the Spanish Armada came too close to Irish shores. One of these was the Girona that had sailed on the 16th of October from Killybegs for Scotland, and which was one of the most seaworthy of the Armada's ships - see the preceding events as detailed in the Blacksod Bay External link entry. She had about 800 survivors from two other Spanish shipwrecks, the La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada, which ran aground in Blacksod Bay off the coast of County Mayo, and the Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal.


Early depiction of a Naval battle with the Spanish Armada
Image: Public Domain


Having endured an impenetrable weather wall, that had prohibited a return to Spain in the previous, the damaged ship and crew decided to run back to Scotland, which being a Catholic country, they believed might offer them temporary sanctuary or at least relative safety. The hope was to find shelter, recuperate and then make their way back to Spain when the conditions were better. With these survivors came their individual ship's treasures fully intact that tripling the riches that the Girona carried.


The North Antrim coast around the Causeway is formidable on a fine day
Image: Tourism Ireland


On the night of 28 October 1588, caught in the eye of a hurricane that was one of the most ferocious ever to hit the area, the Girona was running for Scotland when its rudder failed off of Inishowen. In the hands of the tidal currents and gale, she was driven helplessly towards the rugged coastland. The power of the 224 rowers could not keep the ship offshore and as she drifted past the Chimney Tops headland one headland northeast from the coast's famous Giant's Causeway. The anchor then bit and the Girona swung through 180° and struck the extremity of Lacada Point. Although the place name might sound Spanish it is derived from the Irish 'Leac Fhada' meaning 'Long Stone' which sadly perfectly describes the outlying reef that it is. It would thereafter be locally known as 'Port-Na Spaniagh', 'Spanish port', soon after.


Leac Fhada today
Image: Tourism Ireland


With the bow facing westwards, the rest of the ship broke off and tumbled into deep water on the east side. Nearly 1,300 desperate and terrified Spaniards, including members of Spain’s noblest families, drowned in a cauldron of writhing surf beneath the dark towering cliffs of Antrim. There were only a handful of survivors and two reports conflict with the number. One report said there were five, another nine, but both agreed that all of the survivors were Italians who it is thought were up high working the topsails, and flung clear when the ship struck. Most died inside the broken hull and any men who were not trapped in the ship soon drowned in the surf before they reached the shore. In human terms, it is one of the most costly shipwrecks in the history of seafaring.


Depiction of the fate of the ships of the Armada off of Ireland
Image: Public Domain


Sorley Boy MacDonnell, then master of eminent Dunluce Castle, sent these nine survivors on to Scotland. He recovered three brass cannons and two chests of treasure from the wreck. The cannons were installed in the gatehouses and the rest of the cargo was sold and the funds were used to restore his castle. After this, the ship lay untouched for 380 years during which time its timbers were dissipated by the wild local seas.


19th-century engraving depict Girona shipwreck at Lacada Point
Image: Public Domain


It was not until the summer of 1967 that the hunt for the lost treasure was taken up by the Belgian marine archaeologist Robert Sténuit, along with a team of Belgian divers. The historic account of Sorley Boy’s recoveries and the fact that Lacada Point had been locally known as 'Port na Spaniagh' narrowed the area of search. The wreck site was quickly located and the team excavated what remained in the cracks and crevices off the point. They retrieved an unprecedented collection of gold and jewellery including 12,000 artefacts that were all brought ashore in Portballintrae. Items included gold and silver coins, jewellery, silver plate, a bronze cannon, and eleven of twelve 'lapis lazuli' cameos. The recovered gold jewellery is preserved for all to see and exhibited at Belfast's Ulster Museum.


Portballintrae
Image: Michael Harpur


Portballintrae may not be the best anchorage in the world but it is set on a very beautiful coastline location and central to several of its key attractions, all of which are within a short walk. These conspire to make Portballintrae, in settled or offshore winds, a highly attractive anchorage for the coastal cruiser intent on exploring Antrim’s wonderful historic legacy.


What facilities are available?
In Portballintrae Harbour there is a public slipway, a boat club and public toilets in the car park alongside. But trailer sailers should note that the slip is not suitable for launching. Water is available at the harbour. Fresh provisions from a village that serves a population of about 700, and twice that during the summer, can be found here. In addition, there are plenty of restaurants, a hotel and a post office.

Nearby Portrush is a busy and friendly holiday town with all the pubs, good restaurants, wine bars and cafe resources you would expect in such a location. Portrush railway station is the last stop on the Coleraine-Portrush line, where travellers can connect with trains to Derry, Belfast and beyond. Translink runs a regular bus and train service to and from Portrush. The nearest airport is at Aldergrove 77 km.


Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred to a boat on anchor in Portballintrae.


With thanks to:
Terry Crawford, local boatman of many decades.







The Causeway to Portballintrae


About Portballintrae

Portballintrae derives its name from the Irish 'Port Bhaile an Trá' that means 'harbour or landing place of Ballintrae'. Ballintrae is itself derived from the Irish 'Baile an Trá', meaning 'townland of the strand'.


Lissanduff earthworks location
Image: Michael Harpur


The little bay lies at the mouth of a shallow river valley that was once the outflow of melting glaciers. Evidence of Bronze Age (3,000BC) occupation can be found high above the village on the elevated promontory that divides Ballintrae and Bushmills Bay; accessed today through the Beach Road Car Park. This is the 'Liosán Dubh', Lissanduff prehistoric earthworks which is a State Care Monument. The carefully chosen site would have provided a lookout position on the surrounding landscape. It is historically significant because it consists of a pair of earthen concentric rings with an inner and outer enclosure that is believed to be an ancient Bronze Age water ritual site.


The Lissanduff Earthworks
Image: Jo and Steve Turner via CC BY-SA 2.0


The site is often referred to as 'The Cups and Saucers' due to its shape. One ring is clay lined and appears to have been designed specifically to hold water for what is presumed to have been water rituals. The other is a more typical 'lios' or 'rath' and would have served as a fortified settlement for people and animals. The site has yet to be fully understood or archaeologically excavated but theories suggest that the central ring could have been a spring-fed pool.


The eastern side of the harbour retains most of its old fishing character
Image: Michael Harpur


In a later period a small harbour village formed around a fishing settlement situated at the mouth of the River Bush immediately east of 'Ballintrae'. The settlement extended to a cluster of whitewashed cottages in a line along the shore. During the 1600s Portballintrae served as a small fishing port and a landing area for the important Dunluce castle and village. As Dunluce prospered and developed into a thriving marketplace many Scottish merchants settled in the harbour area and a Customs House was established to cater for the brusque trade. Traces of these Scots remain to this day in St Cuthbert's graveyard with one of the headstones of a merchant that dates back to 1610. The flow of commerce must have been continued as a new Coastguard Station was built in 1874 to keep it in check.


The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland's first UNESCO World Heritage Site
Image: Tourism Ireland


Rapid growth occurred here in the 1970s that changed the character of the area. Almost all the recent dwellings are being used as second homes along with a considerable proportion of the older housing. The area today has a population of more than 700 people and less than half of the dwellings in the village remain as permanent residences.


Eroded rock on the Causeway Route
Image: Tourism NI


Portballintrae has managed to retain some of its historic character from the time when the local fishing industry was active. This can be found in several prominently situated and listed old whitewashed cottages that still stand on the older eastern end of the harbour. These stand in short terraces set slightly back from the pavement in semi-detached units restored to their traditional charm. In addition to these, there are other classic examples of Ulster's Architectural Heritage throughout the village, such as the Coastguard Station and the 18th-century bathing lodge Seaport Lodge.


Some of the Causeways' 40,000 basalt stone columns
Image: Tourism Ireland


Today Portballintrae is a seaside village with a small sandy beach and a pretty harbour area that is the focal point for many of the village's water activities. Runkerry Beach is also a wonderful place to explore but is not suitable for bathing or water sports due to rip currents. Locals and visitors alike are drawn to the area's coastal walks, golden beach, rugged rocks and dunes. The most attractive walk has to be out to the Giant's Causeway two miles to the east.


Sunset at the Giant's Causeway
Image: Tourism NI


A geological wonder steeped in legend and folklore, The Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The geological phenomenon of 40,000 basalt stone columns was formed by volcanic eruptions over 60 million years ago. The Giant’s Causeway now features a Visitor Experience that illustrated the legend of the Giant Finn McCool and assists in locating distinctive stone formations such as the Camel, Wishing Chair, Harp and Organ. The stones and coastal path to it are operated by the National Trust and are open all year.


Dunluce Castle
Image: Tourism Ireland


A little over a mile to the west of Portballintrae is the spectacular Dunluce Castle which has to be one of the most picturesque and romantic Irish castles. With evidence of settlement from the first millennium, the present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was inhabited by both the feuding McQuillan and MacDonnell clans. Historical and archaeological exhibits are on display for public viewing although admission charges apply for these exhibits.


Dunluce Castle
Image: Tom Bennett via CC BY SA 2.00


If that is not enough a mile upstream is Bushmills, Portballintrae's more famous inland neighbour, which is home to the world-renowned Bushmills and Black Bush Whiskies. Tours are available to experience the unique whiskey-making tradition at Bushmills. The site goes back to a royal licence to distil that was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips, a retired English Army Officer, who was a major figure in the 'Project of Plantation' in this area. Although he was forced to give up many of his holdings and was described as becoming "obnoxious to the Irish Society" and he became their fiercest critic, the grant has held fast to this day. This makes the Bushmills site Ireland’s oldest working distillery. A distillery tour is available that provides a guided walk through the working core of the distillery and samplings. An admission charge applies for the guided tour but please note that children under 8 are not permitted to join guided tours.



Whiskey sampling on the Bushmills tour
Image: Tourism NI


From a nautical context, Portballintrae is world-famous for being the operating bay for the greatest recovery of Spanish Armada treasure. The story dates back to a wild October night in 1588 when more than two dozen fleeing ships from the Spanish Armada came too close to Irish shores. One of these was the Girona that had sailed on the 16th of October from Killybegs for Scotland, and which was one of the most seaworthy of the Armada's ships - see the preceding events as detailed in the Blacksod Bay External link entry. She had about 800 survivors from two other Spanish shipwrecks, the La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada, which ran aground in Blacksod Bay off the coast of County Mayo, and the Duquesa Santa Ana, which went aground at Loughros Mor Bay, Donegal.


Early depiction of a Naval battle with the Spanish Armada
Image: Public Domain


Having endured an impenetrable weather wall, that had prohibited a return to Spain in the previous, the damaged ship and crew decided to run back to Scotland, which being a Catholic country, they believed might offer them temporary sanctuary or at least relative safety. The hope was to find shelter, recuperate and then make their way back to Spain when the conditions were better. With these survivors came their individual ship's treasures fully intact that tripling the riches that the Girona carried.


The North Antrim coast around the Causeway is formidable on a fine day
Image: Tourism Ireland


On the night of 28 October 1588, caught in the eye of a hurricane that was one of the most ferocious ever to hit the area, the Girona was running for Scotland when its rudder failed off of Inishowen. In the hands of the tidal currents and gale, she was driven helplessly towards the rugged coastland. The power of the 224 rowers could not keep the ship offshore and as she drifted past the Chimney Tops headland one headland northeast from the coast's famous Giant's Causeway. The anchor then bit and the Girona swung through 180° and struck the extremity of Lacada Point. Although the place name might sound Spanish it is derived from the Irish 'Leac Fhada' meaning 'Long Stone' which sadly perfectly describes the outlying reef that it is. It would thereafter be locally known as 'Port-Na Spaniagh', 'Spanish port', soon after.


Leac Fhada today
Image: Tourism Ireland


With the bow facing westwards, the rest of the ship broke off and tumbled into deep water on the east side. Nearly 1,300 desperate and terrified Spaniards, including members of Spain’s noblest families, drowned in a cauldron of writhing surf beneath the dark towering cliffs of Antrim. There were only a handful of survivors and two reports conflict with the number. One report said there were five, another nine, but both agreed that all of the survivors were Italians who it is thought were up high working the topsails, and flung clear when the ship struck. Most died inside the broken hull and any men who were not trapped in the ship soon drowned in the surf before they reached the shore. In human terms, it is one of the most costly shipwrecks in the history of seafaring.


Depiction of the fate of the ships of the Armada off of Ireland
Image: Public Domain


Sorley Boy MacDonnell, then master of eminent Dunluce Castle, sent these nine survivors on to Scotland. He recovered three brass cannons and two chests of treasure from the wreck. The cannons were installed in the gatehouses and the rest of the cargo was sold and the funds were used to restore his castle. After this, the ship lay untouched for 380 years during which time its timbers were dissipated by the wild local seas.


19th-century engraving depict Girona shipwreck at Lacada Point
Image: Public Domain


It was not until the summer of 1967 that the hunt for the lost treasure was taken up by the Belgian marine archaeologist Robert Sténuit, along with a team of Belgian divers. The historic account of Sorley Boy’s recoveries and the fact that Lacada Point had been locally known as 'Port na Spaniagh' narrowed the area of search. The wreck site was quickly located and the team excavated what remained in the cracks and crevices off the point. They retrieved an unprecedented collection of gold and jewellery including 12,000 artefacts that were all brought ashore in Portballintrae. Items included gold and silver coins, jewellery, silver plate, a bronze cannon, and eleven of twelve 'lapis lazuli' cameos. The recovered gold jewellery is preserved for all to see and exhibited at Belfast's Ulster Museum.


Portballintrae
Image: Michael Harpur


Portballintrae may not be the best anchorage in the world but it is set on a very beautiful coastline location and central to several of its key attractions, all of which are within a short walk. These conspire to make Portballintrae, in settled or offshore winds, a highly attractive anchorage for the coastal cruiser intent on exploring Antrim’s wonderful historic legacy.

Other options in this area


Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Alternatively here are the ten nearest havens available in picture view:
Coastal clockwise:
Ballintoy Harbour - 4 miles ENE
Ballycastle - 6.6 miles E
Church Bay - 8 miles ENE
Murlough Bay - 9.2 miles E
Torr Head - 10.4 miles E
Coastal anti-clockwise:
Portrush Harbour - 2.4 miles W
The Lower River Bann - 4.7 miles WSW
Seatons Marina - 4 miles SW
Coleraine - 3.9 miles SW
Magilligan Point - 9 miles W

Navigational pictures


These additional images feature in the 'How to get in' section of our detailed view for Portballintrae.






























































The Causeway to Portballintrae



A photograph is worth a thousand words. We are always looking for bright sunny photographs that show this haven and its identifiable features at its best. If you have some images that we could use please upload them here. All we need to know is how you would like to be credited for your work and a brief description of the image if it is not readily apparent. If you would like us to add a hyperlink from the image that goes back to your site please include the desired link and we will be delighted to that for you.


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