England Ireland Find Havens
England Ireland Find Routes



Tides and tools

Portballintrae is situated on Ireland’s north coast and is a small village at the head of 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 the shallow pier or a choice of slips.

Portballintrae is situated on Ireland’s north coast and is a small village at the head of 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 the shallow pier or a choice of slips.

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.
Please note

In northerly winds the Atlantic Ocean rolls directly into the cove with a swell that breaks across the mouth of the bay. It is 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 direction of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area.

Be the first
to comment
Keyfacts for Portballintrae
Club  +44 12657 32301    

Aerial views of Dunluce castle and the coastline to Portballintrae from 10 minutes into the video.

About Portballintrae

Portballintrae derives its name from the Irish Port Bhaile an Trá that means ‘harbour or landing place of Ballintrae’. The village of Portballintrae is named from a little harbour in the townland of Ballintrae in which it is situated. Ballintrae is itself derived from the Irish Baile an Trá ‘townland of the strand’.

The little bay lies at the mouth of a shallow river valley that was once the outflow of melting glaciers. Evidence of Bronze Age 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 Lissanduff prehistoric earthworks which is a State Care Monument.

The significant historical site 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 site is often referred to as "The Cups and Saucers" due to its shape. Although as yet unexcavated, theories suggest that the outer ring, with a central spring-fed pool, was designed to hold the water whilst the other served as a fortified settlement. The earthworks are located on a prominent headland, overlooking the sea, the River Bush, the Dooey dune system and Bushfoot Strand. It was carefully placed to be a focal point for prehistoric communities and to provide a look-out position on the surrounding landscape.

In a later period a small harbour village formed around a fishing settlement situated at the mouth where the River Bush flows out to the sea immediately east of the horseshoe-shaped Ballintrae Bay. The settlement extended to a cluster of whitewashed cottages in a line along the horseshoe-shaped shore. Many of the old whitewashed cottages that today still stand on the shoreline have been 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 Old Coastguard Station that served the village and Dunluce Castle, and the 18th-century bathing lodge ‘Seaport Lodge’.

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 approximately 750 people and less than half of the dwellings in the village remain as permanent residences. Locals and visitors alike are drawn to the areas coastal walks, golden beach, rugged rocks and sand dunes.

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 October from Killybegs for Scotland, and which was one of the most seaworthy of the Armada's ships. 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. With these survivors came their individual ships treasures fully intact tripling the riches that the Girona carried.

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 crashed down on the razor-sharp reefs of Lacada Point located one headland northeast from the Giant's Causeway. The ship was quickly ripped apart and 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 nine survivors, and only 260 bodies were recovered from the sea.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell, then master of magnificent Dunluce Castle situated a mile westward of Portballintrae Bay, 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 sold, the funds being 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.

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 may not be the best anchorage in the world but it is set on a very beautiful coastline location and central to several key attractions that are within a short walk. The Giant's Causeway, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated two miles to the east and the spectacular Dunluce Castle a mile to the west. A mile upstream is Bushmills, Portballintrae's more famous inland neighbour, which is home to the world renowned Bushmills and Black Bush Whiskies. All of 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.

Aerial views of Dunluce castle and the coastline to Portballintrae from 10 minutes into the video.

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.

Add your review or comment:

Please log in to leave a review of this haven.

Please note eOceanic makes no guarantee of the validity of this information, we have not visited this haven and do not have first-hand experience to qualify the data. Although the contributors are vetted by peer review as practised authorities, they are in no way, whatsoever, responsible for the accuracy of their contributions. It is essential that you thoroughly check the accuracy and suitability for your vessel of any waypoints offered in any context plus the precision of your GPS. Any data provided on this page is entirely used at your own risk and you must read our legal page if you view data on this site. Free to use sea charts courtesy of Navionics.