This is an exposed anchorage located off the northwest shore of the island. There is some protection from the southeast but it should only be considered a fair weather anchorage. The Saltee Islands require careful navigation owing to the numerous outlying rocks and strong currents. They are however very workable in settled clear conditions and highly enjoyable.
Keyfacts for Little Saltee (landing beach)
Summary* Restrictions applyAn exposed location with careful navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position52° 8.500' N, 006° 35.290' W
The anchorage situated 200 metres off the farm house to the northwest of the island.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
Not what you need?
- Little Saltee (west side) - 0.2 miles SW
- Little Saltee (east side) - 0.3 miles SE
- Great Saltee (landing beach) - 0.9 miles SW
- Kilmore Quay - 1.1 miles N
- Gilert Bay - 1.1 miles SSW
- Georgina’s Bay - 1.2 miles SSW
- Bannow Bay - 5.4 miles WNW
- Baginbun Bay - 5.6 miles WNW
- Fethard On Sea - 5.7 miles WNW
- Carne - 6 miles ENE
What's the story here?
Image: Michael Harpur
The Saltee Islands consisting of the Great and Little Saltee, are situated approximately 4 miles off Kilmore Quay on the south-eastern coast of County Wexford. The Islands are privately owned but have been largely unoccupied since the early 20th century. Little Saltee Island lies 2.16 miles from Kilmore Quay and has an area of about 38ha. The island is whale-backed in shape with low cliffs on its shores and rising to over 30 metres along its centre. Though half the size of the main island, it was Little Saltee that remained inhabited up until the end of the Second World War. It is today covered in thickets and brambles and along with Great Saltee forms Ireland’s largest bird sanctuary and have an astonishing reputation among bird watchers from all over the world for the incredible number of seabirds that come to the islands – thousands upon thousands of gannets, guillemots and puffins, as well as many other species.
Landing on Saltee Island Little is hazardous and permission to visit is required. Day visitors to Saltee Island Great are welcome and permission to land, courtesy of the owners ― the Neale family ― is not needed. However, the owners of the island kindly request day visitors to respect the following four rules:
- (1) Day visitors are allowed between the hours of 11:00 am and 4:30 pm only.
- (2) No camping is allowed on the island.
- (3) The lighting of fires is strictly forbidden, and
- (4) Privacy should be afforded to the owners by not approaching their house.
How to get in?
Offshore details are available in southeastern Ireland’s coastal overview for Rosslare Harbour to Cork Harbour and Kilmore Quay entry provides approach directions for this haven.
Image: Michael Harpur
From the initial fix, located at Kilmore Quay’s safe water marker, steer directly for the north end of Little Saltee Island on a course of 175°T for the short distance of ¾ of a mile.
Be mindful of the currents that will be at right angles and can attain a Spring Rate of 3kn. It is important not to drift off course as to the west is Murroch's Rock, awash at low water, situated just under ¾ of a mile to the northwest of the Little Saltee Island. Likewise, the drying St Patrick’s Bridge lies to the east curving back from the northernmost point of Little Saltee to the mainland to the east of Kilmore Quay. There is however ample sea room with more than half a mile of open water between these two dangers.
Anchor according to draft about 200 metres off the northwest of the island where the farmhouse can be seen ashore.
Holding is not as secure as the other anchorages listed around Little Saltee. A purchase has to be found in some sand and shale set amongst large boulders and a lot of kelp and with an uneven surface. It is advisable to use a tripping line should the anchor get lodged behind a boulder.
Those who intend on landing should come ashore amongst the boulders below the house. There is no pier or jetty but the area is normally reasonably sheltered by offshore rocks from the boulder beach.
Why visit here?Great Saltee Island, in Irish ‘An Sailte Beag', is thought to have derived its name from the ancient Norse ‘Salt-ey’ meaning ‘Salt Islands’. This is an accurate description as sea spray flies over the islands in winter storms depositing a saline solution end-to-end.
The Vikings most likely had a trading route between their twin ports of Waterford and Wexford in the 12th century and would have charted the two low granite outcrops as such at the time. Further evidence can be found in a 14th-century Italian chart, the oldest surviving record of the islands, where the islands are recorded as ‘Saltis’, the Italian for Salt Islands.
Early island inhabitation is thought to date back to 3500 to 2000 BC. In 1957 a rudimentary flint was unearthed on the nearby and larger Great Saltee that was dated back to Neolithic times. The flint indicated that an agricultural based community of Stone Age man lived here and made use of the island’s fertile soil and temperate climate. They would have also taken full advantage of the abundant fish along the shores and seabird eggs that were immediately to hand.
This heritage of inhabitation continued up until the end of the Second World War when the island was actively farmed. In the early 20th-century farming activity was at its height during harvest time. Then a mainland threshing machine was disassembled and shipped out to the island in pieces via small ‘currachs’. With the help of a dozen people, who would stay overnight in the islands farm dwelling, it was then reassembled on the island and the harvest would be undertaken. The island produced corn, vegetables, milk and meat alongside an abundance of fish. This provided its inhabitants with a wide and varied diet that enabled complete self-sufficiency. Moreover, the unique environment excelled in the growing of early-season new potatoes that were traded as far north as the nation’s capital. This unbroken legacy came to an end in 1946 when the island was abandoned by its last three tenant farmers. Their small farmstead plus their tilled fields returned to nature.
Little Saltee came into Bellew family ownership in 1855 and they had rented it out until the early 1990’s. Then Sir Henry Grattan Bellew returned from Africa to retire to Little Saltee Island. He and his wife Shirley took on the mammoth task of reclaiming and restocking the island. This was no small undertaking as they are both in their seventies. Henry wrote an account of the experience in his book "A Pinch of Saltee" [Justin Nelson Productions (December 20, 2003)]. In 2007, after fifteen years on the island, Henry and Shirley passed over the custodianship of Little Saltee Island to their daughter Deirdre and son Patrick and their respective families. As such Little Saltee is privately owned and no landing should take place without the permission of the family. A flagpole above the main landing area, situated below the house, indicates when the family is in residence.
Although the smaller and less frequented of the two islands, Little Saltee is nevertheless a beautiful little island. Approximately one hundred acres in area, un-forested and low lying, the island alters colour with the turn of the season. Blue in the spring, beneath a full flush of bluebells, bright green with the summer’s lush growth of green grass and bracken, then finally winter’s dark granite grey. Landing yachtsmen should take care to avoid disturbing nesting birds as the Saltee Islands are Ireland's largest bird sanctuaries. Several million seabirds nest on the islands in springtime and a reputed 300 different species, such as the gulls, gannets, puffins, colonies of cormorants etc, are to be found at various times during the year.
From a pure boating perspective, this anchorage has the advantage of being immediately adjacent to St. Patrick’s Bridge. For those departing northeast and west, it provides the perfect tide wait location to observe the turn of the tide for the route ‘eight hours of a following tide from Kilmore Quay; east or westbound’.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities on the Little Saltee Island. Immediately ashore Kilmore Quay has all facilities.
Any security concerns?Security issues are unheard of on the Saltee Islands. In fact if anything the reverse is more likely to be encountered. Local boatmen are very welcoming and you can take it that they will by good nature be keeping an eye on the welfare of your vessel, should she drag whilst you are ashore, and be ready to assist you.
With thanks to:Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford. Photography with thanks to Burke Corbett and Michael Harpur.
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