The anchorage has protection from all conditions except those with a northerly component when it is entirely exposed. Attentive navigation is required for access as the entrance is narrow, obstructed by islets, and made difficult by swift tides. Therefore an approach should only be made in daylight, at slack water, preferably at low water, and in settled swell-free weather.
Keyfacts for Barrow Harbour
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with attentive navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position52° 17.840' N, 009° 52.260' W
This is in the anchoring area abreast of Fenit Castle.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
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Image: Francis Foley via CC BY-SA 2.0
Barrow Harbour is a tidal inlet off Tralee Bay. Once this was the major port for the region, servicing the monastic settlement of Ardfert and the general area of Tralee. It is today a remote and out beautifully secluded anchorage beneath an ancient castle within a vast white sand tidal lagoon.
From the initial fix located in the middle of the Little Samphire lighthouse white sector where it transits the 10-metre contour. Once this sounding is reached depart the white light sector, bearing 140°-152°, for a course of 95° T that leads to Illaunnacusha.
This takes a vessel along the north shore of Fenit Island situated at the southern end of Ballyheige Bay. It passes to the north of the 5 metres high The Rose rock that lies on the north end of the foul ground and extends out for a mile west from the north end of Fenit Island. A further 13 metres high isolated rock called Crow Rock is situated just north of Fenit Island about 500 metres west-southwest of Illaunnacusha Rock.
Image: Tourism Ireland
The 6 metre high and reasonably prominent Illaunnacusha rock is the key rock islet to positively identify. It lies 300 metres north of the entrance to the channel between Fenit Island and the mainland. This is the only entrance to Barrow Harbour as the island is connected with the mainland by a natural narrow and stony embankment at it southern end. This forms the western shore of the vast sandy lagoon, the inner expanse of which dries at low water, with the exception of a narrow channel.
Image: The Irish Drone
Once Illaunnacusha Rock has been positively identified the approach may commence. Keep the island close to starboard and pass 50 to a 100 metres to the east of the islet keeping a drying spit that extends from the mainland to port.
From there track into the centre of the 150-metre wide entrance. This will be clearly visible with the ruin of the round Martello tower, Barrow Castle, standing on the mainland point and an islet to the west of it. Although the latter is seen as an islet at high water, at low water, it will be seen to be connected to Fenit Island by an inner reef.
When the islet passes abeam abruptly alter course to the southwest. Then follow the slight curve in the channel off Fenit Island’s sandy beach on the starboard side, towards the prominent square tower of Fenit Castle. This avoids the sharp-edged sand bar that extends from the mainland immediately inside the entrance and to the south of Barrow Castle. This should be clearly visible at low water.
Anchor abreast of the castle, about 600 metres within the entrance, in 3.5 to 4 metres or in and about this location depending on the required draft. The anchorage is in the narrow channel and as such subject to strong tidal sweeps as the lagoon fills and empties. It may be advisable to use a second anchor as a precaution.
Why visit here?Barrow Harbour was once a major port for the region servicing the monastic settlement of Ardfert three miles to the east, and the general area of Tralee three miles further. The ancient harbour’s importance is evident in its legacy of defensive castles.
Three castles have stood here; the round tower of Barrow, Fenit Castle, and 'Tawlacht', that once stood on the mainland opposite Fenit Castle and which has since disappeared. The ruins of the former two castles remain stalwartly guarding the narrow entrance to Barrow Harbour.
Chief amongst these is the spectacular Norman Fenit Castle. It was built around 1190 by the Fitzmaurices to protect the harbour from pirates. The castle added a further layer of defence to foil a seaborne attack. This was an iron or steel chain that was stretched across the neck of water between the mainland and the island near the castle, to shut in the inlet. At this time the area surrounding Fenit castle was called 'Fenit Within'. 'Tawlacht' castle, on the mainland, was known as 'Fenit Without'. The terms within/without refer to the walled protection that surrounded parts of the island from attackers from the landward side.
Image: Mark Murray CC BY-SA 2.0
Sadly Fenit Castle was almost completely destroyed in 1641 during the Cromwellian campaign. Standing on a rock overlooking the anchorage today the castles west and north walls retain most of their original height and stature. Other old ruins of two churches and a graveyard also exist on the island but the castle is the only one that remains visible.
Today Fenit Island is populated and connected to the mainland by the sandbar on the southwestern side. It is accessible by foot along the sandbar at most times, and by car at low tide, by driving on the beach. There are many scenic walking routes in the area and endless opportunities for sea angling.
Golfing enthusiasts will find they are practically anchored alongside Tralee Golf Club situated directly across the straits from Fenit Castle. The links course was designed by Arnold Palmer and offers a tough challenge, particularly in the wind, but rewards the golfer with dramatic and spectacularly beautiful views of Tralee Bay and Barrow Strand to the north.
The five-mile-long Barrow Strand extending to the north is a very popular tourist destination and may also be very much of interest to film buffs. For Barrow Strand was the location for the beach scenes in the Academy Award-winning film Ryan's Daughter starring Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles.
From a boating perspective, this is a spectacular beautiful anchorage in a very much out of the way location. It is ideal for the cruiser with time on his hands who wants to enjoy every inch of this area's outstanding natural beauty.
What facilities are available?There are no facilities available at Barrow, and the nearest location for re-stocking provisions is Fenit.
Any security concerns?A vessel is most likely to be entirely alone in the remote and secluded Barrow Harbour.
With thanks to:Batty McCarthy, Fenit Harbour Master
Barrow Harbour aerial overview
An overview of the tower and bay which happens to be next to Tralee Golf Course.
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