Kilkee is a good anchorage offering protection from all winds except for north-westerlies to which Moore Bay is entirely open. Although appearing exposed to the west, off-lying reefs and rocks extending from the south side of the entrance provide protection from this quadrant but it may be uncomfortable in any developed swell. Careful navigation is required for access as the entrance is fringed by dangers on all sides and there are no supporting marks or lights. Hence a stranger should only approach Kilkee in settled conditions with good visibility.
Keyfacts for Kilkee
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with careful navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position52° 40.975' N, 009° 39.030' W
This is the head of the pier located on the northeastern shore at the head of the bay.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
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Image: Tourism Ireland
Set within Moore Bay, thirteen miles northeast from Loop Head and twenty-two miles south of the Aran Islands is the small resort town of Kilkee. It offers an anchoring opportunity in a sandy cove around which the small town stands at the head of the bay. Kilkee can only be availed of temporarily and in very settled weather with offshore winds or otherwise with the benefit of local knowledge. However it can be dangerous as if the wind turned suddenly northwest, and be accompanied by a swell, it would be difficult for a sailing vessel to beat out of Moore Bay. At night, in clear weather, the lights of the town show up well from seaward providing a sea mark for vessels passing along this coast.
Image: WingsOnCam Adeel Ansari
The southern shore is littered with off-lying dangers. Duggerna Rocks project a quarter of a mile from the southern shore and dry to 0.6 metres. A further 400 metres north, over half a mile north-northeast of Knockroe Point with some detached rocks in between, are the Black Rocks. These mark the northern extremity of the dangers extending from the southern shore. They are steep-to on their northern side and dry to 2.1 metres at low water.
Image: WingsOnCam Adeel Ansari
The north shore is marked by the highly conspicuous George’s Head. It is clear on its western side but George’s Head has a dangerous rock situated 200 metres to the south of it that uncovers at low water. The bay’s entrance channel lies between this drying rock off the northern entrance point and the Black Rocks off the southern side.
The Kilkeel initial fix is set about a third of a mile outside the midpoint of these two dangers in a west-northwest direction. It aligns a course of 115° T to pass through the 400 metres wide channel between the Black Rocks and the drying rock off George’s Head.
off the northern entrance point
Image: WingsOnCam Adeel Ansari
From the initial fix the key to entry is identifying the position of the Black Rocks. Once located it is simply a matter of entering the channel midway between these and George’s Head and proceeding on a central path up to the head of the bay.
Identifying the Black Rocks is normally straightforward. At low water, they dry out to more than two metres and will be clearly visible. When covered, or partially covered, they are nearly always awash except in a flat calm, where a tell-tale ripple still remains visible.
Once identified the central course offers depths that decrease from 11 to 12.8 metres in the entrance to 5.5 metres about 0.8 of a mile further in. The bottom is rocky with fringing drying reefs, at points extending out 150 metres, along both shores so stay central all the way.
Image: Mark Murray CC BY-SA 2.0
Anchor midway in the horseshoe-shaped head of bay about 100 metres west of the pier. Do not proceed any further as a sandy flat extends 300 metres from the head of the bay. Land at the slip located immediately east of the pier.
There are plenty of free moorings about in this area. Most locals will not take issue with a visitor using one for a short period.
Note: a useful mark for exiting Moore Bay is when the bay situated to the north of George’s Head, marked Lackglass on the chart, is seen entirely open, it is then safe to strike off north or south.
Why visit here?Kilkee derives its name from the Irish Cill Chaoi that means Church of Chaoineadh Ita or St. Caoi's Church. It was by this name Cill Chaoidhe that the coastal town got its first mention in the Annals of the 14th Century.
A century later, in the late 15th-century, Kilkee Castle was constructed by the MacSweeney's as feudatories of the MacMahons and later of the O'Briens. The Castle was subsequently granted to Charles MacDonnell, of Scotch lineage and a member of an Antrim family, who retained the property until the end of the 18th century. By then Kilkee had grown to become a Gaelic speaking fishing village. Indeed the Irish language continued to be dominant well beyond the middle of the 19th century as Mary J. Knott noted in her 1836 book, ‘Two Months At Kilkee’: "few people can speak English".
However, it was during the 18th-century that Kilkee’s destiny as a resort town started to take root. It commenced at the west end the bay where local landed aristocracy and the "merchant princes" of Limerick built a number of summer lodges, as they were drawn to the area because of its unique climate. The air here benefits from the west winds journey across the broad expense of the Atlantic Ocean being warmed by the Gulf Stream. This created a unique weather pattern, the former providing the bracing, healthy character, the latter the mild climate.
Before long a steady stream of visitors came to enjoy Kilkee’s natural environment and it was set to develop as one of the country’s most fashionable seaside resorts. In 1837 Samuel Lewis in ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ describes the growing popularity of Kilkee:
Kilkee or Doogh, a village in the parish of Kilfieragh, barony of Moyarta, County of Clare and province of Munster, containing 1051 inhabitants. In 1837 it consisted of 153 houses; since which time several houses and bathing lodges have been erected, the village is much frequented as a bathing place chiefly by the citizens of Limerick, on account of its remarkably fine strand sheltered by a ledge of rocks stretching across one-third of Kilkee Bay.
Although benefiting from the healthy air and an attractive semi-circular strand the real engine beneath Kilkee’s resort success was its close proximity to, and the availability of transport from, the city of Limerick. Limerick, which today is one of Ireland’s largest cities, was just accessible by boat, along with the Shannon to Kilrush, and by horse-drawn cars from there to Kilkee. This success was bolstered in 1885 when the legendary Charles Stewart Parnell launched the West Clare Railway. This initially ran from Ennis to Miltown Malbay but within five years direct links to Kilkee and Kilrush were added. At one stage the resort featured on the front page of the London Illustrated News as the premier bathing spot in what was then Great Britain.
Today Kilkee continues to attract a large number of visitors and the town’s main source of wealth is the tourist industry. During the peak tourist season, the beach or 'horseshoe' bay is packed with tourists. Many recreational places are set up throughout the town, including restaurants, pubs, and cafes. In high season the town is thronged, with the nightlife being particularly lively.
Alongside these many modern amenities, the town retains some of its 19th-century Victorian feel. The horseshoe bay is protected from the Atlantic by the Duggerna Reef and is regularly awarded the Blue Flag by the European Commission. Although late for the sailing season ‘The Strand Races’ are one of the most colourful attractions in Kilkee. Dating back to the 19th century the horse races are held on the beach using poles to create courses in the sand when the tide is out.
There are however plenty of things to do when visiting Kilkeel in the sailing season. The pier is located on the northern side of the main beach and is an ideal location for holiday anglers. Walkers will find many walking routes for which the town is renowned, including several treks leading out of the town over the cliffs in both directions. Kilkee is also a mecca for divers, and Jacques Cousteau declared that it was the best diving spot in Europe. Kilkee is also home to an 18-hole golf course.
However, Kilkeel visitors should keep a vigilant eye to the weather forecast so as not to be surprised by a strong north-westerly. Any yacht on anchor between the pier and Edmond Point, on the south shore, would be entirely exposed to this sector and would find it very difficult to beat out of Moore Bay if the wind was accompanied by a swell. As if to underscore the point, Edmond Point takes its name from the barque Edmond, as in 1850 the ship was dashed to pieces on the rocks off the point.
What facilities are available?Kilkee has all the facilities to cater for its population of about 1500 but no specific yachting facilities other than a slipway. Though situated on the extreme westerly seaboard, it is easily accessible by road and air. It is located midway between Kilrush and Doonbeg on the N67 road. 48Km directly inland is Shannon Airport, and there are bus services linking Kilkee with all important cities and towns of Ireland and roads connect Kilkee with Ennis (56km), Limerick (92km), Galway (123km), Cork (193km) and Dublin (290km).
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Kilkee.
With thanks to:Anthony Lucey, Area Officer, Irish Coast Guard Kilkee.
Kilkee Aerial Overview (i)
Kilkee Aerial Overview (ii)
Kilkee Aerial Overview (ii)
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