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Blacksod Pier

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Overview





Blacksod Pier lies on the northwest coast of Ireland, to the north of Achill Island and on the southeastern extremity of the Mullet Peninsula. It provides visitor moorings off the pier and an anchorage close north.

The anchorage provides good protection, even from westerly gales, and the various bays around the wider Blacksod Bay makes it possible to find complete protection from any wind direction. The bay may be safely approached at any time of the day, at any stage of the tide and in all reasonable conditions.
Please note

Bloacksod Bay is one of the finest bays on the west coast of Ireland and an excellent, safe haven to run for should bad weather be forecasted.




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Keyfacts for Blacksod Pier
Facilities
Water available via tapTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaBus service available in the areaTourist Information office available


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: fish farming activity in the vicinity of this location

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
4 metres (13.12 feet).

Approaches
5 stars: Safe access; all reasonable conditions.
Shelter
5 stars: Complete protection; all-round shelter in all reasonable conditions.



Last modified
March 9th 2020

Summary

A completely protected location with safe access.

Facilities
Water available via tapTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaDoctor or hospital in the areaPharmacy in the areaBus service available in the areaTourist Information office available


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationRemote or quiet secluded locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: fish farming activity in the vicinity of this location



Position and approaches
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Haven position

54° 6.006' N, 010° 3.602' W

This is the head of Blacksod Pier

What is the initial fix?

The following Blacksod Bay initial fix will set up a final approach:
54° 2.662' N, 010° 10.659' W
Midway between Duvillaun Island and Saddle Head


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in Western Ireland’s coastal overview from Slyne Head to Erris Head Route location.

  • A central path through the entrance between Saddle Head and the Duvillaun Islands is deep and clear of dangers.


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 Blacksod Pier for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Elly Bay - 2.1 miles N
  2. Inishkea Island South - 3.2 miles WNW
  3. Keel Bay - 5.2 miles S
  4. Frenchport (Portnafrankagh) - 5.2 miles N
  5. Keem Bay - 5.7 miles SSW
  6. Broadhaven Bay - 6.8 miles NNE
  7. Ross Port - 8.8 miles NE
  8. Portacloy Bay - 10.6 miles NE
  9. Porturlin Bay - 11.2 miles NE
  10. Clare Island - 11.4 miles SSE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Elly Bay - 2.1 miles N
  2. Inishkea Island South - 3.2 miles WNW
  3. Keel Bay - 5.2 miles S
  4. Frenchport (Portnafrankagh) - 5.2 miles N
  5. Keem Bay - 5.7 miles SSW
  6. Broadhaven Bay - 6.8 miles NNE
  7. Ross Port - 8.8 miles NE
  8. Portacloy Bay - 10.6 miles NE
  9. Porturlin Bay - 11.2 miles NE
  10. Clare Island - 11.4 miles SSE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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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.

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What's the story here?
Blacksod Pier
Image: Tourism Ireland


Blacksod Bay opens to the Atlantic Ocean at its southern end and is bounded on its western side by the Mullet Peninsula and on its eastern side by the mainland coast of County Mayo. The bay is a large open lake-like bay about 9 miles long and 3 miles wide and is surrounded by low lying land and sandhills and dunes. Blacksod Pier is situated on a point that extends from the shore a ⅓ mile west-northwest of Blacksod Point upon the western entrance to the bay. It is rendered unmistakable by a square tower granite light structure on a dwelling, 12 metres high, standing near the root of the small pier. The small original old stone pier has had a modern 50-metre extension added that makes for an 'L' shape. It has a depth of 3 metres at MHWS and has a narrow channel dredged alongside its wall to provide sufficient water for the local boats to lie afloat.


The small bight that lies north of the quay and between it and Doonbeg Point
Image: Tourism Ireland


The pier is typically congested with the local fishing fleet but seasonal moorings for visitors are situated adjacent to it in the bay. Likewise, vessels can anchor, over sand with good holding, in depths of in excess of 4 metres within the small bight that lies north of the quay and between it Doonbeg Point. This offers excellent protection from westerly conditions.

Although the anchoring area is exposed to easterly component winds, there are many smaller bays within the main bay where it is always possible to find protection from any wind direction and hence the rating of complete protection. Elly Bay, less than five miles northward of Blacksod Point, is generally considered the most sheltered anchorage but it does not have the convenience of the pier to land upon.


How to get in?
Blacksod Pier at the southeastern extremity of the Mullet Peninsula
Image: Adrian Weckler External link


Convergance Point Use western Ireland’s coastal overview from Slyne Head to Erris Head Route location for approaches. Blacksod Bay is entered between the southern extremity of Mullet Peninsula and Achill Island 4 miles east by southeast.

It can be considered a reliable port of refuge as it provides safe access in most all reasonable conditions and shelter from all winds may be secured by moving around within the wider bay. However, the helm needs to note that during heavy westerlies, a swell usually sets through the entrance and breaks on the shoals fronting Duvillaun More. Likewise, heavy squalls can also sweep down from the mountains on Achill Island during strong southerlies and a precautionary reef is always advisable. As such, should a vessel be running in before a westerly gale it is advisable to keep well to the south of Duvillaun Island, to avoid the heavy breakers that occur there during heavy and unsettled conditions. But during heavy southerly winds, it is better to keep towards this side of the entrance, on account of the flaws and violent gusts of the wind that come from the Achill Mountains, that sailing vessels must particularly guard against.


Saddle Head with Achill Head and its ears seen in the backdrop
Image: Keith Ewing CC BY-SA 2.0


From seaward, Achill Head, the western extremity of Achill Island and a precipitous headland, is a prominent seamark that rises to an elevation of 664 metres within 2 miles of its extremity.

Black Rock
Image: MikaLaureque via CC ASA 4.0
Likewise, Black Rock lying 6 miles north by northwest of Achill Head. Known to locals as Tór Mór this high pyramid-shaped rock is the largest of a small group of rocks which lies in the western approaches to Blacksod Bay and is located 5¼ miles west of Duvillaun More. It rises to 82 metres high and is made unmistakable by its lighthouse, a tower, 15m high, standing on this rock.

Black Rock – lighthouse Fl WR 12s 22/16M position: 54° 04. 061’N, 010° 19.222’W

Southern Approach Vessels approaching from the south can simply pass in through the entrance which is 3½ miles wide between Saddle Head and the Duvillaun Islands. The Duvillaun Islands are a group of islands that are fronted by rocks and foul ground and extends up to 2.8 miles southwest of
Surgeview Point, the southwestern extremity of the Mullet Peninsula.


Duvillaun's as seen from Inishkea Islands
Image: Tourism Ireland


A central path is deep and clear of dangers and it is advisable to stand well off the Duvillaun Islands as shoal can occur in their vicinity. Keeping Black Rock Light on a bearing more than 276° T, astern, should keep a vessel in the middle of the fairway at night.


Duvillaun's (left) with Black Rock Island seen beyond Gaghta and Leamaereha
Image: Keith Ewing CC BY-SA 2.0


Northern Approach Vessels approaching from the north can pass in between Black Rock and Inishkea South and then stand well off Duvillaun More as shoals can be experienced off its western end.


Mullet Peninsula left with the Inishkeas seen offshore
Image: Adrian Weckler


In settled conditions, it is possible to pass between the Inishkeas and the Mullet Peninsula on the alignment of 198° T of Turduvillaun, the little western hummocky islet off Duvillaun More, and the Ears of Achill, 5¾ miles farther along south-by-southwest, as best seen on Admiralty Chart 2704. This alignment passes 300 metres east of Pluddany, the single danger along its path that is a long and dangerous ledge, extend across the channel to a distance of half a mile from the south-east point of North Inishkea.

In fine weather, with moderate or no swell, it is possible to take a short cut through Duvillaun Sound. The sound is about a ½ mile wide and lies between Duvillaun Beg and Keely Island on the south, Gaghta Island and Leamareha on the north. The alignment of the leading marks on Inishkea South, white pile beacons on the summit and foreshore on 307° T, leads through the sound with a least charted depth of 6.7 metres LAT.

Blacksod Lighthouse, at the southeastern end of the Mullet Peninsula and at the root of the pier and entrance to Blacksod Bay makes the position of the harbour unmistakable.

Blacksod Lighthouse
Image: Keith Ewing CC BY-SA 2.0


Initial fix location From the initial fix steer a central course keeping clear of the southern extremity of the island and Blacksod Point. The former has the unmarked isolated rock Gubaphumba, and Blacksod Point has foul ground that extends ¼ of a mile which is marked by an east cardinal lighted buoy. Pass southeast of Blacksod Light buoy and the bay is free of dangers.
Please note

The tidal currents set north and south across the approach to this bay at rates of 1 to 1.5 knots. The main flood runs north from HW Galway 0320 to +0305. Once inside the bay, the tide is weak.



At night, when the light on Blacksod Quay bears less than 0.18°T alter course to pass
southeastward of the Blacksod Light buoy and then for the anchorage.

Local boats alongside Blacksod Pier
Image: Keith Ewing CC BY-SA 2.0


Haven location Pick up a mooring or anchor off in the bay to the north of the pier. Stand clear of Doobeg Point, the northern extremity of the bight located 0.8 miles north by northwest of Blacksod Point, as it is fronted by a drying shoal that extends ½ a mile eastward and is marked by a lit east beacon, VQ(3) 5s3m.


The pier as seen from the anchoring area close north
Image: PETER CRAVEN


Should the berth become uncomfortable the wide range of nearby opportunities in Blacksod Bay, as a whole, provides many secure anchorages with good shelter and straightforward access by day or night in all weathers. Just keep a sharp eye out for the possibility of fish farms which may be positioned in the area.


Why visit here?
Blacksod Bay, Irish Cuan an Fhoid Duith acquired its name from heavy deposits of peat that once covered this rocky end to the Belmullet Peninsula that pokes south into the Atlantic.

Starting at Erris Head and running eight miles southward, gradually tapering away to Blacksod Point, exactly opposite Slieve More, on Achill Island, the Belmullet Peninsula provides a wondering sheltering arm to mariners passing along this coast. While one side of the Mullet is exposed to the fiercest storms of the Atlantic, the other provides a wonderful expansive landlocked haven that is deep, ease of access and provides shelter from all quarters. It is often described as one of the finest bays on the west coast of Ireland.

Set in the what is probably in the remotest part of western Europe it is difficult to imagine that the bay would have a pivotal role in two of the greatest seaborne invasions ever envisaged, all on account of the weather. The first connection is to the failed Spanish Armada, the latter, the successful D-Day invasion.

Routes of the Spanish Armada
Image: Public Domain
During the month of September 1588, having failed to achieve their objective of collecting soldiers in Spanish Netherlands, now Belgium, and invading England, what was left of the Armada fleet were on the run. They headed north into the North Sea, then west around Scotland and down along the west coast of Ireland, aiming for A Coruña and safety. Short of food and water and battered by inclement fierce incessant storms, that had largely saved England from conquest, the ships were highly distressed. Many had no longer had anchors, having cut them loose in trying to escape England’s fireships at Calais and had been damaged by the incessantly heavy weather. Of these ships, La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada was probably amongst the most battered.

Commanded by Don Alonso Martinez Levia, knight and trece of the Order of Santiago and second in command of the Spanish Armada, she had been in the thick of the battle off of Plymouth. It is believed that she had been the first Spanish ship engaged by Drake’s fleet and had taken a beating. As one of many merchant vessels requisitioned by King Philip II for Armada service, La Rata had not been built to withstand this kind of constant punishment. Even the recoil of her own artillery would have severely strained her hull.

The aftermath of the battles and the continued drubbing of the early September gales, whilst trying to sail home around Ireland, was all proving too much. Unable to keep up with the main body of the fleet, it soon became apparent to, Don Alonso, that the ship would not make it back to Spain. With diminishing options, on the 10th of September, hounded by a ferocious storm, La Rata turned and ran for the Irish coast and on the 17th of September, limped into Blacksod Bay taking on water.


Depiction of The Spanish Armada off the English coast
Image: Public Domain


Probably seeking shelter for his exhausted crew behind the towering bulk of Achill, Don Alonso sailed eastward as opposed to northward into the lake like waters behind the Mullet Penninsula where he could have found complete protection. Intending to get fresh water and supplies, repair some minor damage and wait for a break in the weather before heading south again he dropping anchor. The winds held strong and the strong tidal currents from Achill Sound pulled him in relentlessly. After an anxious night, the ship began to drift out of control, probably dragging what might have been an improvised anchor in the strong currents of the estuary. The outcome was inevitable and on the 21st of September La Rata ran aground in the shallows near Fahy Point in Tullaghan Bay.

Don Alonso Martinez de Leyva c.1580
Image: Public Domain
It seems that few or no hands were lost during the grounding and the survivors made their way ashore taking refuge in the abandoned Doona Castle nearby. The ship was now a problem, aground and unmovable 600 metres from the shore. With no other option open to him Don Alonso had the crew strip the ship of what they could, cannons, stores and other valuables and then set the ship alight to prevent her salvage by the English. They then fortified the ruins of Doona Castle with cannon in preparation for a confrontation with English troops who along with local allies were active in the area.

But the local English forces decided it was best not to interfere with the numerous well-armed soldiers from the shipwrecks. After some days two other ships of the Armada entered Blacksod Bay and guided, it is said, by Irish crewmen took advantage of the protective arm of the Mullet Peninsula. These were the merchantman Nuestra Señora de Begoña, 750 tons, 297 men, and the transport ship Duquesa Santa Ana, 900 tons, 23 guns, 357 men. These anchored for repairs in the perfectly sheltered Elly Bay on the western side of Blacksod Bay. Determined to bring his men back to Spain Don Alonso and his 600 men crossed the Owenmore and took Edmond Barrett's Castle, in Doolough, and all the other Barrett's Castles on the way to where the other two ships were riding at anchor. He was joined on the way by sole surviving sixteen members of the crew of another vessel, the Santiago, that had wrecked on the north shore of Clew Bay. With the combined complements of the three vessels, they crammed on board the Duquesa Santa Ana and set sail for Spain.

The remains of Doona Castle today
Image: dougf via CC BY-SA 2.0

The Nuestra Señora de Begoña sailed straight for Santander, Spain, arriving sometime later. But the Duquesa Santa Ana, was a hulk attached to the Andalusian Squadron and had all the disadvantages of their inherent inability to sail close to the wind. Over the following four days, the wind either did not blow, so they went nowhere and remained in peril of foundering on the Inishkea islands, or it blew from the wrong directions.

Duquesa Santa Ana
Image: Public Domain
The outcome was that on 27 September they had again returned to the entrance to Blacksod Bay having made no progress in any direction. With the weather presenting an impenetrable barrier to an overloaded ship that was short of supplies and leaking badly, Don Alonso had to reconsider his options. It was then he decided to sail north for Scotland which was a Catholic country where he believed they could find relative safety, recuperate, and then make their way back to Spain when the conditions were better. They then made good headway around Erris Head but a violent storm struck and the Duquesa Santa Ana was grounded in Loughros Bay in Donegal.

Once again Don Alonso brought his men safely ashore but was himself injured by a capstan bar as he left the ship. As on the shores of Blacksod Bay, the Spaniards sought out a defensive position to see off an English attack. They chose a ruined castle on an island in Kiltoorish Lake which they set about bolstering its defences from the wreckage. A friendly local chieftain gave them assistance and it is thought that they intended to dig in and hold out until aid could be sent from Spain. But after about a week, news reached them that another Armada ship, the Girona, was at Killybegs, 19 miles to the south. A sedan chair was rigged up for the wounded Don Alonso, and with his compliment of men, estimated to have been around 1,000, complete with cannons and valuables, they made their way overland to Killybegs.


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


There they found the damaged galleass Girona moored with its crew apparently trying to repair rudder damage. Another Spanish ship that had grounded at the harbour entrance was being stripped of materials and gear to effect the repair. Within a couple of weeks, early on the 26th of October, the ship set sail westward with the surviving crews, estimated to be 1,300 men and all their accumulated valuables and cannons crammed on board upon a vessel originally designed to take a total complement of 500. But rather than continuing west and then southward to Spain, they sailed for the sanctuary Scotland might offer.

The Girona
Image: Public Domain
Here the story came to its tragic conclusion. Once again, exceptionally bad weather resulted in the rudder falling off of Inishowen where the distant mountains of Scotland would have been visible. Then the gale-force winds and currents took control of the Girona pushing the disabled ship towards the dark towering cliffs of Ireland's formidable Antrim coastline. The power of the 224 rowers could not keep the ship offshore and she finally ran up on rocks off Lacada Point one headland northeastward from the coast's famous Giant's Causeway. Lacada Point's name, although Spanish sounding, is derived from the Irish Leac Fhada meaning 'Long Stone' which perfectly describes the outlying reef that it is.


19th-century engraving and imaginary depiction Girona shipwreck at Lacada Point
Image: Public Domain


Of the crew, there were only a handful of survivors. Two reports conflict on the number of survivors, one said there were five, and another nine, but all of them were Italians that were most likely up high working the topsails and were flung clear when the ship struck. Only 260 bodies were recovered from the sea afterwards. Most died inside the broken hull and any men who were not trapped in the ship were 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.


The Chimney Tops basalt columns overlooking Lacada Point today
Image: Ian Taylor via CC BY-SA 2.0


The rebel Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the head of the Antrim Scots (1505-1590), then master of magnificent Dunluce Castle situated close by would send the handful of survivors on to Scotland. He salvaged three or four of the ship’s guns to defend the landward approach of his castle at nearby Dunluce. Some treasures his men recovered from the wreck site were used to modernise the rest of his defences. After this, the site of the shipwreck 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 marine archaeologist Robert Sténuit, along with a team of Belgian divers, found the final site of the wreck and rediscovered an unprecedented collection of gold and jewellery - see Portballintrae Click to view haven. The recovered gold jewellery is preserved for all to see and exhibited at Belfast's Ulster Museum.


Blacksod Lighthouse
Image: Tourism Ireland


Constructed in 1864, to guide ships into the safe haven by one of the leading merchants in Belmullet at that time, the prominent Blacksod Lighthouse came to play a pivotal role in the greatest seaborne invasion the world has ever seen. It was the first days of June 1944 when the Sweeney families were its lighthouse keepers and the 21 years old Maureen Sweeney, the lighthouse keeper's wife, was taking the coastal weather readings. Although remaining neutral during World War II, Ireland continued to supply weather reports to Britain under an agreement in place since independence. Little did Maureen know, but at the time her recordings of winds just shy of Force 6 (22 - 27 knots) and plunging barometric pressure that pointed towards an impending storm arriving from the Atlantic, was causing an even bigger storm 500 miles southeastward.

The Sweeney's
Image: Public Domain
For her observations had suddenly threw General Dwight D Eisenhower’s meticulously planned Operation Overlord (the D-Day invasion) strategy for June 5th 1944 into chaos. It forced him to try to mediate between bitter antagonism that had been developing between his opposing US and UK weather advisors, the Americans predicting sunshine, while the Chief Meteorological Officer for the Allied Forces, forecasting a storm. Other participants in the decision, such as the Admiralty called conditions borderline, convinced that a Force 5 (17-21 knots) or stronger winds with an abundance of low cloud would stream over the invasion beaches obstructing airborne operations. It was up to General Eisenhower to decide and it was no easy decision, as the fate of the free world hung in the balance.

If he gave the word to 'go,' and the weather turned sour, it would likely have caused the invasion to fail. The lives of thousands of men would be lost as well as colossal amounts of vital equipment. If it is a 'no go' and the weather then turned out to be good, the Germans might sight the massive build-up on southern England and the element of surprise would be lost. Moreover, the next Spring Tide would be a full two weeks later when tides and moonlight were right and the German defences would be amply prepared to push them off.


Eisenhower speaking with men of a Parachute Regiment on June 5
Image: Public Domain


Ultimately it was left to him alone to make one of the most difficult decisions in the entire war. The go, no go, was only on Eisenhower's order. Whilst he poured again and again over the continuing reports from Maureen, thousands of soldiers were on their final march to embarkation points, pilots were having coffee in briefing rooms, drivers were steering their vehicles onto waiting maws of landing ships and sailors were reading the invasion fleet. None of them had an inkling of the knife-edge on which the decision to launch the invasion was balanced. This single decision could seal the fates of all of these men as well as many many more, and it could win or lose the entire war.


First landings Omaha Beach
Image: Public Domain


In the midst of this, subsequently, readings in Blacksod was the first to pinpoint a short window of the conditions easing that provided Eisenhower with the opportunity that he needed to launch just one day later. Thereby the decision was made to 'go' on 6 June 1944, when conditions were more favourable.


Omaha after establishing the beachhead
Image: Public Domain


The rest, of course, is history. Interestingly, should it have gone ahead in bad conditions on June 5th it would have been a close-run thing and as it happens, had it been cancelled and pushed back two weeks later, a completely un-forecast gale rolled in that would have caused the invasion to fail in that very window. Clearly, by then the secrecy about when and where the Allies would land would have been completely lost, and the losses would have been horrendous. This, in turn, would have delayed Victory in Europe for a year when the Soviet Union might have taken control of the continent. So little did she know when she tapping the barometer and taking those wind readings in her lonely Blacksod outpost, Maureen Sweeney, was changing the path of the war.

The pretty lighthouse where she stood stands prominent at the root of the quay. Made of local granite blocks believed to have come from Termon Hill, an isolated outcrop of high-quality granite. The lighthouse is an unusual design being a square block building with only a small conical lantern on top of it. Although easily accessible, standing beside the root of Blacksod Pier, it is not open to the public. But the tradition still lives on as it as Maureen Sweeney's son, Vincent Sweeney, is the current lighthouse keeper.

From a boating perspective, this is a wonderful haven. Blacksod Bay is an ideal place to drop into during bad weather with its good access and shelter. Blacksod Quay is nearer the entrance, and therefore a handier passage anchorage and the quay makes it convenient to get ashore. The interior of the bay includes many little sheltered coves such as Elly Bay and Saleen Bay on its western shore, Trawmore Bay to the north, and Tullaghan Bay to the east. Of these Elly Bay Click to view haven is the most sheltered anchorage although Elly Harbour is more liable to swell than the bay. Saleen Bay is the easiest place to land and as the main road is just beside the pier and inner harbour, the short 3-mile journey to the town of Belmullet is convenient for the restocking of provisions.


What facilities are available?
Diesel is available by tanker at the quay. Some limited provisions and fuel may be obtained from Blacksod village ⅔ of a mile northwestward of the quay. In general, facilities are a bit limited but Belmullet, which serves a population of about 1,000, has most of the necessary services that a visiting yachtsman require.


With thanks to:
PETER CRAVEN and Michael Harpur eOceanic.com




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