Kilbaha is a good anchorage in offshore winds from west to northeast. It is open to southerly component winds and especially so to south-easterly conditions that send a stiff short seaway into the bay. Drying boats may secure shelter from all quarters behind the pier if a berth is available. Attentive navigation is required for access as, although there are no off-lying obstacles, there are no lights or marks and the shoreline of the bay is fringed by sunken ledges. Hence a stranger should only approach in offshore winds with the benefit of good visibility.
Keyfacts for Kilbaha Bay
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with attentive navigation required for access.
Position and approaches
Haven position52° 34.125' N, 009° 51.677' W
This is the head of Kilbaha pier situated in the northwest corner of the bay.
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Image: Brian Fagan
Kilbaha Bay is situated three miles inside Loop Head. It is a fair weather haven where holding is poor and it is sheltered in winds from west around to northeast but is exposed to swell from the southeast. The small fishing village of the same name stands on the hill immediately above.
Image: Tourism Ireland
Vessels approaching Kilbaha from the north and west will have the Loop Head lighthouse as a conspicuous mark; a white 23-metre high tower at an elevation of 84 metres. It is situated 500 metres within the extremity of Loop Head that terminates in a 55-metre high precipice.
Loop Head - Lighthouse Fl (4) 20s, 23M position: 52° 33.672’N, 009° 55.938’W
Vessels approaching from the south and east will also see the Ballybunion North Cardinal situated about 5.5 miles east by southeast of Loop Head. It marks the mouth of the Shannon.
Ballybunion - North Cardinal Lt Buoy VQ Fl. 6m position: 52° 32.528’N, 009° 46.944’W
Kilbaha Bay is located on the southern shoreline of the Loop Head Peninsula about midway between these marks. It is situated between Kilbaha Cliff on the west and Kilcloher Head, located 2.5 miles to the east. The quay is situated on the west side of the bay.
From the Kilbaha Bay initial fix steering a course of 320° T for ¾ of a mile will take a vessel into the anchoring position off the pier. The bay has submerged rocky ledges on either side so it is advisable to maintain a central track all the way in and take soundings as the vessel approaches the anchoring position.
Image: Brian Fagan
The anchoring area is in depths of 4 metres with the quay bearing 250°T. Holding in the bay is not especially good so expect to work the anchor in. Land at the pier or on its adjacent slipway.
The pier dries out beyond its head and has a sandy bottom at its inner end. Halfway along the inner face of the pier, alongside the first bollard out from the root, it dries to 1.4 metres LWS. Pier berths are difficult to come by owing to the level of lobster boat activity in the area. However, if space should present itself it is possible for vessels to temporarily berth alongside.
Note; vessels should not be left unattended and be ready to move so as not to impede fishing operations.
Vessels alongside the pier can secure shelter from southeast winds but in bad weather, a swell enters the bay causing a run along the pier.
Why visit here?Kilbaha derives its name from the Gaeilge or Irish language name of Cill Bheathach that translates to ‘church of the round hill’.
The pier was set in place as Kilbaha was exiting the Famine, and constructed by the Fishery Board to land seaweed for fertilising the nearby land it proved a great benefit to local farmers. Turf that was cut in the vicinity was found to be of a superior quality and sent to Limerick from the quay.
At this time an interesting battle of wills surrounding the need for a village church was being played out between the people of the area and the landlord. In the 1850's the Loop Head Peninsula population then numbered 8,000 of which many were dying from Cholera. In that year a priest by the name of Father Michael Meehan was sent to help the dying victims and to give them the Last Sacrament. However, the celebration of Mass was prohibited in West Clare and the local landlord was actively enforcing the conversion of the local populace to Protestantism. Several schools were built to teach the Protestant faith and, in the days following the famine, attendance was incentivised by providing food to the children if they joined.
Although Kilbaha derived its name from the site of an early church there was at this time no church in the area. Moreover, there was not going to be one because the landlord would not permit their land to be used for a site. Undaunted Father Meehan acquired two adjoining houses in the village of Kilbaha. Knocking the two together into one he created a structure that he used for Mass. But this was halted very quickly by the local landlord who evicted him from the premises in little more than a month. The priest was then reduced to using improvised tents in which to hold services but which proved useless in bad weather.
Against this backdrop of persecution, Father Meehan came up with the idea of a small mobile church. He believed that if he could construct a suitable structure he could bring it to the Kilbaha shore and position it below the high tide mark. This part of the shore, between the high tide and low water, was in English law considered noman's land and the only position where the harsh property laws could not be enforced. In 1852 a Carrigaholt carpenter was commissioned to build the portable box, which resembled a bathing hut on wheels, and the completed carriage was drawn in a triumphal procession from Carrigaholt to Kilbaha. Father Meehan used the box, or ‘The Little Ark’, as it became known, to say Mass.
‘The Little Ark’ drew congregations exceeding three hundred people to the foreshore at Kilbaha every Sunday. There they would kneel in prayer, in all weathers, around the Ark. The news spread and it soon began to attract attention drawing visitors to the area to witness the phenomenon. All who came to see this sight were confounded and amazed. Confounded to see as a result of landlord intolerance, a quarter of a century after the passing of Emancipation, the Catholics of west Clare could not get a site for a church; and amazed to see the lengths to which the people went to practice their religion. This Mass ceremony on the shores of Kilbaha Bay continued unfalteringly for four years.
Eventually, after many false starts, a suitable site for a church was begrudgingly conceded to the priest in 1857. The foundation stone for Kilbaha’s Moneen Church, 'Our Lady, Star of the Sea', was laid that year. On the day of the church’s dedication, the Mass was celebrated in the Ark before a crowd of three thousand people. The Little Ark was finally placed inside the completed church and remains there to this day, housed in a specially built annexe. The extraordinary Father Meehan died on the 24th of January 1878 after spending his last remaining years working in the parish.
Today Kilbaha is a rural but well-utilised lobster fishing pier with a well-frequented bar, in the centre of the bay. Surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic and River Shannon, and on a clear day, with the mountains of Kerry easily visible to the south, it is a place of unspoilt natural beauty. It is the ideal location for a visiting boat to visit the Loop Head peninsula which is one of Ireland’s most wildly beautiful locations and a best-kept secret.
From a boating perspective, Kilbaha Bay is an ideal location for a vessel to await a tide to enter the Shannon and approach it along the calmer northern shore of the estuary. It likewise makes for an ideal location for northbound leisure vessels to take shelter from northerly component winds to await a better window. Furthermore, it is very much a straight-in-and-out location, providing a very convenient offshore wind lunch stop for vessels making passage along this coast.
What facilities are available?The pier has a slipway plus a fresh water tap. There is an excellent pub standing conspicuously a short walk away on the shoreline in the middle of the bay. A small village, to the west side of the bay, has the typical facilities you would expect to support its small domestic population of less than 500 people. A shop with basic provisions, a pub, post office plus a petrol pump can be found there.
Situated near the end of the Loop Head peninsula Kilbaha is far away from major roads. The N67 is the closest situated 25 kilometres east of the village. The closest village is Kilkee, with a population in excess of 1300, situated on the N67 road at the north east of Kilbaha, to which there is a daily bus service. On Saturday’s only, there is a service to Limerick.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored in Kilbaha Bay.
With thanks to:Anthony Lucey, Area Officer, Irish Coast Guard Kilkee.
A panoramic view of Kilbaha Bay
A series of still shots of Kilbaha and the surrounding area
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