Liscannor Bay is completely open to westerly conditions and exposed to the full force of Atlantic swell. It provides a tolerable anchorage in offshore winds northeast around through east to south, or in very settled conditions. Access is straightforward as the bay is entirely open but the north shore of the bay is foul and should be avoided.
Keyfacts for Liscannor Bay
Summary* Restrictions applyA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position52° 56.270' N, 009° 23.185' W
This is the head of Liscannor pier that is situated on the north side of the bay and to the north of the anchoring position.
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Photo: Zenithe via CC BY-SA 2.0
The vast coastal indent of Liscannor Bay opens between Ship Point on the south and Cape Cancregga, the bold and abrupt termination of the magnificent ‘Cliffs of Moher’, on the north. Three miles wide at the entrance and four and a half miles deep the bay has the popular town of Lahinch at its head with an attractive sandy beach.
The initial fix sets up a recommended northeast approach to the anchorage. Vessels approaching from the north may, however, cut the corner and make use of a half mile wide passage between Kilstiffin Rocks and the foul ground extending from Cape Cancregga. More than 20 metres of water is available in this cut but it takes a vessel close to the foul northern shoreline. When a swell is up the entire area is a mass of broken water and should be avoided.
From the Liscannor initial fix proceed towards the anchorage on a course of 57° (T). This passes between the two outer and primary dangers here; north of the Muirbeg shoal and south of the Kilstiffin Rocks.
The southern and very dangerous Muirbeg shoal lies 4 miles to the northeast of Mutton Island, nearly a mile out northwest by west from Cream Point, the nearest part of the shore, and 1.5 miles southwest of Ship Point. 11 metres of water can be found between Cream Point and the shoal that makes itself known by heavy breakers. Outside Muirbeg the soundings are very irregular and at one spot, nearly 1.75 miles to the west of it, there is a rocky head with 19.5 metres of water, called Mweemgalle, that also often breaks.
The extensive and dangerous reef called the Kilstiffin Rocks lies at the entrance of Liscannor Bay. Situated about three-quarters of a mile south by southwest from Cape Cancregga it extends for about a mile in a southwest direction. The least water, 1.5 metres, is near its southwestern end and on other parts are from 2.4 to 4.6 metres. The position of the Kilstiffin Rocks is generally indicated by heavy breakers.
Within these shoals the path continues to pass northwest of the southern shore passing Freagh Point and Ship Point, then Drumdeirg Rock, located 800 metres northwest of Ship Point.
Next, the path crosses the bay to pass southeast of 7.6 metres deep Aughcooshneil shoal, off the north shore, and the Cooshniel Shoal projecting half a mile out from the mainland. The latter Cooshniel Shoal has a drying section at one part and 1.2 metres of water at its outer end.
A mile to the northeast of the Cooshniel Shoal the ruins of Liscannor Castle will be clearly seen on the northern shoreline. This conspicuous ruin readily identifies the village of Liscannor, located 500 metres northeast, with the pier close east of the village.
Image: Mark Murray CC BY-SA 2.0
On final approaches keep the pierhead on a bearing of about 350°, and at a distance out of about 500 metres when the cliffs to the south of the village and Cancregga come into alignment on a bearing of about 269°, drop anchor. A depth of 5.5 metres in sand will be found here. Land, by dinghy, on the harbour slipway.
The small harbour is formed by a pier with a 21 metre wide east facing entrance. Shallow draft vessels may enter the small and protected harbour should space be available or deeper draft vessels may come in temporarily on a rising tide. At low water, the harbour only supports a depth of 0.3 metres but at about 2.5 hours after low water depths of 1.5 – 1.6 metres will be found inside. The best water is found on the eastern side of the harbour near the entrance. Two cylindrical cement beacons mark the approach path to the harbour entrance. An approaching vessel should stay close to the starboard side marker. It would be best to scout the location by dinghy and take local advice prior to entry.
Why visit here?Liscannor’s name is derived from the Irish Lios Ceannúir, meaning the ring fort of Ceannúr that is thought to be a softening of the name ‘Connor’. However another body of thought suggests that the name could be born of a dark past event; Lis, again meaning ‘fort’, but cean in this case meaning ‘head’ or ‘headland’ and the or or uir meaning ‘slaughter’.
Despite this possible dark origin, Liscannor’s first footnote in international history dates back to 1588 when it was marked by salvation rather than slaughter. In that year as many as thirty ships from The Spanish Armada perished along the coast of Ireland. Most of these were along the western seaboard and three of that number were lost off the Clare coast. As described in the Mutton Island entry the Sao Marcos was wrecked a few miles to the south, and its entire crew were summarily hanged by the crown forces and buried near Spanish Point. Caught in the savage hurricane-force storm the oar-powered galleon Zuñiga was flailing in the tumult with a broken rudder. Then to its great relief, the iron walls of the Cliffs of Moher opened and it found its salvation in this bay by anchoring off Liscannor. The crew landed but it was not long before the ship came under crown surveillance lead by the sheriff of Clare. When a push was made to capture the crew all but one of them managed to withdraw to the ship. By then an auspicious weather window opened and the Zuñiga escaped the coast that saw an end to many of its sister ships. Its next berth was at Le Havre and finally, in the following year, it returned to its home port of Naples.
At that time the village of Liscannor would not have existed in the form we now know. Up to the early 19th century, this entire area was covered with thick woods mainly of oak and ash. However, in a statistical survey of the district made about 1810 we are told that nearly 200 houses had emerged with ten of them having quarried flagstone roofs. Soon after the harbour would have been a hub of activity. It had numerous fishing vessels as well as receiving boats laden with coal. Liscannor’s national reputation was, however, to come from stone that was it's primary export at the time. Numerous small local quarries, usually worked by the farmer who owned the land, were prolific in this area. The quarried flag was cut and polished beside the harbour and winched onto ships by steam crane. These would then be transported to various British cities including Glasgow and Manchester, for use as pavement slabs.
Owing to the harbours shallow nature ships were restricted in the loads they could handle. At low tides, many vessels had to be winched into the harbour. Currachs would bring the tow rope out to the ship and there was a high degree of rivalry between currach handlers to be the first out to an arriving ship. One of the harbour’s head-boatman was called John Holland. He was to father a son who was to become Liscannor’s most famous; John Philip Holland.
John Philip Holland was born in the coastguard’s station in 1841 in what was then called Castle Street, now renamed Holland Street. His father died in the 1840s, and the family moved to Limerick in 1853. Holland was fascinated by the sea, and in particular with underwater vessels that could be constructed for battle. His motivation was to develop an underwater vessel that one day might sink British warships that ruled the world seaways. In 1873 he emigrated to America where he initially worked for an engineering firm and then taught at a Catholic school in New Jersey. In the backdrop, he was continually designing his submarine. In 1875, his first submarine designs were submitted for consideration by the U.S. Navy but were turned down as unworkable. Finding common cause with The Irish Republican Brotherhood they financed the construction of his vision and in 1881 his first submarine the Fenian Ram was launched. The vessel was 9.4 metres long, carrying a three-man crew and was "the intended scourge of the British Navy". It however never saw warfare and is today intact in Patterson Museum, New Jersey. John Holland continued to improve his design and perfecting new submarines until in May 1897 he finally created the Holland. She was purchased by the U.S. Navy and after rigorous tests were commissioned on 12 October 1900 as USS Holland. Six more of her type were purchased and it was to be the template from which the first mass-produced submarines were to be constructed making John Holland the father of the modern submarine. A quarter of a century later, in August 1914, John Holland died. This was just a few days before the outbreak of World War I, in which his perfected underwater weapons played a major role.
Today a headstone, presented to the town in 1977 by the U.S. Navy, commemorates John P Holland and it can be viewed outside the local community centre. The harbour is much quieter now with a number of fishing vessels moored and several pubs offering the best of their catch. The harbour also hosts smaller boats that use it is a launching site for sea fishing or recreational sports. During the summer months, there is a tourist ferry service to the base of the Cliffs of Moher as well as to the Aran Islands.
From a sailing perspective, this is not the most protected anchorage a vessel could come by on this coast. However, with a favourable weather window, like Doolin to the north, Liscannor provides a unique opportunity to experience the world famous Cliffs of Moher. Being situated just 5 km (or 3.1 miles) west of the village this is just an hours walk and the closest anchoring position to the cliffs.
Known in Irish Aillte an Mhothair The Cliffs of Moher take their name from an old fort that stood on Hags Head until 1780. The present tower, near the site of the old fort, was built by the British as a lookout tower during the Napoleonic Wars. The sheer curtain wall cliffs that these towers overlook are simply breath-taking. They rise to 120 metres (390 feet) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag's Head, and reach their maximum height of 214 metres (702 feet) just north of O'Brien's Tower, eight kilometres to the north. From the round stone O'Brien's Tower, near the midpoint, visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the Maumturks and Twelve Pins mountain ranges to the north in County Galway, and Loop Head to the south. It is truly spectacular experience and being amongst some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe they receive almost one million visitors a year.
Despite this level of tourism, it is still a wildlife reserve. The precipitous rock face, layered with black shale and sandstone, provides sheltering ledges for guillemots and other seabirds making it one of the best examples of cliff-nesting seabird colonies in Ireland. The area was designated as a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive in 1989 and this includes the cliffs, the cliff-top maritime grassland and heath, along with a 200-metre zone of open water directly in front of the cliffs to protect part of the birds' feeding area.
What facilities are available?The small village of Liscannor has basic provisions to serve its population of less than 100 but no specific leisure sailing facilities other than a slipway. It has some excellent pubs serving fresh seafood landed by local fishermen. Though situated on the extreme westerly seaboard, it is easily accessible by road being located on the R478 road between Lahinch, to the east, and Doolin, to the north. The larger village of Lahinch is situated at the head of the bay, and the town of Ennistymon with a population of over 800, is two miles farther east.
Any security concerns?Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Liscannor.
With thanks to:Mark Murray, Yacht Motivator
Aerial overview of Liscannor Bay
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