The inlet affords shelter that varies from good to tolerable depending on the choice of anchorage. Sheep Haven is easily accessible when unaffected by weather or tidal considerations though access to some of the individual bays requires attentive navigation.
Keyfacts for Sheep Haven
Summary* Restrictions applyA tolerable location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position55° 11.346' N, 007° 50.504' W
this is the position at Downings pierhead
What is the initial fix?
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How to get in?The 'Erris Head to Malin Head' coastal description provides approach information to the suggested initial fix. Vessels approaching from the south should select the northeast bound sequenced description; vessels approaching from the north should select the southwest bound sequence; western approaches may use either description.
Sheep Haven is a north facing inlet about 20 miles northwest of Letterkenny which is exposed to north and northeast winds, and its entrance lies between Horn Head peninisula on the west and Rinnafaghla Point on the Rosguill peninsula to the east, a distance of about 4 miles. The most popular anchorages are Downies Bay on the eastern shore, Ards Bay at the southern head of Sheep Haven, and Marble Hill Bay and Dunfanaghy Bay on the western shore.
Downies Bay lying to the south of the Rosguill peninsula affords partial shelter to small vessels and the holding ground is good but a severe strain on cables is caused by the undertow. There are 4 seasonal moorings available for visiting yachts situated southeast of Downings pier. Downings pier on the west side of the bay will accommodate small vessels and affords shelter to others which can lie aground but note that it dries for half the piers length on its east side. At the head of the pier there is a berth with a depth of 3.7 metres which is unsafe in unsettled weather. Pollcormick Inlet which is located immediately west of Downings pier affords an excellent sheltered anchorage for small craft in depths of 3 metres, to the extent that local boats remain here all the year round.
Ards Bay provides the best shelter in the haven though the entrance to its narrow channel is obstructed by a sandy bar which can be dangerous to small craft if there is a big sea running. The greater part of Ards Bay dries at low water and the tidal streams run so strongly through the narrow channel that vessels lying there are subject to inconvenience and danger during every tide, and great care is necessary to prevent swinging on to the rocks and steep sandbanks. No vessel should attempt to enter Ards Bay without local knowledge and even then if the weather is bad it is better to take shelter in Downies Bay. The local fishermen act as pilots.
Marble Hill Bay is a very pretty little cove south east of Knockduff village near Dunfanaghy, though much exposed to swell it affords a good anchorage to small craft in offshore winds and in the absence of any swell, landings by dinghy can be made on the extensive beach. Portnablaghy Bay about 1 mile west of Marble Hill is foul with rocks and is much exposed to swell which could be dangerous. There is a temporary anchorage in the middle of the bay in about 4 metres in suitable weather.
Dunfanaghy Bay entered between Horn Head Little and Breagly Head affords a temporary anchorage for small craft in the summer, although a vessel should not remain here in onshore winds. Dunfanaghy Harbour to the west of the bay is entirely dry at low water and the town though small is the most important place in this remote district and has a small quay. The bay is fully exposed to dangerous swell and the quay is therefore definitely not recommended, nor is the bay.
Why visit here?Sheep Haven, Irish : Cuan an gCaorach, meaning Haven of the Sheep, is a bay in a remote and sparsely populated area on the north coast of County Donegal. The Gaelic name Cuan an gCaorach is a neologism from a mistranslation of Cuan na Currach or Haven of the Curraghs (or boats). When the name was translated into English the word ship, used by locals for boats, was misheard as sheep.
Sheep Haven bay is located between two penisulas; on the west lies Horn Head, the northern extremity of a bold and rugged peninsula bounded by magnificent precipices 600 ft. in height which at the extreme point assumes the remarkable hornlike appearance that gives the Head its name, and on the east lies Rosguill peninsula which is of similar formation but the cliffs that border it are comparatively of moderate height nowhere exceeding 200 ft. Rinnafaghla Point which forms the northwest projection of Rosguill peninsula is rather low with outlying rocky prongs.
The bay has a few shoreline villages and Downings or Downies, Irish : Na Dunaibh, is a Gaeltacht village on the Rosguill peninsula which used to be a significant fishing port with a substantial herring fleet but today only a handful of crab boats make a traditional living from the sea. Today the economy relies on tourism as Downings has begun to cater for international game fishermen, the north west of Ireland being on the migration route of bluefin tuna and other game species. Downings is also the start and finish of the Atlantic Drive, one of the most dramatic scenic routes in the whole of Ireland. The Irish name Na Dunaibh is ambiguous in its meaning and could refer to the wealth of hill forts in the area or it could describe the sandy dunes connecting the peninsula to the mainland.
Portnablaghy, Irish : Port na Blaiche which depending on translation means either “port of flowers” or “harbour of the buttermilk”, is a small village, and along with its neighbour Dunfanaghy, is well known for its beach and picturesque harbour and attracts many summer time tourists mostly from Northern Ireland. The small harbour is well protected on three sides and has a relatively short slipway which provides access for boat owners to a large number of beaches in Sheep Haven bay many of which are only accessible on foot or by sea.
Dunfanaghy, Irish : Dun Fionnachaidh meaning fort of the fairhaired warrior, formerly a fishing port and the commercial centre of the area, has the largest population of the villages of the area and though small it remains the most important place in this remote district largely due to its position on the main N56 road.
Around the shores of Sheep Haven bay are some of Irelands most attractive beaches; the wide and sandy Killahoey beach leads right into the heart of Dunfanaghy village, and to reach Dunfanaghy's loveliest spot, Tramore beach, requires hiking through the grassy dunes south of the village; whilst Marble Hill Cove beach is more secluded but is usually crammed in summer time particularly with wind surfing enthusiasts who can obtain lessons and hire gear at this spot.
Anyone looking to stretch their legs should head to Ards Forest Park on the east side of Sheep Haven at its southern end which has miles of criss crossed marked nature trails some of which lead through forest avenues down to clean beaches, or alternatively wander through the grounds of Doe Castle situated in the same area and which is picturesquely sited on a low promontory with water on three sides and a moat hewn out of the rock on the landward side.
What facilities are available?The area around Sheep Haven has few facilities to offer the visiting yachtsman but Downings village on the east shore has a grocery store, post office, hotel, restaurant and bar, fresh water is available and petrol can be obtained in cans 300 metres from the pierhead.
Portnablaghy Bay on the opposite west shore offers similar facilities with a small pier and slip, a provisions store, restaurant and bar, and petrol available by cans.
Ards Bay has a slip for a dinghy landing but the estate ashore belongs to a Friary and permission is needed to walk through it and to use the slip. On the south side of Bath Point in Ards Bay there is a quay that dries.
There are no facilities at Marble Hill Bay except for the mile long very pretty beach which is ideal for spending a lazy day on.
Dunfanaghy is the largest settlement in the area and as well as its small quay has a shop for provisions, hotels, restaurants and bars, a post office and a health centre, and it also has a daily bus service to Letterkenny.
With thanks to:inyourfootsteps.com site research. Photography with thanks to Rossographer, Colin Park, Ron Goodhew, Joseph Mischyshyn, Kieran Evans and Brian Deeney of Donegal Cottage Holidays.
The following is a promotional video for the Downings area.
The following video presents a photo montage of Downings and Island Roy.
Add your review or comment:
Guy Adams wrote this review on Jun 28th 2016:
Visitors buoys near the pier. Go to the Beaches Hotel, in the village. The owners, Charlie and Moraid MCClafferty, greeted us like long lost sons, supplied a card key to one of their well appointed rooms so we could shower in comfort. Great food and top drawer "craic" in the long bar,.Average Rating: Unrated
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