Although windswept and exposed to the full length of Dunmanus Bay a vessel can find good protection within the harbour in and around its small island. Access is straightforward at any stage of the tide. However there are no marks, and the outlying obstructions that require some easy navigation during the day would make a nighttime entry inadvisable.
Keyfacts for Dunbeacon Harbour
Summary* Restrictions applyA good location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position51° 36.804' N, 009° 32.997' W
South of the old pier, near the village of Durrus, in about 2 metres making best advantage of the shelter provided by Mannion's Island.
What are the initial fixes?The following waypoints will set up a final approach:
(i) Dunbeacon Harbour initial fix
51° 36.145' N, 009° 35.485' W
On the alignment, as best seen on Admiralty 2552, that leads in on a bearing of 078°T and passes midway between Mannion's Island and Dunbeacon Point. This path of about two miles out to the anchoring position, passes to the north of the foul ground surrounding Twopoint and then into the entrance.
(ii) Dunmanus Bay initial fix
51° 30.700' N, 009° 51.200' W
This initial fix positions an Atlantic approach to Dunmanus Bay and is set midway between Sheep's Head and Mizen Head.
Not what you need?
- Dunbeacon Cove - 1.2 miles SW
- Kitchen Cove - 2 miles WSW
- Bantry Harbour - 3.2 miles NE
- Schull Harbour (Skull) - 3.3 miles S
- Kilcrohane Pier - 3.6 miles WSW
- Trawnwaud (Castle Island Sound) - 3.7 miles SSE
- Dunmanus Harbour - 3.7 miles SW
- Rossbrin Cove - 3.8 miles SSE
- Castle Island (North Side) - 3.9 miles SSE
- Horse Island - 4 miles SSE
How to get in?Dunmanus Bay is a long narrow Atlantic Ocean bay inlet situated between Mizen Head, to the south, and Bantry Bay to the north. It is entered four miles north of Mizen Head between Three Castle Head and Sheep’s Head, a distance of about 3.5 miles apart. The bay extends easterly for a distance of 12 miles inland up to the small village of Durrus at the head of the bay within Dunbeacon Harbour.
Many coastal cruising sailors overlook Dunmanus Bay for fear of being trapped in the deep inlet by a strengthening of the prevailing south westerlies. But Dunmanus Bay affords ample room and safe anchorages. It offers no shelter from southwest gales in the outer part of the bay as strong south-westerlies send in a heavy ground swell in as far as Carbery Island. However, there are several small fair weather anchorages and three very good all round anchorages, Dunmanus Harbour, Kitchen Cove and Dunbeacon Harbour. Of these, the particularly beautiful Kitchen Cove is the most attractive from a leisure standpoint and it is a haven that should not be passed over by the coastal cruiser.
The entrance is well marked by Sheep's Head and its lighthouse. Three Castle Head is also distinctive as it has a notable ruined castle set into a concave of the headland. Keeping 300 metres off each headland clears all headland dangers. In rough conditions, Sheep's Head’s Bullig, with 6 metres over it 400 metres west of the head, and Three Castle Head's South Bullig, with 4.5 metres over it 800 metres southwest of its head, should be avoided. These shoals both break in bad weather.
From the Dunmanus Bay initial fix the shores as far up as Carbery Island, situated eight miles inside the entrance, will be seen to be largely composed of rugged inaccessible cliffs. They are steep-to and clear of danger, but subject to a heavy sea; particularly so along the south shore.
On the south shore three miles northeast of Three Castle Head is the 51 metres high Bird Island. Situated close off Dunmanus Bay’s south-eastern shoreline the very green and pointed island is a conspicuous feature that plays host to colonies of puffins and shearwaters.
The rocky creek on the south shore that is Dunmanus Harbour is located one mile to the south of Carbery Island. It hosts leisure craft but can be subject to a heavy ground swell, more so in the winter, that would make it challenging in strong south-westerlies.
Carbery Island is the westernmost of three small islets lying near the middle of Dunmanus Bay. 15 metres high and green it has outlying rocks that extend 200 metres from its low rugged western end. Beyond these lie a dangerous reef called Carbery Breaker, with from 4.1 to 9.9 metres of cover, situated nearly 600 metres west-southwest from the island. There is a good clear passage to the inner part of the bay between Carbery Island and the north shore. The bay is ¾ of a mile wide here.
With good charts or a plotter, in settled weather, a passage to the east of Carbery Islands can provide for some interesting pilotage. This is a particularly useful cut from Dunmanus Harbour to Dunbeacon Harbour. Keep midway between Carbery and Furze Islands giving the west point of Furze Island a berth of at least 200 metres. Then steer in mid-channel between Furze Island and Cold Island, located 600 metres to the north, and then steer north to exit through the quarter mile wide gap between Cold Island and Murphy Rocks that are situated off the main. A modern self-sufficient home has been constructed behind Carbery's Brandy Point where a floating pontoon and small beach will be seen. These islets abound with seals.
This leads up the bay passing south of the low and rocky Pointabulloge, on the north shore and to the northwest of Drishane Point situated about two miles further up the inlet from Carbery Island. The Dunbeacon Harbour initial fix is set on the endpoint of this alignment so steering onto this and maintaining 052° T will keep a vessel on track.
The outer headland of Dunmanus Bay has few habitations. Continuing from this point up the long inlet the rocky headland cliffs gradually transform, particularly so the more sheltered southern shores that are not as rugged as those to the north. Here increasingly beautiful pastoral meadows will be seen with scattered sheep and cattle and the occasional solitary white cottage.
From Carbery Island to Drishane Point, two miles to the east, the south shore is foul out to a quarter of a mile. To the east of this, it is steep-to and clear of danger as far as Dunbeacon Cove. From there it again becomes foul from Dunbeacon Castle, a prominent ruin on the east side of the cove. 600 metres north by northeast beyond the tower ruins is an ancient fort, or rath the Gaelic for a fort, on a low cliffy fronted shore. It has foul ground extending 400 metres to the west.
Likewise in favourable weather conditions, there is the little fair weather stay-aboard anchorage at Trawrooim Landing, a mile to the west of Dooneen Point, where a landing party can come ashore.
Pointabulloge, from Gaelic ’Point-na-bullig’, the most outstanding point to the east of Dooneen Point, is low and rocky, with foul ground extending nearly 200 metres to the west of it. Lord Bandon's Tower, in the bight on the west side of the point, is conspicuous when sailing up the bay. From this point to the east the north shore continues moderately bold-to as far as Reen Point, that lies nearly opposite to Dunbeacon Castle on the south shore.
The rocky inlet of Kitchen Cove nearly midway between Pointabulloge and Reen Point offers a sheltered anchorage close to the small hamlet of Ahakista. It may be easily recognised by some trees near the shore at the bottom of the cove, also by a white chapel on the rising ground half a mile east of it.
The Dunbeacon Harbour initial fix is situated in the midpoint of these two rocks, where the channel to Dunbeacon Harbour turns east by northeast towards the centre of Rossmore Point and Dunbeacon Point on 078° T. The conspicuous radar domes on Mount Gabriel will bear 146° T at this point.
Once clear of Six-feet and Doona rocks the track from the initial fix to the entrance is 400 metres wide with 19 to 15 metres of water and has no obstructions in the least depth of 10 metres.
The track passes a danger on either side. To the north of the path is Carrigtuil Rock that is situated off the north shore; a quarter of a mile northwest from Rossmore Point and 300 metres from the shoreline. This is awash at low water and dries to 0.2 metres. To the south, there is the 0.6-metre high Twopoint Island with drying reefs extending to the southwest and northeast of it.
Set at the head of Dunmanus Bay, 13.5 miles east of the entrance to the bay, is Dunbeacon Harbour. It is situated between the northern Rossmore Point and the southern Dunbeacon Point on the mainland. It is quarter of a mile wide, with a depth of 10 metres, and will be distinctly seen from the fairway between Doona and Six-feet rocks. There are marks or leading beacons for the harbour but immediately inside the entrance, Mannion's Island will be seen.
To the southeast of Mannion’s Island, is an extensive fish farm that occupies the centre of the harbour. This was clearly marked in 2013 by yellow pillar buoys at each corner, four in total, making its coverage area readily apparent.
From the centre of the entrance, pass into the harbour keeping in more than 5 metres. Mannion's Island is foul out to its southwest for 100 metres. When south of Mannion's Island turn northeast to pass between the island and the fish farms northwestern marker buoy. Continue to the south of the island and the northern line of the farm.
The recommended anchorages are east of Mannion’s Island and southwest of the fragmentary remains of Rossmore Castle that overlooks Dunmanus Bay. Anchor in about 3 metres with excellent mud holding. Alternatively progress to the northeast from here as far as draft permits to obtain the best shelter.
The northeast corner of the farm, about 600 metres northeast of Mannion's Island, should be avoided as Carrigbroanty Rock is situated there which dries to 0.5 of a metre. North of Carrigbroanty, the water quickly shallows to less than 2 metres in general and access to the pier is restricted by a least depth of approximately 0.5 meters between Carrigbroanty Rock and the pier.
About 2 metres can be found on the outside berth of the new quay that is well supplied with good ladders and mooring points. The pier is used by Dunbeacon’s fishing fleet so it is best to check with the local boatmen if a berth can be accommodated and best depths to be expected. It would only be considered for a high water shopping trip and the best landing via a tender is on the slip at the pier’s eastern end. The pier on the north side of the bay is derelict but there are plenty of gravel landing beaches to come ashore nearby.
Why visit here?Dunbeacon, derived from the Irish ‘Dún Béacáin’ meaning fort of Béacáin. Situated at the head of the inlet that is located between the peninsulas of Sheep's Head and Mizen Head, it is an area steeped in history.
Monuments at Coolcoulagha and at Dunmanus date back to the Neolithic period, 3500–1500 BC, indicating that a significant pre-Celtic population resided here. Centuries later, around 500 BC, the Celts started arriving and began the slow process of overlaying their language and culture on the local population. The Annals of Innisfallen state that St. Ciarán, of Cape Clear, came back to his native place from Rome in 402 A.D. to introduce Christianity to the southwest. The new religion became firmly established and intermingled with old practices. In the 6th and 7th century the family now known as the O'Mahonys, from the Eoghanach in North Munster, arrived in the area. By the 8th century they were well settled in the Sheep’s Head peninsula or Muintir Bháire as is its ancient name - meaning “the people of Bháire”. The McCarthys and O'Donovans arrived in the 12th century also from The Eoghanach. They secured lands belonging to the O'Mahonys but remained on good terms with them. By 1190 the Normans, known as the 'grey foreigners', had reached as far west as Durrus but were repulsed by the Desmumu as the people of south Munster were then known.
From this time onwards the herring fishery became very well established in the southwest. As discussed in the Rossbrin Cove entry a tribute was paid by the French and Iberian fleets to the O'Mahony, O'Driscoll and McCarthy families. This conferred on them the right to fish and set up salting bases ashore. This prosperity gave rise to a significant building of 15th-century religious and tower houses that are a reoccurring theme of this area. The fragmentary remains of Rossmore Castle that overlooks Dunmanus Bay was formally the guardian of the once thriving harbour here.
Fishing continued to be a mainstay of Dunmanus and Dunbeacon as was well documented in a claim for compensation in 1641. William Hull, the Vice President of Munster, had established pilchard palaces at Dunmanus and Dunbeacon. These were basic processing buildings or curing stations introduced by English Settlers where the pilchard oil was extracted. In the rising of December 1641, these were attacked by ‘800 rebels in all’, according to Hull, and the entire industry was wiped out. His claim later for compensation gives good detail on the workings of the industry. His claim included 16 seine boats allegedly lost, each would have a crew of twelve and a further 80 would be needed. Hull himself has been implicated for his involvement and help given to pirates. A survey of the area in 1810, by Townsend, also noted its pilchard fishing at that time and stated that the peasants of this area used milk and fish to put a ‘taste’ on potato which was the staple food of the time. Boats and nets for fishing were made locally as well as lobster pots. At the turn of the century, the mackerel fishing industry was thriving. This continued to be a local mainstay either by people directly involved fishing, usually ‘small’ farmers who fished part-time or in supporting activities of making and mending nets, salting and transportation of the catch.
Dunbeacon harbour provides good access to the ‘The Sheep’s Head Way’ walking route. The route extends eastwards out along the narrow and high peninsula that provides glorious views over Dunmanus Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The walkway offers linear walks and loop walks of varying distance and difficulty and maps and details can be found in Durrus. Those looking for a shorter outing could venture out to the stone circle on the slopes of Mount Corrin. This Neolithic monument overlooks the harbour from its southern shore. It is situated at an elevated position high above Dunmanus Bay within a small dell where the sea can be just glimpsed through a fold in the hills to the west. The stone circle seems to have consisted of 11 original stones, six of which are still standing, albeit some at odd angles, and the remainder toppled. In the centre is a slab-like stone and overall it is an impressive monument. Continuing to the top of Mount Corrin provides fabulous vistas, and on a clear day, views are possible over Durrus, Dunmanus Bay and Sheep's Head, with glimpses of Bantry Bay across to the Beara and Kerry to the west and north, and Roaringwater Bay to the south. Mount Gabriel, the islands of Roaringwater, Kilcoe Castle and the Fastnet Rock is also visible to the south.
A number of gardens open to the public have been established in the area including Cois Abhann and Kilvarock, the latter having amazing views overlooking the length of Dunmanus Bay. These gardens form part of the West Cork Heritage Garden Trail and are well worth a visit for a stroll around.
From a boating point of view, this well-protected harbour offers plenty of safe anchoring, and there is ample to interest those who are prepared to stride out and embrace this wonderful windswept and ancient coastline.
What facilities are available?At Durrus village there is a post office, grocery store, a hardware store, pubs, restaurants, cafes plus fuel by jerry cans and gas refills. The quay and slip is approximately 1.6 km or 1 mile to the west of the village. Further facilities can be found at Bantry, just six miles (9.7 km) from Durrus.
With thanks to:Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford. Photography with thanks to Andrew Wood, Pam Brophy, Graham Horn, Mike Searle and Burke Corbett.
Aerial Overview of Dunmanus Bay
A photo montage of the area around Dunmanus.
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