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Murlough Bay

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Murlough Bay is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland a mile and a half south of Fair Head and twenty-four miles north by west of Larne. Here vessels may obtain an anchorage out of the main tidal stream for a lunch stop or a tide-wait.

Murlough Bay is situated on the northeast coast of Ireland a mile and a half south of Fair Head and twenty-four miles north by west of Larne. Here vessels may obtain an anchorage out of the main tidal stream for a lunch stop or a tide-wait.

Murlough Bay is an exposed anchorage in an area with extreme currents where a vessel should not be left out of sight. It offers good protection in settled, or westerly round to southerly component conditions but is completely exposed to anything from the east. Access is straightforward thanks to the absence of offshore dangers or any tidal restriction.
Please note

The direction and velocity of the tide should be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area.

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Keyfacts for Murlough Bay
None listed

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open water

Restriction: strong to overwhelming tides in the locality

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
2 stars: Exposed; unattended vessels should be watched from the shore and a comfortable overnight stay is unlikely.

Last modified
July 18th 2018

Summary* Restrictions apply

An exposed location with straightforward access.

None listed

No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderQuick and easy access from open water

Restriction: strong to overwhelming tides in the locality

Position and approaches
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Haven position

55° 12.641' N, 006° 6.786' W

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in the northeast Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location.

  • Approach the bay from the northeast and anchor according to draft.

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 Murlough Bay for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Torr Head - 2.1 nautical miles ESE
  2. Ballycastle - 4.3 nautical miles W
  3. Church Bay - 5.6 nautical miles NNW
  4. Cushendun - 5.6 nautical miles SSE
  5. Cushendall - 8.4 nautical miles SSE
  6. Red Bay Pier (Glenariff Pier) - 8.9 nautical miles SSE
  7. Ballintoy Harbour - 9 nautical miles WNW
  8. Carnlough Bay and Harbour - 13.8 nautical miles SSE
  9. Portballintrae - 14.9 nautical miles W
  10. Glenarm Bay and Harbour - 15.5 nautical miles SSE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Torr Head - 2.1 miles ESE
  2. Ballycastle - 4.3 miles W
  3. Church Bay - 5.6 miles NNW
  4. Cushendun - 5.6 miles SSE
  5. Cushendall - 8.4 miles SSE
  6. Red Bay Pier (Glenariff Pier) - 8.9 miles SSE
  7. Ballintoy Harbour - 9 miles WNW
  8. Carnlough Bay and Harbour - 13.8 miles SSE
  9. Portballintrae - 14.9 miles W
  10. Glenarm Bay and Harbour - 15.5 miles SSE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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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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How to get in?

The picturesque Murlough Bay provides an anchorage in a remote and beautifully unspoilt location. There is nothing here except for a single house and the ruins of Drumnakill Church overlooking the bay from a northern promontory.

Convergance Point Vessels converging on Murlough Bay will find no outlying hazards north of Hangman and Maiden Rocks situated twenty miles to the southeast. Four hundred metres out from the slopes of the Antrim Mountains, which push out almost vertically to the coast in the vicinity, clears all dangers.

Initial fix location From the Murlough Bay initial fix, set approximately 500 metres to the northeast of the Bay, come into the bay passing north of Ruebane Head on the south side of the bay.

A white cottage with a boathouse and its slip set amongst the rocks will be seen on the western side of the bay. Keep well off this side of the bay as exposed rocks fringe the western shoreline.

Haven location Anchor in 3 metres close southeast of the outer rock stretching from the western shoreline in clean sand. Land on the sandy beach at the head of the bay or on the slip by the boathouse that is partially protected by its fringing rocks.

Why visit here?
Murlough Bay derives its name from the Irish words Murlach or Murbolc. These are based on a softening of the original Mu-i-rbholg, pronounced murrwullig, that mean ‘sea inlet’. Situated between Fair Head and Torr Head this is a place well known through the centuries for its outstanding beauty.

Legend recalls that the slopes of this bay were the summer residence of the ancient Celtic Kings of Dal Riada, the kingdom which covered the northeast corner of Antrim from a line between Glenarm to Bushmills.

Early Christians built Drumnakill Church on the small hillock in the centre of Murlough Bay. Its name is derived from the Irish words ‘Droim na Coille’ meaning ‘ridge of the wood’. Previously it was known as the ‘Church of St. Mologe’ after the Saint who founded it as a monastic settlement, and who is believed to be buried at its western end. In its time, which was more than a thousand years ago, the church was chiefly accessible from sea and it was from the sea that its small flock would have sustained themselves.

Murlough Bay has historical Scottish connections noted in two early maps of the area that dates back to 1601. The first ‘East Ulster’ map includes the phrase ‘Here the Scotts make their warning fyres’ depicting a bonfire at a point above Murlough Bay. The same location is pointed out on another ‘Map of Ireland’ with the inscription stating ‘At this marke the Scottes used to make their warning-fires’. These refer to a MacDonnell clan beacon on the cliff top above the bay. From here, in times of trouble, they would hail reinforcements from their Kintyre homeland. The deep waters, moderately sheltered cove and clean sandy head provided an excellent berth and landing point for those responding to the ‘call to arms’. Although the valley is steep, a warrior could ascend from the shoreline to the top of the cliff in about fifteen minutes.

From the 1700's to the 1940's, and most particularly during the 1800’s, coal and limestone were mined here. The local geology is typical of the Antrim topography with basalt overlaying sandstone and limestone which made the production of lime popular along this coast. The mining effort at Murlough Bay was at best sporadic and never amounted too much. Yet it did support a small mining settlement that is evidenced by the ruins of some miner's cottages north of the bay on the path to Fair Head. The kilns here would have processed limestone quarried from the cliffs above, that would have been burned together with the locally mined coal. The resultant residue was utilised for fertiliser or in mortar, and occasionally as limewash which was believed to have been used to whiten the buildings of Cushendun.

An unusual feature of the bay is a concrete plinth near the road with superb views over the bay and across to Scotland. This was originally a ‘station of the cross’ on an ancient pilgrim's way from the old Church of Drumnakill. The plinth was then used by Republicans to place a cross, subsequently destroyed, in commemoration of Sir Roger Casement. Casement was a most remarkable man by any measure. In 1911, he knelt before King George V and was knighted for his humanitarian work. Described as the ‘father of twentieth-century human rights investigations’, he received his knighthood for his important investigations of human rights abuses in Peru and the Congo. Yet five years later this British diplomat, human rights activist, and poet was brought back to London in chains. There he was stripped of his knighthood, hanged at London's Pentonville prison and his naked body was thrown into an open grave.

Influenced by the Boer War and his investigation into colonial atrocities against indigenous peoples, Casement became disillusioned with colonialism and developed anti-imperialist opinions at the time of his Knighthood. After retiring from the consular service in 1913, he became more involved with the Irish Republican and separatist movement. Attracted by the potential of an Irish-German alliance as a way of securing full Irish independence, he conceived a plan for an uprising and went to Germany to petition for 200,000 rifles and military support. The Germans were very cautious yet at the same time realised the potential of an Irish uprising. In the end, Casement only succeeded in securing a token gesture of 20,000 guns, a fraction of what he requested, and the use of a disguised Norwegian flagged 'Aud Norge' ship to bring them in. When he realised German promises of soldiers and 200,000 rifles were not going to be fulfilled, he believed Irish plans for an uprising would be futile, so he returned to Ireland in a U boat in an attempt to stop it.

The 'Aud Norge' arrived days ahead of him and failed to rendezvous with the revolutionaries. It was detected by the Royal Navy off Kerry and was scuttled sending its cargo to the seabed. Casement following landed from the U boat awash in the surf off Banna Strand, Tralee. Already ill for some time and unable to ‘go on the run’ he was quickly arrested by British authorities. He was in the Tower Of London awaiting trial for espionage and sabotage when the 1916 Easter Rising commenced. Although he is now buried in Dublin, Murlough Bay was Casement’s burial place of choice. The night before his execution he sent a letter to his cousin Gertrude Bannister in which he wrote 'Take my body back with you and let it lie in the old churchyard in Murlough Bay'. Since the 1950s it has been earmarked as the site for the return of Casement's remains and each August there is a small memorial held in his honour here.

Today Murlough Bay is the most spectacular of all the bays along the northern coast. Visitors here will find solitude combined with a breathtaking panorama that combines views over Fair Head, Rathlin Island, Islay, Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre. Whilst drinking it all in Buzzards, Peregrine, Falcons, Eider and Fulmars will most likely be soaring up along its high cliff walls above. This bay itself is unique and a place of outstanding natural beauty. Tucked in beneath its high cliff-tops and out of the prevailing winds, the hillside gently curves down to the sea creating a wall of sheltering limestone and a preserving microclimate. One of the few remaining old 'natural' temperate woodlands in Ireland, where Birch, Rowan and Hazel still thrive, is here along with a unique series of wildflower meadows. These stand in complete contrast with the harsh barren moorland plateau above. During winter, the woods provide food and shelter for the herd of feral goats who roam the area freely.

Perhaps because of the absence of a main road, there is little man-made evidence here beyond what has been already mentioned. As much as anywhere else on the Irish coastline, this is a place for just spending time taking it all in. The more energetic may take the opportunity to visit the impressive Fair Head which is accessible by foot from here. It is owned by the National Trust and a path leads to the walkway called ‘The Grey Man’s Path’ that winds around the rugged coastline.

From a purely boating perspective, Murlough Bay, akin to nearby Torr Head, provides a place to step out of the run of the current along this coastline. This is a considerable advantage in this area, making it a good place to await a favourable tide or to have a lunch break. With enough crew aboard to keep an eye on the boat, there is also the opportunity to enjoy a truly beautiful place.

What facilities are available?
There is nothing here except for the slip.

Any security concerns?
Never an issue known to have occurred to a vessel anchored off Murlough Bay. Any vessel here will most likely be alone in this isolated corner of Ireland.

With thanks to:
Terry Crawford. Photography with thanks to Bob Embleton, Mike Palmer, Mat Tuck, Rosario Fiore, Yvonne Wakefield, Kyle Monahan, Anne Burgess, Eskling and Horslips5.

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