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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. It is a remote and beautiful location where a temporary anchorage may be had out of the main tidal stream.

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. It is a remote and beautiful location where a temporary anchorage may be had out of the main tidal stream.

Murlough Bay is an exposed anchorage in an area with extreme currents where a vessel should not go unwatched. It offers good protection during a settled period or with moderate westerly winds round to southerly conditions. The coast here is however completely exposed to anything from the east. Access is straightforward thanks to the absence of offshore dangers or any tidal restrictions.
Please note

Strong tides run off the pitches of the points along this coast and it should be the central feature of navigation 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
May 25th 2023

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

In the anchoring area, off the beach and over sand.

What is the initial fix?

The following Murlough Bay Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
55° 12.723' N, 006° 6.683' W
This is on the 10-metre contour 300 out from the shore. Sound in southwestward from here.

What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in northeast Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location.
  • Approach the bay from the northeast sounding into the southwest corner.

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 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. Portbraddan - 10.3 nautical miles W
  9. Carnlough - 13.8 nautical miles SSE
  10. Portballintrae - 14.9 nautical miles W
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 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. Portbraddan - 10.3 miles W
  9. Carnlough - 13.8 miles SSE
  10. Portballintrae - 14.9 miles W
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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What's the story here?
The recess in southwest end of Murlough Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The picturesque Murlough Bay is a small indentation situated midway between Fair Head and Torr Head, 1½ miles apart on each side, and entered close west of Ruebane Point. Here the almost verticle precipices of Antrim relent to create a small cove enclosed by steep wooded slopes. The natural grandeur of the scenery here makes this one of the most beautiful locations on an already outstanding Antrim coastline. Much of the area is now owned and managed by the National Trust which provides access to the public via a road that leads to a car park and a footpath thereafter to the cove itself.

The cottage in the west end of the bay
Image: Michael Harpur

The bay provides an anchorage out of the main tidal stream with good holding. There is nothing here except for a single house fronted by a small boathouse, another tiny beach house and the pathway leading past them to the grasslands and access road above.

Murlough Bay's beach at low water
Image: Michael Harpur

Murlough Bay makes an ideal lunch stop or a tide-wait location. But those who come ashore cannot but be overwhelmed by the scene of breathtaking natural beauty that is to be experienced by landing.

How to get in?
Murlough Bay as seen from the northwest
Image: Kyle Monahan via CC BY-SA 2.0

Convergance Point Offshore details are available in northeast Ireland’s coastal overview for Malin Head to Strangford Lough Route location. Vessels converging on Murlough Bay will find no outlying hazards north of Hangman and Maiden Rocks situated 20 miles to the southeast. Keeping 400 metres out from the slopes of the Antrim Mountains, which push out almost vertically to the coast in the vicinity, clears all dangers. The direction and velocity of the tide will be the central feature of any navigation planning in this area. They attain a rate of 4 knots off the pitch of the point off Torr Head close south.

Murlough Bay, 1½ miles from Fair Head and entered close west of Ruebane Point
Image: Michael Harpur

Initial fix location From the Murlough Bay initial fix, set approximately 500 metres to the northeast of the bay, steer into the bay passing north of Ruebane Head and sound into the southwest side of the bay.

The rocks extending from the western shoreline of Murlough Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

A long white cottage will be seen on the western side of the bay with a tiny stone boathouse set amongst the rocks close northward. Keep well off this side of the bay as exposed rocks fringe the western shoreline here.

Anchor in the southwest corner of Murlough Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

Haven location Anchor in 2.5 metres in the southwest end of the bay, to the southeast of the outermost rock stretching from the western shoreline backed by the boathouse. Holding is excellent over clean sand.

The beach exposed at low water
Image: Michael Harpur

Land, at low water, on the small beach that appears in the southwest corner of the bay. At other times there is the semblance of a slip inset into an opening between the larger inner shoreline rocks that lead to the tiny stone boathouse. Its approaches are partially protected by the large outer rocks that stand out in front of it.

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', meaning 'sea inlet'. Situated between Fair Head and Torr Head this is a place well-known through the centuries for its outstanding beauty.

Murlough Bay is a place of true and untamed beauty
Image: Tourism NI

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. It was here that Saint Columba landed after sailing from Iona to Ireland to attend the Synod of Drumceat c.595 AD. Not long after the early Christians built a church on the small hillock in the centre of Murlough Bay. It was first 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. But in time it became known as Drumnakill Church from the Irish words 'Droim na Coille' meaning 'ridge of the wood' describing the bay. In its day, which was more than a thousand years ago, the church was chiefly accessible from the sea, and it was from the sea that its small flock would have sustained themselves.

The site of Drumnakill Church on the small hillock overlooking the bay
Image: Andreas F. Borchert via CC BY-SA 4.0

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.

The Drumnakill Church site with Cnock Moy in Scotland in the background
Image: Tourism NI

From the 1700s to the 1940s, and most particularly during the 1800s, 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 to much. Yet it did support a small mining settlement that is evidenced by the ruins of some miners' cottages north of the bay on the path to Fair Head. The kilns here would have processed limestone quarried from the cliffs above, which 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.

Limestone kiln Murlough Bay
Image: Michael Harpur

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.

Cross commemorating Sir Roger Casement
Image: Michael Harpur

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.

Roger Casement
Image: CC0

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 imposing Fair Head bookends all views northward from Murlough Bay
Image: Tourism NI

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. During Casement’s trial for high treason, his private journal entries, later known as the Black Diaries, were secretly released by the British government, in the hope that revelations about his homosexuality would help undermine public support for the well-known humanitarian. The case against him was shaky as his alleged treason had taken place in Germany and not the UK. In the end, his guilt was determined by the placement of a comma in the Treason Act of 1351, which was written in Norman French. Casement famously wrote later that he was to be "hanged on a comma".

Broadleaved Birch, Hazel and Ash in the grassland above the bay
Image: Tourism NI

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.

Murlough Bay's escarpment provides a sense of enclosure and overwatch on a grand

Image: Michael Harpur

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, the imposing cliff that marks the northeast corner of Ireland, 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.

The pathway along the shore
Image: Michael Harpur

Most likely it is because of the absence of a main road that there is little man-made evidence here beyond what has been already mentioned. So this is a place for just spending time taking in the vast expanse of unspeakable grandeur. The beauty and diversity of the scenery are directly due to the remarkable assemblage of different geological formations in a limited area. 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.

Those who land will experience a scene of unspeakable grandeur
Image: Michael Harpur

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 the opportunity to land and take in the feeling gifted by the prettiest inlet on one of the prettiest coastlines of Ireland.

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.

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