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Smerwick Harbour

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Overview





Smerwick Harbour is situated on the west coast of Ireland in Co. Kerry and is located immediately east of the renowned Three Sisters coastal peaks on the Dingle peninsula’s northwest corner. It is an open picturesque bay that offers several anchoring possibilities along with secure moorings.

The harbour provides a tolerable anchorage in the summer but is wide open to conditions from north-northwest round to north-northeast and subject to swell. However, if conditions are not excessive a vessel can move around the harbour to find protection from the northwest through south to the northeast. Access is straightforward as the deep open bay has a mile wide entrance and is clear of any outlying dangers.
Please note

The bay should be avoided in winter as it is very exposed to the heavy ground swell that rolls in uninterruptedly from the Atlantic Ocean.




1 comment
Keyfacts for Smerwick Harbour
Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availablePublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationBus service available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: fish farming activity in the vicinity of this location

Protected sectors

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

Approaches
4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
Shelter
3 stars: Tolerable; in suitable conditions a vessel may be left unwatched and an overnight stay.



Last modified
May 15th 2018

Summary

A tolerable location with straightforward access.

Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availablePublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationBus service available in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Note: fish farming activity in the vicinity of this location



Position and approaches
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Haven position

52° 11.354' N, 010° 22.607' W

Ballynagall pierhead Fl.R.3s 4m 3M

What is the initial fix?

The following Smerwick Harbour initial fix will set up a final approach:
52° 13.150' N, 010° 24.000' W
This is set on the 50 metre contour just outside the middle of the mile wide entrance to Smerwick Harbour.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location.


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 Smerwick Harbour for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Ventry Harbour - 2.7 miles S
  2. Dingle Harbour - 3 miles SE
  3. Great Blasket Island - 4.4 miles SW
  4. Brandon Bay - 5.8 miles ENE
  5. Castlegregory - 9 miles ENE
  6. Scraggane Bay - 9 miles ENE
  7. Cahersiveen Marina - 9.6 miles SSE
  8. Illauntannig - 9.7 miles ENE
  9. Knightstown - 10 miles SSE
  10. Portmagee - 11.3 miles S
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Ventry Harbour - 2.7 miles S
  2. Dingle Harbour - 3 miles SE
  3. Great Blasket Island - 4.4 miles SW
  4. Brandon Bay - 5.8 miles ENE
  5. Castlegregory - 9 miles ENE
  6. Scraggane Bay - 9 miles ENE
  7. Cahersiveen Marina - 9.6 miles SSE
  8. Illauntannig - 9.7 miles ENE
  9. Knightstown - 10 miles SSE
  10. Portmagee - 11.3 miles S
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
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?
Smerwick Harbour as seen over Sybil Point
Image: Fáilte Ireland


Smerwick Harbour is entered between the easternmost of The Three Sisters and the 29 metres high Dunacapple Island, positioned 1-mile northeast, that forms the west point of the entrance. About 0.8 of a mile to the northeast of Dunacapple Islet is Ballydavid Head. A prominent 251-metre high conical hill, on which stands a signal tower, is situated close east-northeast of the head. Within the harbour, there are two prominent well-lit 126-metre high radio masts standing on the eastern shore.
Please note

Some sunken rocks called the Black Rocks are situated between Dunacapple Island and the shore, 600 metres to the east, making it dangerous to attempt the passage inside them. There are also two or three more rocks outside Dunacapple Island, one just to the west of the island, but being so close as to be almost lost in the surf that constantly breaks on this exposed shore. So it is advised to stay well clear of the islet.




Dunacapple Island and Black Rocks as seen from within the harbour
Image: d_marino2001


Initial fix location The Smerwick Harbour initial fix is set just outside the mile-wide entrance. From a depth of 50 metres here the bay gradually shoals to its head, a distance of two miles to the south, and is quite free from hidden danger throughout. As such a northern approach to Smerwick Harbour is clear.

A common Smerwick Harbour error for visiting vessels is to anchor near the middle, where the holding ground is bad and exposed to the north. The best protection from the prevailing south westerlies may be found anchored close to the west side of the bay. Being entirely open to the north and a large wide open bay it can be susceptible to rolls elsewhere. Worse, in the south round to east portions of the bay the swell tends to wrap around ‘The Three Sisters’ headland and end up at right angles to the prevailing wind. In all but very settled conditions, this makes for a roller of a night in any of these locations.


Smerwick Harbour
Image: d_marino2001 via CC BY-SA 2.0


Haven location A popular anchorage is abreast of Smerwick village in the area called Smerwick Roads. This is close to the west shore, 0.7 miles south of the East Sister, with the entrance point bearing 019°, where good holding in mud will be found. A more attractive anchorage is off the first little beach on the west side before coming to the old boat harbour at Ballinrannig. Although the harbour holding ground is mostly indifferent there is sand here with good holding with a slip to land at on the north side of the beach. There are no facilities ashore, save for a guest house near the slip, Dún an Óir, is a short walk from here.

At the opposite, east side of the bay, there is the small village of Ballynagall known locally as Ballydavid. It has a new pier that extends out from rock into sand with a floodlight and a flashing red light at its head Fl.R.3s 4m 3M. Depths of 0.5 metres at low water springs are available at the outer end and it provides some measure of shelter from northwest winds and swell. However, due to the groundswell, it would only be practical to come alongside and berth temporarily at high water in settled conditions. The area surrounding the pier has a rocky bottom which makes it a dangerous place to be caught on a falling tide with a groundswell.

There were four visitor moorings available just south of Ballynagall Point.

Smerwick Moorings – position: 52° 11.00’N, 010° 21.40’ W

These moorings may have fallen into disrepair as they have not been maintained by Kerry County Council for several years. The lack of upkeep has meant that three of these moorings are now gone and all that remains is a single unmaintained mooring. No one should rely on this mooring.

In southerly winds an anchorage to the south of the bay to the west of Carrigveen in about 2.5 metres with good holding in sand.

The small Dunacapple Islet, with its sunken rocks lying between the islet and the shore on the east side of the entrance, partially protect the harbour from northeast winds. In moderate to strong northeast to easterly conditions shelter may be found tucked into the small bay at the northeast corner of the harbour.

This is located to the south of Ballydavid Head off the mouth of the Feohanagh River. This river is more or less only a stream that enters the head of the little bay through a marsh. Anchor in the middle of the bay in approximately six metres as further inshore there are reefs and isolated boulders that extend out to the 4-metre area of the bay. Land at Dooneen Pier, otherwise known as ‘the old pier’, situated at the south side of the bay.
Please note

There are lobster pots between the anchorage and Dunacapple Island.




Why visit here?
Smerwick was originally a Viking settlement and its name originates from the Norse words ‘smoer’ and ‘wick’ meaning ‘butter harbour’. Although denoted as Smerwick on charts the area is now officially known by the Irish name ‘Ard na Caithne’, meaning ‘height of the arbutus’ or strawberry tree. Technically the name Smerwick lost all legal standing under the 2004 Place Names Order that was applicable to Gaeltacht Regions.

Before the Vikings arrived, the south and east of Smerwick Harbour was a cradle of an early Christian civilisation that dated from the late 6th and early 7th centuries. Countless buildings of archaeological interest can be found here. The early Christian Gallarus Oratory with its Visitor Centre, plus nearby Kilmalkedar Church, the An Riasc monastic site, at Carrigveen, Dún an Óir, Irish for the ‘Fort of the Gold’, an Iron Age Promontory fort located, are major attractions. The latter Dún an Óir carries a morbid history from the 1580 Siege of Smerwick.

James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald landed a small Papal invasion force here in July 1579, initiating a revolt against English rule called the second Desmond rebellion. He was killed only a month afterwards but his action unleashed a war that lasted three years.

On the 10th September 1580, a following expeditionary force of 400–500 Papal soldiers, Spanish, Italian and Basque commanded by Sebastiano di San Giuseppi landed in Smerwick. Desmond, Baltinglass and John of Desmond made an effort to link up with the expeditionary force but English forces under Ormonde and Earl Grey blocked them. Prompt naval action by Richard Bingham then blockaded the Papal force’s ships in the bay at Smerwick and took them. San Guisseppi had no choice but to retreat to the fort at Dún an Óir. The defences of the fort were hastily strengthened and the very well-armed defenders saw off some initial attacks by Ormonde.

On November 5th, a naval force led by Admiral William Winter arrived at Smerwick Harbour. He replenished Grey's supplies and landed 8 heavy naval artillery pieces. Two days later, on November 7th, Grey arrived at Smerwick with 800 troops and laid siege to the garrison. The invading forces were geographically isolated and cut off by Mount Brandon on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces began the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of November the 8th. This rapidly broke down the improvised defences of the fort. After a three-day siege, commander di San Giuseppe surrendered on November 10th 1580 without condition.

The following morning, an English force entered the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies. Grey then sent in teams to execute the prisoners. Grey's own account went ‘Then put I in certain bands, who straight fell to execution. There were six hundred slain. "Grey's forces spared those of higher rank, "Those that I gave life unto, I have bestowed upon the captains and gentlemen that hath well deserved... " According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives took two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh, the ‘Field of the Cutting’, their bodies later being thrown into the sea. The field where the heads were buried is known as Gort na gCeann, the ‘Field of the Heads’. In the early years of the 21st Century following coastal erosion, many skeletons have been revealed. The old fort is now pretty much unreachable due to erosion and soon will be isolated. A memorial to the executed stands in the bay today.

Smerwick Harbour’s sad massacre is balanced by a moment in 1927 where it featured in the advancement of science and human endeavour. Then Sybil Point and ‘The Three Sisters’ were to provide a key milestone in aviation history. They were the first geologic feature that the almost exhausted Charles Lindbergh first sighted on his epic solo trans-Atlantic flight. They provided the key landmark he needed to secure his achievement.

Today Smerwick Harbour is thought to be the most beautiful in all of Cork and Kerry. Likewise bounded by the villages of Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, Baile na nGall the area is what has been known as the Fíor-Ghaeltacht, or true Gaeltacht, where the Irish language is spoken by everyone. This provides this remote area with not only a great beauty but with local people having a special and unique charm. It is truly a haven for hikers and anyone who has any interest in ancient Irish culture.

From a boating perspective, Smerwick Harbour is an ideal staging point to get set up for an early tide through Blasket Sound. Also going north, having made a late passage through the sound, it provides a setup point for a departure to the Arran Islands at first light without having to worry too much about the strong tide in the sound.


What facilities are available?
There are few facilities on the west side. About a 2 km walk from the southwest anchorages there are shops, restaurants and pubs at Ballyferriter. Ballynagall has a shop with some fresh provisions, a pub, and a public telephone and a bus service which are all a short walk from the pier. At Carrigveen there is petrol beyond the sand hills. Dooneen Pier has a restaurant close by.


Any security concerns?
Never a problem known to have occurred at this remote location.


With thanks to:
Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford.


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A view over the harbour



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Add your review or comment:


Conrado Beltran wrote this review on Jan 23rd 2014:

First of all, congratulations for such an interesting information. But, I am afraid that there is a big mistake in this article.I have just read: "a following expeditionary force of 400–500 Papal soldiers, Spanish, Italian and Basque". My dear friends, Basque people are Spanish people. No doubt, this mistake is owing to the propaganda of Basque terrorists. What a shame!

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