Situated at the north end of the Lough Foyle estuary the inner harbour provides complete protection, and although tidal streams are occasionally strong it provides safe access in all reasonable conditions and at all states of the tide. In June '23, the visitor pontoon has been removed with large construction equipment at work, apparently, a large project extending the current breakwater. Access is straightforward as the harbour lies adjacent to the ¾ mile-wide Port of Londonderry Commercial Shipping Channel, which is supported by a lighthouse with a sectored light.
Keyfacts for Greencastle
SummaryA completely protected location with safe access.
Position and approaches
Haven position55° 12.089' N, 006° 59.134' W
This is the position of the east pierhead at the harbour entrance where a light stands Fl. G3s 5M.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Lough Foyle’s approaches, the run up the lough to the River Foyle and beyond are detailed in the Foyle Port Marina (Derry City) entry.
- Once within the entrance to Lough Foyle it is safe to head directly for the entrance to Greencastle Harbour.
Not what you need?
- Magilligan Point - 0.9 nautical miles SE
- Silver Strand - 0.9 nautical miles ENE
- Cornashamma Bay - 1.4 nautical miles ENE
- Moville - 2.2 nautical miles WSW
- White Bay - 2.6 nautical miles NE
- Carrickarory Pier - 2.7 nautical miles WSW
- Portnocker - 2.7 nautical miles NE
- Portkill - 3 nautical miles NE
- Kinnagoe Bay - 3.6 nautical miles NNW
- Tremone Bay - 5.2 nautical miles NNW
What's the story here?
Image: Peter Homer
Greencastle is a busy commercial fishing port located immediately inside the entrance to Lough Foyle. It is also the base for the Foyle pilot boats and the western terminal of the Magilligan car ferry. Given the decline of the fishing industry, the once congested fishing port is increasingly morphing into a 'typical' Donegal holiday village with a focus on welcoming visiting leisure vessels.
A 100-metre-long seasonal pontoon and breakwater have been installed at Greencastle that offers an excellent staging point whilst berthing arrangements are attended to. It is situated about 300 metres to the south of the main harbour on the Derry side. Local boats tend to berth on the southern side which affords better protection from the swell.
Berthing advice for the pontoon and main harbour can be had by contacting Frank McDermott on M: + 353 86 816 6151. The preference is to use the pontoon since the harbour is a busy commercial port. Cost (as of 2014) 14 Euro per night. However, the pontoon (2 fingers) is an uncomfortable, at best, and possibly damaging facility at worst. Unless conditions are very settled, it is best to consider it a temporary location whilst arrangements can be made to come into the harbour or anchor off.
How to get in?
Entered between Magilligan Point and the Inishowen shore, Lough Foyle’s approaches, the run-up the lough to the River Foyle and beyond are detailed in the Foyle Port Marina (Derry City) entry.
Once inside Lough Foyle, it is simply a matter of heading directly for Greencastle on the northwest shore opposite to Macgilligan Point. The harbours immediate shoreline is free from outlying dangers, deep and steep too for half a mile either side of the entrance.
In the past, a conspicuous white tower on the quay could be seen on approach, as well as the clearly visible grey tower of the nearby church. At night a sectored light leads into the harbour and there are lights on the pierheads Fl. G3s 5M to starboard Fl. R3s 5M to port. Keep a watchful eye for fishing vessels entering and exiting on approach and the ferry plying its way between Greencastle and Magilligan Point.
The pontoon is exposed to winds from north-northeast round through east to the south. It also experiences chop from the tide that runs fast just outside the breakwater. It should be avoided for anything other than short (a couple of hours) visits. Be particularly careful if berthing alongside near the start or during the flood or with any wind above F3 from south to east to northeast.
A berth on the pontoon cannot be guaranteed and it would not be wise to leave a vessel unattended here. It should only be used as an overnight berth in very settled conditions. Reportedly in June 2014, a boat had a cleat pulled out at 0300 hours due to sudden swell.
If permission is given to enter the harbour, once inside you should berth alongside other leisure craft, or a fishing boat, or tie up to the pier as directed. Smaller yachts typically berth, or raft up as the case may be, in the east corner of the harbour. Depths of up to 5 metres will be found inside the entrance dropping to 2 metres further inside the harbour.
All vessels who come inside the harbour should be prepared to move if necessary. Do not come alongside the pilot boat or berth in such a fashion that will obstruct the ferry.
While it is possible to anchor outside the harbour, clear of the ferry and fishing boat traffic, it is not appealing. Those who elect to do so should buoy the anchor as the bottom is foul with old moorings and dig the anchor well in as there is little protection from the tide here. Land either at Queen's Port or the west pier at the southwest entrance point, or come alongside in the harbour. Since the introduction of the pontoon, anchoring should no longer be necessary.
Why visit here?Greencastle, or in Irish An Caisleán Nua ‘the new castle’, derives its English name from its adjacent Norman 'Northburgh Castle'. Constructed from green freestone the castle was also known as the Green Castle which gave the area its name.
The castle was constructed in 1305 by Richard de Burgh 2nd Earl of Ulster, also known as the Red Earl of Ulster and Richard de Burgo. He was one of the most powerful Irish nobles of the late 13th and early 14th centuries and he constructed the castle to secure an Anglo-Norman power base in the northwest. The castle was a highly significant structure owing to its scale, intricate towers and gatehouse. It was sited to guard the entrance to Lough Foyle and control the local O’Neill, O'Doherty and O’Donnell clans. At the time de Burgh controlled most of Ireland, however, Inishowen and Tyrconnell, from the Irish Tír Chonaill meaning ‘Land of Conall’ describing independent northwest Ireland, escaped his grasp. The clans remained free and independent here, largely due to the aid they received from the old Norse kingdom of Argyle and the Hebrides.
Edward Bruce captured the castle in 1316 on behalf of the Scots but soon lost it again to the de Burghs. In 1328 the Earl’s grandson William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, arranged for his distant cousin Walter Liath de Burgh, of Connacht, to be imprisoned here and he proceeded to starve him to death by February 1332. William’s sister was also found dead beneath the battlements, either by accident or not, after trying to bring food to Walter. Walter’s family had their vengeance in 1333 when they murdered William. In doing so the remaining de Burgh family scattered and it ended the family’s power in Ireland.
The castle, in turn, became a stronghold of the local O'Doherty family. Over the centuries the sandstone castle suffered considerable damage by cannon fire as result of conflicts with the Scots and within the family itself. Eventually it was left in ruins after its last small garrison departed at the beginning of the 17th century. Very little remains today of the original building apart from parts of the curtain wall and the remains of a small Norman church.
The Martello Tower standing alongside the ruins was built at the start of the 19th century. It stands opposite the Macgilligan Point tower to defend the entrance of Lough Foyle against a Napoleonic invasion. Likewise, the first substantial pier was built at Greencastle in 1813 and has been added to several times since.
Today, as well as being a tie-up for trawlers, it is the home to an excellent maritime museum located in the old coast guard station at Greencastle harbour. The museum displays a wide variety of marine history from the emigration story to local fishing boats and methods. Displays contain extensive collections of artefacts, memorabilia of all things maritime and include fully rigged boats and Currachs. It also features planetarium laser technology that runs four educational and entertaining shows a day. The port is also home to the National Fisheries College (NFC), that has recently been extended, and the Lough Foyle pilot office.
Image: Tourism Ireland
Nowadays, following the decline of the fishing industry and located alongside the surrounding scenic rugged Inishowen Peninsula, Greencastle today has come to resemble more closely a 'typical' Donegal holiday village. Positioned immediately inside the entrance of Lough Foyle, with good shore facilities that come with interesting entertainments alongside, Greencastle has become a much-used steppingstone for the Irish coastal cruiser. it is also a designated as a port of entry that may be used for clearing in purposed by vessels arriving entering territorial waters of the Republic of Ireland from outside of the EU & UK territories.
What facilities are available?Water is available at a tap on the pier in the harbour, there is power available ashore and a nearby garage provides petrol and diesel. Marine repair work, based around the fishing fleet’s steel or woodwork, is available at a yard alongside the harbour.
The Magilligan-Greencastle ferry that reportedly saves 78 km (or 49 miles) of driving, operates from here. The harbour is located about 20 miles from Derry, a regional city hosting an urban population of 90,000, and which has to offer a wide variety of excellent restaurants, bars, shopping, and other facilities. Transport connections are very good as Derry serves as a major transport hub for nearby counties Donegal and Tyrone as well as Derry City itself. Buses and trains are available for destinations throughout Ireland.
City of Derry airport is the main regional airport with year round scheduled flights to UK, Republic of Ireland and Europe offered by Aer Arann and Ryanair. Further flight options are available via Belfast International Airport, the main regional airport, and George Best Belfast City Airport, which are accessible by bus and train.
Any security concerns?There is no security alongside, so all normal security provisions should be attended to on an open quay.
With thanks to:Bill McCann, Londonderry Harbour Master, Terry Crawford, local boatman of many decades. Photography with thanks to Patrick Mackie, Jim Williamson, Kenneth Allen, Brian Deeney of Donegal Cottage Holidays, Oliver Dixon, Peter Homer, Radoslaaw Botev and Sharon Anderson.
Aerial overview of Greencastle and its capabilities
Aerial overview of Greencastle and the entrance.
A photo montage of Greencastle.
Add your review or comment:
Charlie Kavanagh wrote this review on Jul 19th 2017:
On a visit to Greencasle in July 2017, and having spent 2 nights (either side of a 1 night visit to Derry) moored there, I can confirm that the pontoon (2 fingers) is indeed an uncomfortable and possibly damaging facility and should be avoided for anything other than short (couple of hours) visits. Somehow, it has been awarded an EU Blue Flag and in my opinion, it is a disaster of rather than a model marina. Be particularly careful if berthing alongside near the start or during the flood or with any wind above F3 from S to E to NE.Average Rating:
Michael Harpur wrote this review on May 22nd 2018:
Thank you Charlie,
It has been a long time since we first met in Wicklow with this crazy idea of creating what is now eOceanic. Hopefully, I will catch up with you soon again. I have added your comments into the body text.
Diarmuid Connon wrote this review on Jun 20th 2023:
Visited in June '23, visitors pontoon has been removed with large construction equipment at work, apparently a large project extending the current breakwater. Something likely to continue through to the end of the year
Berthing therefore is alongside fishing boats or the quay wall, local fishermen very helpful in pointing out the boats least likely to be moving early!
Michael Harpur wrote this review on Jun 20th 2023:
Thank you Diarmuid, I will put that in the main body.Average Rating: Unrated
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