Scuba Diving in Lahinch
© George Karbus
Scuba Diving

10 of the best places to go scuba diving in Ireland

Believe it or not, the exotic is right on our doorstep
Written by Daragh Ó Conchúir
6 min readPublished on
Exotic is in the eye of the beholder but in Ireland from the west coast of Cork all the way up the western seaboard to Donegal, we have some of the finest locations for scuba diving on the planet. Don’t believe us? Well, this is what the legendary, underwater researcher, documentary maker, diver, and all-around marine deity Jacques Cousteau had to say.
Some of the best diving in the world is at the northern side of the Dingle Peninsula, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Brandon Mountains in a landscape of exceptional beauty.
Jacques Cousteau
Given that there was barely a stretch of water Cousteau hadn’t submerged himself in, that is as strong a testimony as one could ever hope for. The scenery above water is breathtaking but that is matched below with a wide variety of marine and plant life blossoming in the magnificent reefs certain to titillate the senses. There is an abundance of ship wreckages to explore too. So stick around.

Baltimore, Co Cork

The carcass of the MV Kowloon Bridge draws thousands of divers to one of the most southern tips of the country. The 295m ship sank at Stag Rock in 1986 after developing deck cracking in one of its frames. Containing a full cargo of iron ore, it caused significant environmental damage. Thankfully, nature fought back and now, the wreck itself is host to extensive flora and fauna, as well as a variety of anemones and crustaceans including lobsters. Remarkably, this assortment of living, breathing marine glory coexists with the iron ore, which is still clearly visible on the ocean floor. It is also fascinating to see how giant beams and metal structures have been reshaped by the ocean. Roaringwater Bay includes Carbery’s Hundred Isles, the islands that offer so much varied and sheltered diving. You have a range of diving here from shore for novices to the most demanding, as found at Fastnet Rock, around 12km out to sea.

Brandon Bay, Co Kerry

The Gulf Stream keeps the water relatively warm regardless of the weather – always a plus! The Maharee Islands, also known as the Seven Hogs, are home to a pod of dolphins that are more than happy to swim with divers. Ilaunnabarnagh is a nearby island that has its own colony of seals that don’t mind humans coming in among them. Brandon Cliff face is a popular diving spot in this area as is the sheer drops found off the Skellig Islands. Basking sharks, pilot whales, minke whales, huge tuna and even larger sunfish also inhabit this unspoiled area.

Carraroe, Co Galway

Home to beautiful reefs and teeming with fish life, flitting in and out of the different rock formations. The reefs can be dived from the shore at Bóthar na Buí. Gigantic conger eels and lobsters are a feature and if night dives are your thing, this is the place to do it. Nearby Cill Chiarán Bay is well sheltered and can be dived in most weather. Trá an Dóilín (Coral Beach) is home to a diverse range of sea life. Visibility is generally very good.

Clare Island, Co Mayo

This area offers a wide variety of attractions. The Bills Rocks are always rewarding, especially at the north face of the most eastern rock, which plunges to almost 50m, ledges, cliffs and splashes of astonishing colour from the sea-anemone layering the rock face greeting you on the descent. Mackerel, pollock and wrasse are among the fish flourishing in the habitat. The Mweelauns, Deace’s Rock and the hunt for a German WWII plane that according to local legend crashed into the sea at Two Fathom Rock but has never been found, are other attractions.

Dalkey Island, Co Dublin

The island features the Muglins, a small spit of rock (100m by 17m) that is only accessible by boat and is habited by a slew of seabirds. This area is a very popular scuba diving site when visibility is good. It is known for its strong rip tides however, so be prepared and be aware of the tide tables before embarking. At a maximum depth of 26m, the walls are adorned with a diversity of plumose anemones, velvet crabs and dead man’s fingers. Tube anemones and brittle stars populate the ocean floor, while dogfish and scorpionfish lurk in the kelp forests.

Diamond Rocks, Kilkee, Co Clare

One of two Irish dive sites voted as among Europe’s top 10, it gets its name from the quartz crystals that glisten when the sun shines on the rocks. This dive has been compared favourably with the famous Yongala. The bay is sheltered from the Atlantic, which is always welcome. The landscape is all rocks and gullies, visibility is fabulous and that is tremendous news because there is life all around. In particular, the Duggerna Rock reef is mind-blowing, its cracks and crevices filled with invertebrates. Little wonder the bottlenose dolphins and seals appear so happy in this paradise.

Killary Harbour, Co Galway

Killary Harbour is a natural fjord and normally offers excellent visibility even at a maximum depth of around 45m, though most of the attractions are further up. The location is otherworldly with the Mweelrea Mountains in the north, and the Maumturk Mountains and The Twelve Pins (also known as The Twelve Bens) providing a stunning backdrop to the south. They also supply the type of shelter conducive to winter diving. Dense kelp forests and abundant marine life abound, from conger eels, wrasse, lobsters and pollock. Dolphins and whales are not uncommon either. Grey seals come out to play late in the summer but you need to be alert as they have a propensity for biting fins!

Fanore, Co Clare

Another to make it into Europe’s top 10 and with good reason, such is the spectacular nature of the reef and the semi-circular cavern that contains a myriad of little nooks and crannies, which in turn will reveal an abundance of different fish and plant life. Visibility is brilliant and local celebrity Dusty the Dolphin won’t be far away, though divers are reminded that she does not always respond well to having her space invaded.

Rutland Sound, Co Donegal

This is a popular dive because it is safe and has been recommended as suitable whether you are an experienced operator or learning the ropes. It is very well sheltered and full of crevices for the inquisitive. Rock walls are covered in tunicates, while the kelp stalks are surrounded by yellow and orange sponges. The shingle, sand and rock sea bed sustains a plethora of marine life.

Tory Island, Co Donegal

The visibility here is outstanding if the weather is on your side, up to about 30m even at 30m of depth. Massive granite boulders lie on the cobble seabed, with steep cliffs, arches and whirlpools. Whales and dolphins frequent the area regularly and basking sharks have been known to show their faces too. The wreck of the HMS Wasp can be found just off the island, with its two cannons still plainly visible. Such is the assortment of marine life that this dive is very popular so book early.