Leaving Galway heading towards the west coast and Clare Island the character of the coastline changes considerably, becoming very rugged with a plethora of small rocky islands. The coast is quite magnificent and not as hard to navigate as it first appears, but good sources of re-supply are few and far between, and forward planning is essential. The new 2016 edition of the ICC Sailing Directions decsribes this coast based on up-to-date research, with lavish illustrations. There are dozens of fine anchorages but little in the way of alongside accommodation.
Galway to Rossaveal (23 miles)
This is a straightforward run along the coast, but if your northward voyage didn’t include the Aran Islands, you can visit them on the way west. Rossaveal , in the sheltered Cashla Bay, is the ferry port for the islands and 11 miles from Kilronan. It is also an important fishing port with a small new marina in its harbour.
The south coast of Connemara is studded with islands and rocks, with few navigational aids. The Inner Passage from Golam Head leads between the offshore Eagle and Namackan Rocks and the coastal islands of Inishmuskerry, Duck (with the conspicuous wreck of a trawler), Finish, Mweenish, Mason and St Macdara’s. The beautiful little fishing village of Roundstone has good pubs and restaurants. Roundstone has visitors’ moorings but they are a long way from the village.
Between Rossaveal and Roundstone the long and branching inlets of Kilkieran and Bertraghboy Bays offer fascinating day-sailing in magnificent surroundings.
Roundstone to Inishbofin (27 miles)
Slyne Head, ten miles from Roundstone, is the end of a string of islands and is best given a good offing, but if you are confident and adventurous and the weather is settled you may care to try Joyce’s Pass, the only navigable channel through. Once north of the Head, make for High Island, staying west of Cruagh. Passing west or east of High Island gives a straight run across to Inishbofin. The island has an excellent natural harbour and with its good pubs and restaurants and its traditional music it’s a favourite port of call. The ferry port of Cleggan on the mainland opposite also has welcoming pubs and restaurants.
Bunowen Bay, east of Slyne Head, provides a handy refuge, while Clifden Bay has an easy entrance and visitors’ moorings. Clifden town has good supermarkets.
Inishbofin to Clare Island (17 miles)
Heading east then north from Inishbofin, the passage to Clare Island is straightforward, with the lovely island of Inishturk offering a stopover halfway. To the east of Inishturk lies Caher Island, a little difficult of access but with ancient monastic remains. There are visitors’ moorings in the bay at Clare Island, which is famous as the base of the 16th-century pirate queen Granuaile. The island offers fascinating walks and, if you are feeling energetic, magnificent views from its 457-metre summit, which falls almost sheer to the sea.
East of Inishbofin and Clare are two wide bays:
Ballynakill and Killary Harbours (8 and 12 miles from Inishbofin)
These beautiful inlets in remote and mountainous country are very different: Ballynakill is wide and branching, whereas Killary is a fjord, long, deep and steep-sided. Their shores are sparsely populated.
Clew Bay (Clare to Westport 14 miles)
Clew Bay is remarkable for the maze of drumlin islands at its head, sheltering the channels to the tidal ports of Westport and Newport. The approaches are well-marked, and Westport is a vibrant town with some great restaurants, cafes and and was recently voted “best place to live in Ireland”.
Galway to Clare Island – thanks to John Roberts of West Galway School of Navigation, Ballyconneely
Thanks goes to Norman Kean of ICC Publications for contributions, editing and charts adapted from their publication “Cruising Ireland”.