Recommended Excursions

Recommended kayak excursions on the Irish coast Recommended Excursions by kayak

Recommended Excursions

Kayaking visitors to Ireland often access Oileáin or its webpage, or the webpage of the Irish Sea Kayaking Association beforehand, and commonly ask two questions.

1. Is it practical to hire equipment and/or guides in Ireland for excursions in Ireland, and
2. Where best to go to sea around our coast ?

Their experience and ability varies, and though usually they are flexible about location, they always know exactly how much time they have. There is a chapter on hiring guides and equipment in the book of Oileáin.

Recommending excursions is really a matter of personal preference, a concept outside the scope of Oileáin. Nevertheless, so many of these enquiries have been received and dealt with on an individual basis that I can’t ignore that this is a hot issue. So here goes. I have given my personal choice of the 50 best excursions Ireland has to offer.

Firstly, the best kayaking in Ireland is in the remoter areas, which broadly means the outside half, the west side of the island of Ireland. Oileáin works clockwise, starting in the far north at Lough Foyle, which divides not only Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland, but also Counties Donegal and Derry. Few kayakers come to visit Ireland for the east coast. While there is attractive kayaking east of a line between Malin Head in the far north and Kinsale Head in the south, the west is best.

Secondly, good kayaking exists in clumps. On a good day there is good kayaking anywhere there is deep water, but on a bad day you need somewhere to hide. Areas most recommended therefore tend to be fragmented, the coastline indented, perhaps with islands lying off, to provide shelter. Where excellent kayaking exists along a committing or exposed stretch of cliffs, the recommendation needs to be qualified. Recommendations therefore need to come with a graded warning as to the skill levels required of the party going to sea, of all its members. The quality of what you get needs to be set off against the difficulty attaining it. This has to be done assuming locally normal (normal ?) wind, rain and swell conditions.

Thirdly, Oileáin contains information which, in the nature of things, emphasises one day trips. There is no passage of coastline so long, nor any island so far out, that you can’t do it in one day, though in some cases you would be exercised. To embark from and return to anywhere on the coast, all the information you will need is hopefully here in the text. Camping and water availability is a common need whether the boatman is on a two, three, or more than three day excursion. Thus the information is provided in terms of location, a quality grading, the difficulty level which may be expected under reasonable conditions, how many overnights are recommended, and a section for general comment.



Quality Difficulty Nights Comments
Rathlin ***** ***** 0 – 2 Rathlin Sound fairly kicks with wind over tide. Best go out from and back into Ballycastle on successive slack waters. Circumnavigators should get their timing right. The island is well worth the visit, the walk around, and the overnight(s).
Strangford Lough ** * – ***** 0 Paddle the peaceful inner bay or challenge yourself in the strongest tides imaginable at the mouth.
Carlingford ** ** 0 A beautiful day trip. The challenge is at the mouth of the bay.
Rockabill ** ** 0 The inner islands on their own are less committing though the tides do run strongly. The Rock itself is a lovely day trip. Avoid April May for landing.
Lambay ** ** 0 Landing is on beaches only so the attraction is in the sea-going, the wildlife and the scenery only.
Ireland’s Eye ** ** 0 A fine shorter day trip, possibly with a round of Howth Head. The tides run strongly off Howth Harbour.
Howth Head ** ** 0 A fine longer day trip, possibly with a round of Ireland’s Eye thrown in. The tides run strongly off the Baily lighthouse. Shuttle.
Dalkey Island ** ** 0 With the Muglins a popular training area.
Bray Head ** ** 0 With tide over, can be testing
Wicklow Head ** **** 0 Testing
Tuskar Rock * **** 0 A difficult outing, sea-going entirely.
Saltees *** ** 0 – 1 Lovely overnight, but watch the tides on the Bridges.
Cork Harbour ** * 0 Great paddling in a semi-urban surrounding.
Kinsale Head **** **** 0 Challenging day trip round a headland
Cork South Coast – West Part *** ** 0 There are numerous beautiful day trips along this section of coast. The best may be High Island and Toe Head Stags out of either Union Hall area or Lough Hyne
Roaringwater Bay (inner section) ***** ** 0 – 3 A magnificent collection of islands protecting a beautiful bay in which a group of paddlers might flourish for days without exposing themselves to particular danger.
Roaringwater Bay (outer fringes) ***** ***** 0 – 3 The fringes of the bay are guarded by Sherkin and Clear Islands. Their circumnavigation is splendid in reasonable conditions. The passage to Fastnet is regarded as a major challenge. The tides are challenging.
Mizen Head ***** ***** 0 A major impediment to rounding Ireland. Needs an awkward shuttle.
Dunmanus Bay ** * 0 Numerous convenient pretty day trips
Bear Island ***** *** 0 – 1 Wonderful varied paddling. Easier if you stay inside.
Dursey Island (around) *** ***** 0 Committing but worth it.
Dursey Bull ***** ***** 0 Fine weather only.
Eyeries Bay *** * 0 Take in Inishfarnard
Lamb’s Head Islands ***** *** 0 – 1 Scariff is the greatest challenge but Deenish is very manageable. The whole group and the area are magnificent.
Valentia Island Group ***** * – ***** 0 – 1 Take a minor sheltered trip or circumnavigate Valentia, you will enjoy either. The Great Skellig is a major challenge. This is arguably some of the very best Ireland has to offer.
The Blaskets ***** *** 0 – 2 The best.
Magharee Islands *** *** 0 – 1 Beautiful. Worth an overnight to explore
Islands off Kilrush *** ** 0 Enjoy one of the best tide races going, a round tower, and manageable paddling to pleasant surroundings.
The Coast of West Clare **** **** 0 Take in sections as day trips. Wonderful, but be up to the commitment levels required. No shelter between stops.
The Cliffs of Moher ***** **** 0 Liscannor to Doolin, one of the best day excursions anywhere.
Aran Islands ***** *** 1 – 3 Unique. Take as much time over this as possible. Take in all the islands. The Dun Aengus cliffs would enormously increase the technical difficulty. An unforgettable experience.
Galway – South Facing Coast – Connemara Gaelteacht Islands *** * 0 – 1 Endless opportunities for splendid day trips, improving perhaps as one goes west. Opportunities for lovely overnighting.
Galway West Facing Coast, Inner Islands *** ** 0 Turbot and Inishturk are the nicest, easily taken in on a day excursion between Streamstown Bay and Clifden Bay.
Galway West Facing Coast – Outer Islands ***** *** 2 – 3 Great paddling. Cruagh, High Island, Inishbofin, and Inishturk. All these islands are worth the effort. String them together over a few days is by far the best.
West Facing Galway and Mayo ***** **** 5 String the very best of the west of Ireland into one trip. Clifden to Belmullet without touching the mainland. Popular with Irish paddlers as a week’s holiday. Island hop as slowly or as fast as you want and take in or ignore the trickier bits.
Inishturk ***** *** 1 Worth it on its own
Clare Island **** ** 1 Less remote and a bit easier of access. The circumnavigation is not to be missed if conditions or the ability of the party permits.
Achill – Round of ***** ***** 3 Varied and very challenging. Overnight at Doogort, Keel and Achillbeg. Very splendid.
Achill ***** *** – ***** 0 As conditions allow, snatch bits. Excellent. Maybe do Achill Head in a day with a small shuttle.
Inishkeas ***** *** 0 – 1 Probably the best kept secret of offshore Ireland. Very remote, but the passage is manageable. Take in the sister islands as well.
Inishmurray **** *** 1 Lovely for its monastic ruins and location. A popular overnight with Irish paddlers. Mind the landing.
Slieve League Cliffs ***** ***** 0 A wonderful but challenging trip. Best done there and back to avoid an appalling shuttle. Choose calm conditions and the difficulty is much easier, the beaches landable, the caves accessible. Take in Rathlin O’Birne island if energy levels permit
Donegal Southwest **** ** 0 Many day trips to small islands, and the Slievetooey Cliffs.
Aranmore ***** *** 0 – 1 Visit and enjoy. The circumnavigation is more challenging. The many smaller islands off and around it are well worth taking in as well, as a day trip or included in a tour.
Owey / Cruit Group **** ** 0 – 1 Caves and cliffs in somewhat sheltered water. Rock climbing. Worth the overnight.
Gola Group ***** ** 0 – 2 Spread out and varied. Wander among the group at will. Each island is different in style. Make it as easy or as hard as you want. Popular because the paddling is dependable.
Tory ***** ***** 1 – 2 Can be done in a day, but shouldn’t. Linger a couple of days. Paddle around it, walk around it, enjoy its unique aspect. Very dramatic. The paddling is manageable in the right conditions. The inner islands are wonderful to visit en route. The caves and arches on Tory and on Inishdooey are spectacular.
Inishbofin Group **** ** 0 Splendidly worth the day trip in their own right. Sea scenery superb.
Horn Head ***** ***** 0 Challenging. Worth the long shuttle.
Melmore Head **** *** 0 Less spectacular than Horn Head but infinitely more convenient, start and finish 2km apart.
Malin Head **** ***** 0 Challenging but very convenient
Inishtrahull **** ***** 1 Getting to and from the island is the thing.

Then of course there is the one great excursion round Ireland’s coast, namely Round Ireland, reputedly wonderful, though no-one has ever repeated it. Takes about 34 to 54 days