Finning through water so calm, with a clarity that was diamond-like, I remember muttering to myself: This is good! This is so good it just has to be illegal!. I was neither drugged up, nor diving way down. I was in fact, at 15m alongside one of the best reefs I have come across in my 15 years of diving. I was in Ireland.
Divers are now well catered for in the Emerald Isle. The west coast provides not only the most dramatic clear water diving, but is also equipped with some of the best diving schools, and dive centres.
Hidden behind Gaelic mountains and hills, camouflaged in enviable amounts of greenery, some of these centres have formed a group called Discover Underwater Ireland. This association of dive centres provides breaks catering for a variety of needs. Whats more, they have access to an excellent selection of diving; from the south-west to the north-west of Eire.
By joining forces, they have formed a laudable alliance, from which both they, and the visitor, now profit. As well as the inter-centre cooperation, one practical result of this alliance is that the group has managed to negotiate cheaper ferry tickets in package prices for any of its visitors.
Taking advantage of the favourable prices, as well as last years fabulous summer weather, I got in my car and nipped across for a better look at the fabled Irish diving for myself.
Ireland is 486km long and 275km wide, divided into 31 counties or provinces, with a population of only about 3.5 million.
The country is criss-crossed by a road network straight out of Toytown. These small country lanes that are the countrys lines of communication form an integral part of the scenery, and would be sorely missed if replaced with motorways, (however efficient). The price you pay for the aesthetic qualities of the countryside is long journeys. For, while a distance of 250 miles might take only say three and a half hours in Britain, it might take 10-12 hours to cover such a distance in Ireland! It is advisable to select your dive centre, then select your port of entry, and not the other way around. All diving on this part of Europe is shaped and characterised by the Atlantic ocean. Though Britain is an island too, very little of it is as exposed to such huge primal forces as the west coast of Ireland. The heaving swells eminently visible near any rocks just prior to entry have unnerved more than one novice.
Once underwater though, divers can see and admire alien rock sculptures - the results of the powerful elemental forces. The sea is blissfully unpolluted, and so supports a fecund, burgeoning variety of life. To compare with Britain: temperatures are roughly the same, but the viz is doubled. Certainly, wherever I dived, I found 20-30m viz very common - from south to north of the country.
Most people realise that a diving holiday is not just the hour or so spent underwater each day. I found the genuine hospitality of Irish friendship more disarming than the artificial toady hospitality many of the exotic resorts are obliged to slop out to their wealthy clients. For that reason alone Ireland is a place British divers should check out. Staggering underwater scenery makes a visit to this emerald of all dive sites even more worthwhile.
From the tranquil fishing villages of County Cork, all the way up to the rugged, craggy, convoluted mountains of Donegal, the Discover Underwater Ireland group of centres seems to have secured not only the best foothold in Irish diving, but easily - in my opinion - one of the top diving coastlines in the world. From the Kowloon Bridge, the largest shipwreck in the world, to treasure chests of sites cloaked in jewel anemones the size of your thumbs, there is diving here to suit all tastes.
For more information contact the Irish Tourist Board (tel. 0171-493 3201); or any of the Discover Underwater Ireland group, who are:
- Baltimore Diving & Watersports Centre, Baltimore, Co. Cork (tel. (00 353) 28 20300).
- Skellig Aquatics, Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry (tel. (00 353) 66 75277).
- Des & Pat Lavelles Valentia Dive Centre, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry (tel. (00 353) 66 76124).
- Valentia Hyperbaric Dive Centre, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry (tel. (00 353) 66 76225).
- Waterworld, Tralee, Co. Kerry (tel. (00 353) 66 25803).
- Kilkee Diving & Watersports Centre, Kilkee, Co. Clare (tel. (00 353) 65 56707).
- Scubadive West, Renvyle, Co. Galway (tel. (00 353) 95 43922).
- Malinmore Adventure Centre, Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal (tel. (00 353) 73 30123).
- A typical package of 7 nights b&b, 6 days hardboat diving, unlimited shore diving, including car ferry with 5 people costs£288 per person.
- Ferries sail from Swansea to Cork; Fishguard to Rosslare; Hollyhead to Dublin and Stranraer to Larn. Return ferry prices start at£ 238.
- Ten-day diving only packages including b&b cost about£ 240.