|THE LOCAL DIVING IN DUBLIN IS A BIT OF AN ANOMALY. Diving on the west coast of Ireland, I met many Irish divers who had travelled across from Dublin, but few had ever sampled the diving to be found virtually on their doorsteps.
The usual excuse was poor visibility compared to the west coast. I suppose most places in the British Isles would have poor visibility compared to the west coast of Ireland, but that doesnt stop me enjoying the diving. I had heard of a busy diving scene in Dublin, so knew there must be some divers who enjoyed it.
I needed to check out the diving for myself. My initial thoughts were of Dublin as the sort of place to stop off for a few days at the start or the end of a west coast diving trip, especially for those using the Hollyhead ferry. Then I started thinking of Dublin as a destination for a long weekend, combining the thriving city culture, the craic, and some diving.
Then I realised that Diver magazine has plenty of enthusiastic and dedicated readers in Ireland. So sampling the diving from the capital is as much for our Irish readership as it is for stop-overs and long weekends for travelling divers - as an excuse to fit in a few dives when there isnt time to drive all the way to the west coast.
I meet my host, Alfie McCaffrey, in the marina at Malahide, a trendy seaside suburb of Dublin and conveniently located for diving some of the offshore rocks and islands to the north of Dublin Bay.
We are soon heading down the inlet on a flat calm sea, beneath a clear blue sky with just the odd wisp of cloud. I could hardly have wished for better sea conditions.
In many ways, Lambay Island reminds me of Pembrokeshire. The rock structures are similar. Seabirds nest on the cliffs and float on the smooth sea, scattering as the RIB zooms past. Above the cliffs, green rolling hills are surrounded by clumps of wild flowers in full bloom.
Then Alfie points out something distinctly different and I have to look twice. They look a bit odd for sheep, but who would have believed a herd of wallabies on an island just off Dublin
If you fancy acquiring your very own wallaby reserve, the privately owned Lambay Island is currently unoccupied and up for sale.£3 million and it could be yours. The manor house used to be the home of Lord Revelstoke of the Baring family, owner of Barings Bank.
We round the southern side of the island and Alfie points out the wreck site of the Tayleur, a steel-hulled sailing ship. We will be diving the Tayleur later, but for now continue around the eastern tip of the island to Freshwater Bay and the wreck of the Shamrock II, an 865 ton iron steamer.
The wreck site is marked by a stream that runs down the cliffs, hence the name of the bay. The wreck lies diagonally across the slope, well broken by salvage and subsequent storms. It isnt that difficult to pick out the line of the keel and follow it along the wreck.
I soon find small bits of engine, though no sign of the propshaft. Alfie had mentioned that the boilers had broken loose, so I search for them slightly downhill from the main body of the wreck.
There are quite a few rocks sticking up among the wreckage. At first I think it is just another rock, then I see a curved corner and realise it is actually the side of a boiler. Quite a large boiler, considering the small size of the ship. As I swim round, I discover that it has been prevented from rolling further down the slope by a second boiler that has twisted perpendicular to the wreck and is now jammed against some rocks.
The first boiler is almost upside-down, three double-ended fire holes right at the top. Considering the diameter and distance from the engine, my guess is that it has rolled one and a half times before coming to rest.
Heading back to the main area of wreckage and slightly aft, I soon find a section of crankshaft well away from the centre line of the wreck. To check my bearings, I head uphill to relocate the small bits of engine I had seen earlier.
Orientation confirmed, I now loop out downhill seeking further signs of engine or propshaft. I draw a blank on that, but eventually locate the remains of a gun platform with some bollards and a rounded section of railing from the stern.
Just behind this, a decayed frame could be the remains of the rudder, though it is hard to be sure.
With a maximum depth of 12m, I enjoy a good hour exploring the wreck.
After the dive, I ask Alfie about the gun platform. The Shamrock had driven onto the rocks in a sea fog in 1918. As on most freighters during World War One, it carried a small stern gun for defence against submarines.
The ship had stayed wedged against the rocks long enough for the gun and much metalwork above the waterline to be salvaged.
Another interesting gem is that among the cargo were a number of horses that had swum ashore after the wrecking. Apparently the following year one of these horses won the Irish Grand National.
Later in the afternoon we are above the bows of the Tayleur. It is hard to get motivated to pull the rest of my suit on, because its such a nice afternoon to be sitting in the sunshine while the boat gently rocks.
The sinking of the Tayleur was a bit of a scandal. The ship was supposed to carry a crew of 80, but sailed with a partly trained crew of 26, including 11 boys. Land was sighted more than a mile away, but the steering was jamming and there were too few crew to adjust the sails fast enough. More than 400 passengers died.
Once in the water, I soon regain my enthusiasm and enjoy exploring the wreck. In many ways it reminds me of the Oregon off south Devon (Wreck Tour 31, September 2000), another three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship.
The bows had run into the rocks, then the wreck had fallen back and collapsed to port on the seabed. Among the cargo are slates, tombstones and blue-patterned pottery.
The seabed is very silty and the smallest mistake could easily reduce the already less than clear visibility to zero. I take care to float above the wreck as I work my way slowly round the broken hull.
Close to the seabed there is not much marine life, but where the wreckage sticks up a bit there are white dead mens fingers and, on the more exposed parts, some beautiful clumps of plumose anemones.
Another day of fine weather, and we head 10 miles north to Rockabill Lighthouse for the day. The rock runs north-south, with a split though the middle and the lighthouse on the larger, southern part of the rock.
Alfie circles the rock, checking the current, then halts to the north-east end of the split. We drop into the channel and make our way out round the exposed corner. I start photographing solitary anemones, but am soon spoilt for choice as the forest of anemones gets denser and denser. There must be just about every kind of anemone found in our home waters on this one dive site.
Arriving back at the B&B, the owner is outside watering the plants. Ã’Did you know there is a sock on your roofÃ“ he enquires. I realise that something has gone horribly wrong. I had been airing my drysuit underclothes on my 4x4s roof rack. The woolly bear and thermal T-shirt were inside the car, but three socks were missing.
I retrace my route and am relieved to find my socks scattered at intervals along the middle of Malahide High Street. They have dried out quite nicely on the hot road.
That evening I walk to the DART station and head across Dublin to visit some friends in Glenagaery to the south of the city, one stop on from the ferry terminal at Dun Laoghaire. DART is the overground Dublin urban rail system. It takes only 40 minutes to cross the city, less than half as long as it would take by car and costing only around£3 return.
The only minus is that the last train back leaves at 10.30, passing through the city centre at 11 - a bit early for a good night on the town. If I was planning a trip to take in some of the downtown nightlife, perhaps I would aim to stay in town and take the DART out to Malahide each day to dive.
On the other hand, Malahide has some nice pubs and restaurants - so nice that they provide a popular evening out for those living in the centre of the city. Staying in Malahide certainly wasnt dull.
For my final day I opt for another dive on the Tayleur. Among other things, I had missed the gravestones on my first dive and wanted to take a few pictures.
For a second dive we head round to the north side of Lambay Island to a wreck of uncertain identity, possibly the remains of the steamship Strathay. This is a new wreck for Alfie. We had bumped into Tony Ryan, a local wreck enthusiast, out in his boat for the morning to investigate some deepwater marks he had been given. Tony kindly showed us where the Strathay was and provided directions.
I am glad to be diving with Alfie on this one. We swim into the rocks against a moderate current and work our way down the slope. For some reason I have a feeling that the wreck will be further to the north-east from where we are swimming, but we come upon it from the stern, with the rest of the wreck lying to the south-west. Alfie has obviously understood the instructions far better than me.
The wreck has settled on an even keel, with the sides of the hull falling out and either disintegrating or being buried in the silt. We follow the propshaft tunnel forwards along the keel to an intact and upright engine and a compact pair of boilers. Off to one side, I find a few lumps of coal.
With a fair current streaming along the length of the wreck, there is a good covering of marine life. Small anemones, clumps of dead mens fingers and large plumose anemones lie towards the more exposed stern.
Further forwards, we pass a cargo winch before the keel breaks up, just short, I would guess, of the focsle. We follow a trail of debris into the shallow rocks, where we find the remains of an anchor winch, a pair of bollards and some scraps of chain. The rest of the bows must have been pounded to pieces.
To be honest, underwater visibility is not very good, varying between tides and sites from 2-4m. Alfie had warned me that it was going to be low even by local standards due to the spring plankton bloom, which in some ways is encouraging. Apparently 7-10m visibility is fairly typical through the summer; nothing fantastic, but good enough to enjoy a dive.
And that is pretty much what I did. The dives were easy, shallow and stress-free. Nothing mind-blowing, but all very enjoyable. Add the craic and proximity to the Guinness brewery - it is widely held that the quality of Guinness is inversely proportional to the distance from Dublin - and it all adds up to an excellent short break.
|One of the Shamrocks boilers is broken open, revealing boiler tubes inside |
|slate gravestones among the Tayleurs cargo |
|velvet swimming crab at Rockabill |
|Coming back into harbour, with Dan at the helm and Alfie to port |
|hermit crab at Rockabill |
|the end of the propshaft on the Strathay |
|edible crab |
|Sea urchin at Rockabill |
|Rockabill Lighthouse |
GETTING THERE John Liddiard travelled by car and ferry, but other options may be preferable for a long weekend. By air, fly to Dublin (Malahide is close to Dublin Airport), then hire a car, taxi or take the local bus. Or take a train to Hollyhead, ferry to Dun Laoghaire and DART to Malahide. Combined train and ferry tickets can be good value for money, and you dont have the problem of decompressing before flying. The Malahide DART station is a few minutes walk from the marina.
DIVING & AIR: John Liddiard dived with the National Diving School, based in the marina at Malahide, 00353 1845 2000, www.nds.ie. Prices are around£12.50 per dive including cylinder and weights. Air is£2.50 per fill. Alfie hopes to have nitrox available soon.
ACCOMMODATION: B&B and hotels in Malahide and the surrounding area. Another option is to stay in central Dublin and take the DART to Malahide for diving. Prices start at£20 for B&B. John Liddiard stayed at Pegasus bed and breakfast, located just south of Malahide, 00353 1 845 1506
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 1486, Arklow to the Skerries Islands; 44, Howth to Ardglass; and 1415, Dublin Bay. Ordnance Survey of Ireland Discovery Series Map 50. Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast by Edward J Bourke (Volumes 1-3). Underwater Ireland (Lambay Island), Irish Underwater Council.
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