West Cork Ireland – Diving in Baltimore
Baltimore, one of Ireland’s most picturesque towns situated as far from Dublin as you can get in the very south west of Ireland. It is here that I ventured for my very first scuba dive in West Cork, Ireland, between Baltimore and Cape Clear Island. From doing some travelling and doing my PADI course in the South Pacific a few years ago I try and go diving when the opportunity arises which is usually when on holidays. And usually in warm water with colourful coral reefs which you definitely can’t find in Ireland in winter. An aside is that Ireland does have relatively recently discovered cold water reefs but they are much too deep to be diving to for recreational divers. Baltimore has a colourful history including being ransacked by Dutch-Algerian pirates and 160villagers being kidnapped and brought to the Middle East in the 17th century. This led to Skibbereen being founded on a shallow inlet where pirates couldn’t venture! It never really dawned on me that you could go diving in Ireland but once I inquired there were plenty of clubs and spots to go in and the visibility is usually as clear as anywhere in the world so barring the cold water it’s all good.
So off we set from Cork on the 1.5hr journey to Baltimore at 7am on a dull November’s day. After many false starts over the previous months because of weather we finally got the go ahead from John in Baltimore that we were good to go. These are the joys of diving in Ireland outside the summertime. We arrived and tried on our wetsuits, sorry 2 x wetsuits and got kitted up for the dive. I think I was wearing around 12 or 14mm on my core which was needed when you are going to be in 10deg C (50deg F) the water for 50min. The shop is only a 2min walk from the pier so looking like awkward oversized penguins we headed down and loaded the gear on the small boat. As this was winter he suggested we go to the calm surroundings of a cove outside the harbour which sounded good to us as I didn’t fancy a bout of sea sickness.
An Underwater Encounter
As mentioned above, I had never dived in Ireland before so when I went below the surface it was a brand new experience. There was none of my usual blue water, coral reefs and tropical fish. I opened my eyes to an underwater forest. Everywhere on the jagged coastline was covered in kelp which is not obvious from the surface. As we made our way along the fingers, surging a little, we passed kelp that were easily 5mtrs (15ft) or more in height and had wrasses and goldsinnies peaking out from behind the trees. Definitely not as plentiful as a tropical reef but some life all the same. The jagged granite coast was also covered in sea urchins and star fish. As we exited the cove and were rounding the coast to the sea the kelp got larger and the surge got stronger. Then some sort of movement in the dark blue ahead. Suddenly from below a seal pops up, looks us in the eye, moves a bit closer for a better view and then darts off. It was cool to see a seal darting through the kelp like us. Okay, we were far from darting, we probably moved more like seals do on land but it was still cool to be sharing the same space as her. Here we were in little old Ireland seeing exotic creatures like seals. Over the rest of the dive as we rounded the headland into the open sea we met the seal at various distances still searching for food.
As we popped to the surface and were then subjected to serious surge with ourselves and the kelp doing an energetic waltz to the rocks and then to the sea before the boat came over and picked us up. The two wetsuits did their job as I wasn’t cold at all during the dive and the excitement of the seal made me forget about it anyway. On the whole it wasn’t quite as pleasant and tanning yourself in the Red Sea before diving in to look at hundreds of rainbow coloured fish but it was completely different so definitely worth doing it from that point of view. If you are thinking of diving in Ireland there are plenty of dive spots to choose from. There are seals living in Dublin (Dalkey) and the west coast to loads of wrecks dotted around the coast as you can imagine from all the storms. The largest wreck in Europe, the Kowloon Bridge, is close to Baltimore on the south coast with the top being only 7mts from the surface. One you can handle the colder waters it is as good as anywhere.
Practicalities – About Scuba Diving in Ireland
- Cost – 2 x scuba dives plus renting all equipment is €90 per person. If you want a guide then €24 extra.
- Website: www.baltimorediving.com (the one I used), www.aquaventures.ie
- Other Scuba Dive sites: There are lots of dive sites that a reachable from Baltimore from seal dives, to nature dives but especially wreck dives. Among many wrecks is the biggest wreck in Europe, the 300mtr (900ft) long Kowloon Bridge.
- Directions: Baltimore is 95km south west of Cork city. Head on the N71 to Skibbereen. From Skibbereen it is signposted (12km)
- Bus: Bus Eireann provides buses from Cork City to Skibbereen. Several buses leave every day during the week from the city centre. The journey takes approx 1.75hrs.