Connemara is a mystical region, which encompasses a significant portion of County Galway and some of County Mayo. Considered by many devotees as the spiritual home of Ireland, Connemara retains a unique sense of Irish heritage that draws visitors in their droves. Mountain ranges; formerly the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks; dominate the skyline, while pristine sandy beaches make intimate bedfellows for the indomitable Atlantic Ocean. Offshore, the horizon is dotted with innumerate islands; some inhabited and others eerily deserted.
Connemara is a diving Mecca; characterized by exceptional inwater visibility, unspoilt seascape, dramatic underwater topography and abundant marine life. World-class dives are easily attainable; some within minutes' reach of the mainland and others a little further afield near the islands. Dive boats to the islands are often accompanied by pods of playful dolphins.
With an infinite number of dive sites available, for the moment let us choose Inis Turk, Inis Boffin and the Killary Fjord as our protagonists. (Inis means island)
Translated rough from Gaeilge (Gaeilge is Ireland's native language), Inis Turk means Island of the Boar. Situated 9 miles off the West Coast, this island has a population of nearly 100 and measures approximately 3 miles x 2 miles.
Exposed sea cliffs are home to internationally acclaimed flora and fauna. These rocky outposts are parodied underwater. Here divers became part of a world characterized by unusual rock formations, sudden drop offs to 40 meters, sheer walls and a series of winding gullies. All these features come together in celebration of their marine occupants. Brightly colored cuckoo wrasse and shoals of mackerel are commonplace; rose coral and golden sea sponges adorn craggy wall faces, while lobsters and spider crabs observe from their rocky fortresses.
Adventure seekers will have their appetites sated by a number of gullies, and underwater caves and caverns. Unspoilt and untouched, these features form a sub-aqua universe unique to Inis Turk.
Inis Turk is to discerning divers as the Himalayas are to true mountainers. Need we say anymore?
Inis Boffin (Island of the White Cow) sits 7 miles off the coast and measures 5 miles x 3 miles. Approximately 200 islanders call this offshore hamlet home. Inis Boffin is steeped in history, with experts estimating that it was first populated as far back as 8000 – 4000 BC. The entrance to the main harbor is impressively overlooked by Oliver Cromwell's stone fort; used as a prison for Catholic practices throughout the 17th century.
The island hosts a starting variety of flora and fauna. Indeed, its waters are a breeding ground for both the gray and the common seal. For divers, Inis Boffin's unique selling point is the shelter it provides from the prevailing sea swell. Even in reliably adverse conditions, sheltered and comfortable diving can be found. Underwater typical features combine deep walls and drop offs; some plummeting to 50 meters; and towering pinnacles. One such pinnacle called Buachaill (meaning Boy) reaches up to 50 meters from the surface and spirals underwater to a similar depth! A profusion of marine species inhabit the waters off Inis Boffin; the island's heavily indented coastline ensures both Shelter and forage for them. Expect to encounter friendly seals, graceful ling and conger eels, cuckoo wrasse so curious that they swim right up to divers' masks and anemones every color of the rainbow. Those lucky enough may even spot an octopus in the sand.
The Killary Fjord
The Killary Fjord, Ireland's only fjord, winds its way 9 miles inland from its mouth at Inis Barna (island of the gap) to the village of Leenane, a rural hamlet made famous from 'The Quiet Man' film. One side of this watery inlet is entirely shielded by Mweelrea (rising 814 meters above sea level), the region's highest mountain. Sheltered entirely as it is, The Killary Fjord offers diving through the year. At its mouth, Inis Barna is a dive site with something for everyone. The north-eastern side of the island homes a number of conger eels, which can be hand-fed tinned sardines or mackerel. Divers looking for some depth can even up to 45 meters; making Inis Barna a popular site for technical divers looking to keep their skills sharp during the winter months.