Killary Fjord

Killary Fjord

Killary Harbour (Irish: An Caoláire Rua) is a fjord that is located in Western Ireland. This 16-km-long flooded valley acts as a natural border between the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking region) counties of Galway to the south, and Mayo to the north. Connacht’s highest mountain, Mweelrea (elevation : 814m) rises imposingly on the northern side of Killary Harbour, whereas the mountain ranges of the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks are located further to the south.

Fjords (from the norse 'fjörðr', which means "where you travel across" in English) are essentially formed when glaciers retreat and allow sea water to fill the U-shaped valleys that they have left behind. The terminal moraines of glaciers tend to be at the entrance of the fjords, which means that the 'neck' is usually shallower than the main section of the fjord just behind it. In the case of Killary Fjord, once past the entrance, the base drops as deep as 45 metres. Due to the absence of extensive steep cliff walls that line the sides, some instead consider Killary Harbour to be a 'fjard', which is a glacially-formed open space of water. There is, however, at least one peer-reviewed research paper ('An Oceanographical Survey of Killary Harbour’) that takes into account the deep underwater sides of the valley, and the paper concluded that Killary Harbour is in fact Ireland's only true fjord.

Looking north-west down the fjord from the Killary Harbour viewpoint . The island
of Inis barna (Irish: Gap Island) and its beacon can just be seen in the distance. This
beacon is one of two 'leading lights' that, when aligned, indicate a safe bearing for
boats that are attempting to enter the fjord.

Diving the Fjord

Killary Harbour is a fairly narrow channel and as such, is kept relatively sheltered and protected from the occasional fury and strong currents of the North Atlantic Ocean. This not only makes it an ideal location for scuba diving, but is also one of the reasons why the area is a prime location for shellfish farming. The marine animals most known to local divers, however, are the conger eels (Conger conger). These massive eels can grow to over two metres in length and have been known to weigh over 70 kilograms, making them the largest eels in the world by weight. They are also fairly aggressive when provoked and can, albeit extremely rarely, even attack divers.

Interactive Location Map

Hover over the dive sites below to uncover their names

C2C Map

Nearest Hyperbaric Chamber
University Hospital Galway

Hyperbaric Medicine Unit

Newcastle Road

Galway, Ireland

Telephone: +353 (0)91-524222 / 544544

Large pelagics, such as dolphins and whales, can also be found near the mouth of the fjord. In 1991, the Irish government banned the hunting of all whale, dolphin, and porpoise species within the entirety of Ireland's exclusive fishery limits (just over 300 kilometres from the coast). This effectively turned Irish waters into Europe's first whale sanctuary. Since then, they visit in abundance, with twenty-four species having been sighted in the area!

Members of the Elasmobranchii subclass (which includes sharks and rays) can also be found here: Small-spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus canicula) are fairly common and are usually found hiding within the kelp forests (Laminaria digitata) in the shallower sections, whereas thornback rays (Raja clavata) are found deeper down. If you are extremely fortunate, you might even encounter the largest fish in Irish waters--the endangered basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus).

Small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula)

Since the fjord is protected by hills on both sides, divers do frequently encounter helocline runoffs, especially after rainfall. Clines are distinct layers in the water where the properties of the layers vary greatly. They can appear to shimmer with an effect similar to crinkled glass due to the way that light is refracted between the layers. In the case of thermoclines, the different temperatures of the water layers cause the refractive index to change. Heloclines, on the other hand, are caused when freshwater from rainfall or rivers flow into the ocean. This difference in salinity translates to a difference in water density, which in turn causes light to refract between the layers. Though heloclines dramatically reduce the visibility for divers, they tend to remain at the upper levels of the water column, which means that the visibility tends to improve as divers descend.

Scubadive West

Scubadive West is a family-run PADI 5 Star Dive Centre that is located right on the mouth of Killary Fjord. The dive centre was established back in 1992, and is currently run and operated by two brothers, Cillian and Breffni Gray. The centre offers a large range of PADI dive courses as well as dive gear rental. The full list of what the centre offers, the prices, as well as their booking and cancellation policies can be found on their website.

Scubadive West
Contact Person: Breffni and Cillian Gray

Address: Lettergesh, Renvyle,

Co. Galway, H91 W938, Ireland

Telephone: +353 95 43922

E-Mail: info@scubadivewest.com

Getting There

The journey from Galway to Scubadive West should take you an hour and a half. First head north-west out of Galway along the N59. The road will take you through the towns of Moycullen and Oughterard before reaching Maam Cross Junction . Turn right once you reach the junction and head north along the R336 until you get to the next junction . Turn left here to travel north-west once again and past the town of Maam. Eventually you will arrive at the town of Leenaun, which is located at the end of the fjord .

If you continue along the road from Leenaun, without crossing the bridge, you will be on the Connemara Loop. This road will take you westward and runs parallel to the southern shore of the fjord. The road will slowly curve southward, and just over 7 kilometres from Leenaun, you will reach a junction where you need to turn right . Continue along this road for another 7 kilometres until you reach the next junction . Make a sharp right here (almost a U-turn), follow the road for about 300 metres, then turn left and follow the road to the very end.

The route from Galway to Scubadive West

The flag next to Scubadive West's slipway. This internationally-used 'alpha' flag warns passing boats that there may be divers in the water

Next : Part 2 - Dead Man's Fingers

Ireland Overview