50 great Irish beaches

Whether you’re looking for family fun, seaside activities or a beach with cinematic associations, check out this round-up of some of the top spots

Drone footage of Greystones South beach, County Wicklow. The beach features in The Irish Times' 50 best beaches in Ireland. Video: Joihn Cassidy

 

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Family beaches

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Rosses Point
Co Sligo

Sligo’s only blue flag beach in 2016, Rosses Point offers views of Knocknarea to the south and Benbulben to the north. The village, where WB Yeats spent childhood summers, is set to the dramatic backdrop of the Dartry mountain range and Sligo Bay. There are restaurants, pubs, accommodation and lifeguards during bathing season. The beach is also ideal for windsurfing and other water sports. Rosses Point is both a blue flag and Green Coast beach. It is 8km from Sligo town on the R291.

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Derrynane beach
Caherdaniel, Co Kerry

Situated two miles from Caherdaniel on the Ring of Kerry, Derrynane beach has it all for families. Clear water and white sand might lead you to believe you’re on an exotic Greek island while the beach’s sheltered position makes it safe for swimming. If the weather isn’t perfect, stroll over to the historic home of Daniel O’Connell for a tour and coffee. Or bring children on a Derrynane nature and walking trail, with the focus on seashore flora and fauna. Après -beach, head to Freddie’s bar in Caherdaniel. Derrynane is a blue flag beach and is lifeguarded during bathing season. Derrynane is located southwest of Killarney via the N70. derrynane.com

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Audley Cove
Balledehob, Co Cork

A true locals’ hang-out, this tiny cove near Balledehob in west Cork has entranced generations of families. Local children learn to swim, jump off rocks at high tide and sail in the boats their parents keep moored there. The views are of Horse Island and Roaring Water Bay – look carefully and you’ll see actor Jeremy Iron’s distinctive pink castle across the bay. There are rocks instead of sand, it’s difficult to find parking, and there are no facilities, but locals wouldn’t have it any other way; this sheltered, safe cove is part of the fabric of their lives. Audley Cove is 2½ miles outside Ballydehob.

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Enniscrone beach
Co Sligo

With a golf course, surf school, all-weather Aqua Leisure Centre and famous seaweed baths close-by, there is something for every member of the family at Enniscrone. The safe golden beach stretches for 5km. One side meets Killala Bay while the other takes you to the town of Enniscrone. If you’re feeling the love for seaweed, lie back and relax in an iodine-rich seaweed bath at Kilcullen’s, with hot seawater straight from the ocean. Or get your walking shoes on and take a GPS-enabled guided audio tour of the town to learn about its history. Enniscrone is 10km from Ballina, Co Mayo. discoverenniscrone.com

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Morriscastle beach
Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford

Stretching for miles from Curracloe to Cahore Point, Morriscastle beach calls to mind good, old-fashioned family days at the beach. Bordered by a sheltering dune system, it’s an ideal beach for children to play on and is very safe for swimming. It’s a popular shore angling site and is also home to a holiday park and Lawler’s of Morriscastle shop, which sells everything from authentic Italian pizza and home-cut fries to fishing bait and surfing gear. Morriscastle Beach is lifeguarded during bathing months and there are public toilets.It’s 3km from Kilmuckridge and is a blue flag beach.

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Portstewart Strand
Co Derry

The Strand”, as it’s locally known, is a mile west of Portstewart resort town. This blue flag beach offers two flat miles of golden sand and is perfect for picnics, castle building and bodyboarding/surfing. For nature lovers, a walking trail meanders through towering 6,000-year-old dunes to a wildlife reserve on the Bann estuary behind the beach. Spot rabbits, butterflies, rare wildflowers like bee orchids, and birds like the striking shelduck. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head for laid-back Harry’s Shack for fish and chips while soaking up views of the North Atlantic. Car parking is allowed on specific areas of the beach. The beach is well signposted from Portstewart town.

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Tramore
Co Waterford

Long associated with bucket- and-spade holidays thanks to its 5km sandy, blue flag beach and “sunny southeast” location, Tramore offers a lot more besides. Now it’s a hub for surfers and kitesurfers, and chip shops and the hurdy-gurdy amusement park sit alongside cafes, smoothie bars, a skatepark and a collection of water sports schools. Beach walkers, anglers, weekend surf warriors and kids all mingle under the watch of the Metal Man, erected by Lloyd’s of London in 1823 to warn seafarers about dangerous shallow waters. Local lore says if you hop around it three times, you’ll be married within the year. Tramore is about a 20-minute drive from Waterford city centre.

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Barleycove beach
Goleen, Co Cork

This gorgeous blue flag beach is thought to have been created by a tsunami following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Tucked between Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southwesterly tip, and Crookhaven, you’ll walk over a floating bridge to reach this remote west Cork crescent of golden sand with its extensive dunes. Swimming conditions vary from calm and child-friendly to rough and wavy, appealing to body boarders and surfers (there’s a surf school and sea kayaks for hire onsite). Seasonal Barleycove Beach Hotel is perfect for treats, or bring a picnic.Barleycove is now a designated Special Area of Conservation to protect its wildlife and habitats. Get there via Goleen (R591).

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Island beaches

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Dumhach beach
Inishbofin island, Co Galway

The tiny island of Inishbofin boasts a number of pristine beaches. However, it was by the crystal- clear waters of Dumhach that Galileo songwriter Declan O’Rourke and partner Emer O’Grady chose to marry in 2015, giving it an instant stamp of romance. When you have been sufficiently soothed by the calm, sheltered waters of Dumhach on the island’s southeastern side, take a dip at Loch Bo Finne, a landlocked lagoon situated in West Quarter village. Eat seafood at the Dolphin hotel afterwards. To reach Inishbofin, which lies 7km off the coast of Galway, take a ferry from Cleggan pier, 20 minutes drive from Clifden (€20 per person). inishbofin.com. Dumhach is a Green Coast 2016 beach.

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An Trá Bán
Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry

With its white sand and turquoise waters, this half-mile stretch of beach is the only one on any of the seven islands. If you’ve been lucky enough to spot whales and dolphins on the boat ride over from Dunmore Head, you will be equally charmed by large numbers of seals cruising by. To spend time on the beach and swim with the seals, opt for a full-day tour on the Blasket Princess with Mick Slevin (marinetours.ie). This gives you three hours on the island, enough time to admire the island’s birds, give a nod to Peig Sayers, visit the tea rooms and bathe on the trá. €55 per person, weather permitting.

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Harbour beach
Clare Island, Co Mayo

Bathe in the waters that 16th-century pirate queen Grace O’Malley waded into as she set sail from her family stronghold. Clare Island lies at the entrance to Clew Bay, 5km from land. Its beach surrounds the main harbour on the east side of the island and is an ideal spot for swimming or exploring the coast line. Its picnic area is perfect for watching wildlife. Even better, on the other side of the O’Malley tower is a tiny, pristine cove with crystal water, ideal for a quieter bathe. To get to there, take the ferry from Roonagh Pier, four miles from Louisburgh. The harbour beach has a blue flag but no lifeguard. clareisland.ie

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Glanleam beach
Valentia Island, Iveragh peninsula, Co Kerry

This tiny hidden beach is just metres from Glanleam House and Gardens, an enchanted old estate that was once home to the Knights of Kerry and now draws visitors with its impressive sub-tropical gardens. Keep this summer idyll to yourself by renting a refurbished boathouse just steps from the water. At the foot of a sheltered valley, Glanleam’s waters are warmed by the gulf stream – strong swimmers will be tempted to swim 1.25km out to Beginish Island or Valentia lighthouse. To reach Valentia Island, take the five-minute car ferry from Cahirsiveen to Knight’s Town or drive across the road bridge via Portmagee. valentiaisland.ie

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Maghera beach and caves
Ardara, Co Donegal

Maghera beach and caves, just 2km from Ardara village on the Wild Atlantic Way, will satisfy those who like to explore. Set beneath Slievetooey Mountain, this sandy bay is home to 20 caves, eight arches and five tunnels, best explored by kayak. A word of warning; the caves are accessible only at low tide, so you need to check and understand local tides. En route to Maghera, you will drive past the beautiful Easaranca waterfall and Loughros Point, which offers stunning views of the Atlantic. Ardara is situated on the N56. ardara.ie

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Silver Strand beach and caves
Co Wicklow

Caramel sands, fragrant honeysuckle and intriguing caves await those who walk down the steep steps to the beach. Silver strand is a private beach and access is paid for through Wolohans Camping and Caravan Park or Webster’s Silver Strand Caravan Park. (Wolohans charge €6 mid week per car and €10 at weekends, including car parking and access to facilities). The beach is family-friendly and safe for swimming, with a series of delightful small coves and caves which can be accessed at low tide. Silver Strand is 3km from Wicklow town and about an hour from Dublin.

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Beaches with history

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Minard beach
Annascaul, Co Kerry

Situated between Annascaul and Dingle, Minard beach is steeped in history – both ancient and modern. Set just above the beach, the remains of Minard Castle take us back to the Knights of Kerry. Their stronghold was attacked by Cromwell in 1650. It was to this beach that Tom Crean came in 1893 to join the Royal navy, a career which led him to his Antarctic exploration (and now leads holidaymakers to the pub Crean once owned, the South Pole Inn in Annascaul). Minard is also one of the finest storm beaches in Ireland, home to 380-million- year-old fossilised desert sand dunes. A gradually sloping beach with calm waters, it’s safe for children to paddle at low tide. Fishing trips are a popular past-time. annascaul.net.

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Annagassan beach
Co Louth

Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the southern shores of Dundalk Bay, Annagassan beach is loved by those in the know. North of Clogherhead, with views of the Mourne and Cooley mountains, the sandy beach is home to seabirds and migratory species. It’s also where 9th-century Vikings landed, before building Linn Duachaill Longphort (one of Europe’s best-preserved Viking sites). After enjoying a coastal walk, stop off at the Glyde Inn for lunch or to enjoy a beach-side stay. Get there from Dublin via the M1 and R166 via Castlebellingham. glydeinn.ie.

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Streedagh Strand
Co Sligo

The 3km long, sandy Streedagh’s reef breaks make this a popular surfing spot. But beneath the surf lies a fascinating historical story. In 2015, a remarkable array of artefacts, including cannons and a bronze cauldron, were recovered from La Juliana, one of three Spanish Armada ships wrecked on Streedagh in 1588. The limestone rocks at Streedagh contain many species of fossil coral, including the 400 million-year-old Zaphrentis. The beach also features as part of a coastal walk on sligowalks.ie and offers great views of Benbulben mountain. Streedagh is signposted from Grange, 16km north of Sligo town

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Silver Strand Malinbeg
Glencolmcille, Co Donegal

Also known as Trá Bán, this beautiful horseshoe bay in southwest Donegal is accessed by a series of steep steps, which may deter young families or people with limited mobility. Situated between the villages of Kilcar and Glencolmcille, this hidden gem marks the end point of a walk across the majestic Slieve League sea cliffs, which takes you along ancient pilgrim paths, and through some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland. Marvel at strangely shaped sea stacks known as the Giant’s chair and desk. Malinbeg is popular for diving and snorkelling. To get there, follow signs for Glencolmcille from Carrick, turn left for Malinbeg before reaching Glencolmcille. Safe, sheltered beach, no lifeguard. glenncolmcille.ie

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Remote beaches

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Annagh Bay
Achill Island, Co Mayo

This is one that only adventurous locals, strong swimmers and enthusiastic hill walkers know about, so there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll have it to yourself. The rocky cove of Annagh is set in the shadow of Croaghaun Mountain. There are different routes, including one that takes you past the island’s deserted village to the quarry, uphill towards Slievemore Signal tower, and over the next rise. At the top you are rewarded with your first view of Lough Nakeeroge and Annagh Bay. There are no roads here – the only way in or out is on foot or by boat. Only strong, adventurous swimmers should attempt to swim at Annagh, and then only in calm conditions. visitachill.com/landscape

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Silver Strand
Co Mayo

To find this isolated gem of a beach, travel 25km southwest of Louisburgh on the R378 until you can go no further. As the tide recedes, a deep swathe of golden sand is revealed reaching out to champagne-clear waters with Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare Island out to sea. Sheltered from behind by Connaught’s highest mountain, Mweelrea, and on each side by rocky headlands, this beach is a dream for walkers, wild swimmers, beach anglers and those fishing from the rocks. Should the unimaginable happen and you meet other people, wander over to adjoining Doovirla beach, just as pretty. Silver Strand has a 2016 Green Coast award

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Dunmoran beach
Co Sligo

With impressive views of Benbulben, this secluded two-mile- long beach is a real find for unsuspecting visitors. Sandy and arc-shaped, it is perfect for swimming and for children to play on, but is often so quiet that it feels like a private beach. Take the coastal walk to Aughris Head and stop for food at the Beach Bar, known for its traditional Irish music. Look out for sea birds along the cliffs and for old booley huts at the nearby deserted village. Dunmoran Beach has a Green Coast award in 2016 and is some 25km west of Sligo town.

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Portally
Co Waterford

A narrow cleft of a cove set below steep gorse- and heather-covered cliffs, Portally is one of coastal Waterford’s hidden treasures. This part sandy, part pebbly inlet was once a more important fishing village than Dunmore East just up the coast, but its green waters are now the haunt of a few pot fishermen, seabirds and the odd seal. One of the nicest ways to reach this seaside inlet is via the cliff walk from Dunmore East (45 minutes). Along the way keeps your eyes peeled for kittiwake, fulmars, cormorants and shags.

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Unique beaches

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Ballydonegan beach
Allihies, west Cork

On the western tip of the Béara peninsula, this quiet rustic bay offers a unique glimpse into the area’s previous life. Its gritty sand bears remnants of Allihies’ copper mining past, giving the beach a weathered toughness that’s softened by the colours of the surrounding landscape. There can be strong currents, making Ballydonegan better for sunbathing than swimming. Dursey island and the village of Eyeries are also must-visits. bearatourism.com

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Trá an Dóilín
Carraroe, Co Galway

Situated near the village of Carraroe, Trá an Dóilín is called the coral strand but is actually made of coralline algae known as maerl. Scoop a handful and it will gleam with a myriad of colours. Set at the mouth of Galway Bay, the strand is a series of small coves nestled between rocky outcrops. This rare type of beach is of great conservation importance; you have to wear sandals to avoid damaging the tiny seashells. Trá an Dóilín is a blue flag beach with public changing rooms, toilet facilities and a lifeguard during the bathing season. To get there, head west on the R336 from Galway city, turn left at Casla on the RR343 towards Carraroe, then follow “Trá” signs through the village. blueflagireland.org

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Murlough Beach
Co Down

With spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains meeting the sea, 6km Murlough Beach, near Newcastle, is a year-round Northern Ireland treasure. Home to Ireland’s first nature reserve since 1967, it’s a vast sandy belt fringed with a pebble ridge and a precious 6,000-year-old dune system above the tideline. Keep a look-out for everything from rare marsh fritillary butterflies and meadow pipits to grey seals and migratory Brent geese. The National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) provides picture guides to help you identify various species. The blue flag beach is also perfect for a dip or various water sports

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Shore food

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Mulranny beach
Co Mayo

Driving between Newport and Achill, the golden sands and machair dunes of Mulranny beach appear opposite the family-friendly Mulranny Park hotel, metres from the Great Western Greenway. The main beach is accessible from a causeway and delivers glorious views across Clew Bay towards Clare Island. But it is in the smaller coves that Cheryl Cobern Browne from the Essence of Mulranny art retreat takes guests foraging for seaweed, gathering dillisk and nori from the shoreline at low tide (essenceof mulranny.ie). Mulranny is a blue flag beach. It has a lifeguard in July and August, and toilet facilities. mulranny.ie

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Burrow beach
Co Dublin

Burrow Beach is easily accessible by car or Dart. From Sutton Cross Dart station, walk down Burrow Road before turning left onto a laneway to this wide, open sandy beach. Much of your time walking Burrow will be spent gazing at Ireland’s Eye, a nature conservation site that supports colonies of gannet, black guillemot and great black-backed gulls. Walk the beach to Howth village, stopping to enjoy seafood in Crabby Joe’s or the Bloody Stream. Burrow Beach has a lifeguard everyday during July and August. fingalcoco.ie

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Movie beaches

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Inch beach
Co Kerry

Stretching 5km into Dingle Bay and with staggering views of Slieve Mish and MacGillicuddy Reeks, it is easy to see why this vast sandy spit, topped with impressive dunes, was a showstopper in Ryan’s Daughter. With a perfect sunset vantage point, it’s still winning the hearts of Kerry Way walkers, swimmers, beach anglers and families today. Water sport enthusiasts are drawn by beginner-friendly waves and serviced by pop-up operators. Cars can drive onto this blue flag beach, which is a negative for some but a bonus if transporting kit or a gaggle of kids. A half-hour drive from Dingle, the beach has two cafes and bars: the Strand bar overlooking the beach and Sammy’s which serves up fresh oysters and fish’n’chips.

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Curracloe Strand
Co Wexford

This part of the sunny southeast enjoys 20 miles of soft, sandy beaches, the most popular of which is the seven-mile-long Curracloe strand. Ballinesker beach, which forms part of the strand, became known to millions when the D-Day scenes from Saving Private Ryan were filmed there in 1997. The film of John Banville’s The Sea was also filmed there in 2013. Two kilometres from Curracloe village and 11km from Wexford town, Curracloe is a blue flag beach and bustles in summer thanks to its facilities: car parking, disabled access, toilets and lifeguard. wexford.ie

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Clogherhead beach
Co Louth

Clogherhead has been the backdrop to a number of films, including the 2009 Irish thriller Perrier’s Bounty with Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy and, in 1997, The Devil’s Own with Brad Pitt. The beach, 70km from Dublin and adjacent to the fishing village of Clogherhead, is home to a sailing school and outdoor activity centre. There are views of the Cooley and Mourne mountains, and Lambay Island. Clogherhead is a blue flag beach with EU-protected sand dunes and a lifeguard. It is located off the R166, south of Dundalk

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Beaches with the wow factor

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Coumeenole strand
Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry

Once cited as “the most beautiful place on earth” by National Geographic, Coumeenole was another filming location for Ryan’s Daughter in 1969 and is a popular stop for travellers on the Slea Head drive. The cove’s flat caramel sands, turquoise water and black rocks add to its dramatic and iconic appeal. The currents here make it unsuitable for swimming – best to linger, soak in views of the Blasket Islands and admire the raw beauty of the place, even on days when the weather is bad. From Dingle, take the R559 through Ventry. Coumeenole is 18km from the town. dingle-peninsula.ie

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Ballymastocker Bay
Fanad Peninsula, Donegal

Once voted the second most beautiful beach in the world by Observer newspaper readers (pipped only by the Seychelles), Ballymastocker Bay features an array of golden beaches that stretch from Portsalon to the Knockalla coast road. Stop at the viewing point to enjoy spectacular views of the Inishowen Peninsula. On the eastern shore of Lough Swilly, just south of Portsalon, Ballymastocker is a blue flag beach with a lifeguard during bathing season and is safe for swimming. You can also surf under Knockalla. Portsalon is a 35km drive from Letterkenny on the R246.

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Keem Bay
Achill, Co Mayo

This perfect horseshoe bay with golden sand is found at the western reaches of Achill Island. To reach it, you travel a precipitous road on the side of Croaghaun Mountain. Sheltered waters are ideal for swimming and a Blueway snorkel trail tempts visitors to explore its underwater world, in the hope of triggerfish and spider crabs sightings. The blue flag bay was once home to a basking shark fishery, and these gentle giants still occasionally visit. Best spotted from the hills on three sides of the bay, if you miss out on sharks, you’ll be wowed by the sea cliffs instead. To get there, follow the Atlantic drive from Keel.

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Dog’s Bay/Gurteen
Roundstone, Connemara, Co Galway

On a sunny day , the clear waters and white sand seem to transport us to another part of the world, as the stone walls of Connemara give way to Caribbean-like beaches near Roundstone. Dog’s Bay and Gurteen beach are sandy twins, sitting back to back with just a strip of green field between them. There are also two more, lesser-known beaches nearby. All four are set in sheltered, clear, calm waters and are suitable for swimming or kayaking. Get there via the R341 between Roundstone and Ballyconneely

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Pollan Strand
Ballyliffin, Inishowen, Co Donegal

Pollan Bay or Strand is a two-mile-long sandy beach at the foot of the hill leading to Ballyliffin village. There are views to Glashedy Island and to the famine village isle of Doagh, which is joined to the mainland by a causeway road. Beyond Doagh are stunning views across the Five Finger Strand towards Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland. There’s also a beach walk along the edge of Ballyliffin golf course and takes you to Carrickabraghey Castle at Doagh. There is an eco-friendly children’s play area and Pollan is ideal for windsurfing and other activities. visitballyliffin.com

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Brandon Bay
Castlegregory, Co Kerry

Set on the northern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, at the foot of Mount Brandon, Brandon Bay is a place of utter beauty for water sports enthusiasts. A long golden stretch of beach, wide open to the north Atlantic, it’s one of the top windsurfing locations in Ireland and is a hub for water sports. The Maharees, a sandy peninsula between Brandon Bay and Tralee Bay, is where most windsurfing activity is based. Check out jamieknox.com for surfing and windsurfing courses and O’Connor’s bar in Cloghane for post-surf pints. Driving from Tralee, take the N86 towards Camp and Dingle then follow the R560 to Castlegregory, driving 3-4 miles further to the sand dunes

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Activity beaches

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Glassilaun Renvyle
Co Galway

A strongly horseshoed bay with rocky outcrops on either side to explore, Glassilaun is ideal for divers and snorkelers. It is also the setting for the west of Ireland’s largest scuba and diving centre; Scubadive West. As referenced in the book At Swim: A Book About the Sea by Brendan MacEvilly and Michael O’Reilly, white- sanded Glassilaun inspires divers of all levels who are taken from a private slipway to a shallow reef before moving on to explore Killary Fjord. The North Atlantic Drift creates a nutrient-rich environment for an amazing variety of marine life. Glassilaun is set on the Connemara Loop, close to the village of Tullycross. No lifeguard but considered safe and sheltered. scubadivewest.com, connemara.net

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Kells Bay
Ring of Kerry, Co Kerry

Set in Killarney National Park between Glenbeigh and Cahirciveen, Kells Bay features on a stage of the Kerry Way and offers up great views of Dingle Bay, the Blaskets and the Gleesk Viaduct, built in 1892. An idyllic spot for hikers to rest their weary bones, it’s also popular with families thanks to its sandy rock pools, which are suitable for children to paddle in. Fishing from the rocks is also popular and there’s a small harbour and pier nearby. Kells is located 11km north of Cahirciveen off the N70. blue flag beach. No lifeguard but lifesaving equipment is available.

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Portrush West
Co Antrim

Flanked by a busy harbour and a well- used pedestrian and cycle promenade, the golden arc of Portrush West beach is alive with activity year round. The nearly mile-long blue flag sandy beach is a great fresh-air escape from the lively Victorian resort, which is famous for the rollercoasters and bumper cars of Barry’s Amusements and Kelly’s bars and nightclubs, as well as the high-end Royal Portrush Golf Club. These days the beach is just as famous for its surf break, Blackrocks. The strand is also popular with swimmers, paddle boarders, kite surfers and horse riders (in low season). Lifeguard during bathing season. The beach is signposted off Portstewart Road.

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Doughmore beach
Co Clare

The recent subject of controversy thanks to Donald Trump’s planned wall to protect his adjacent Doonbeg golf course, Doughmore beach is well worth visiting. Twenty minutes south of Lahinch on the N67, the remote two- mile sandy stretch is backed with fantastic dunes. Signs warn against swimming due to potent rip currents but it’s attractive to surfers thanks to its waves; when elsewhere in the region is flat, Doughie, as it’s fondly known, often has swell. Pedestrian access is via a right of way across the exclusive golf course. There’s something charming about barefoot walkers and surfers passing bemused visitors out playing 18.

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Murvagh/ Rossnowlagh
Co Donegal

Experience two blue flags in one day with a 90- minute walk that can be undertaken at low tide. Start on the quiet sheltered beach at Murvagh and cross three bays to end at facility-rich Rossnowlagh surf school, with beach access for cars and sustenance at the Sandhouse hotel. Both blue flag beaches have lifeguards on duty during summer. A strong word of caution: you must carefully check tides before setting out on this walk. Aim to begin 90 minutes before low tide. Murvagh is off the N15 south of Donegal town. Rossnowlagh is 6km from Ballyshannon on the R231.

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Magheramore beach
Co Wicklow

While south Dublin families flock to the blue flag beach at Brittas Bay on sunny days, surfers prefer nearby Magheramore, where courses are run by Brittas Bay Surf School. This small, cove-like beach picks up good southerly swell, perfect for improvers and children, but not hugely interesting for more advanced surfers. Magheramore is situated 3km south of Wicklow town. Access is via a privately owned lane. brittasbaysurfschool.com

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Strandhill
Co Sligo

Strandhill boasts some of the most popular surfing waves in the country and, at 4km long, is also perfect for long beach walks (strong tides permitting). However, it’s forbidden to swim at Strandhill due to strong currents. Because it’s north-facing, Strandhill picks up any type of swell from southwest to north, making it one of the most consistent breaks in the country. The Strandhill Open surfing competition takes place every August bank holiday weekend. For advanced surfers, Strandhill is perfectly located between Easkey and Bundoran and about an hour’s drive from 20 or so world- class waves. It’s also home to Shells cafe and shop. Strandhill is 7km from Sligo. gostrandhill.com

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Kilkee beach
Co Clare

The mile-long horseshoe-shaped sandy beach at Kilkee has been a hit with holidaymakers since the 1800s. With safe swimming thanks to the shelter of the Duggerna Reef, the blue flag beach also boasts natural swimming pools nestled in rocks jutting into the bay. Called the “Pollock Holes”, these crystal-clear swimming spots are replenished with fresh Atlantic water at high tide. A dive centre, surf school and fantastic cliff walks complete the picture. Diving from heights of up to 13m at the spot known as Newfoundout was another big hit over the years, but sadly the boards are currently out of commission. Locals are battling to have them reinstated. To reach the Pollock Holes, follow the coast road west from Kilkee town

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Capital beaches

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White Rock
Killiney, Co Dublin

This little, white- rocked cove offers a sandy alternative to much of Killiney’s stony beach. It’s easily accessible by Dart or car but feels like a slice of paradise on a warm summer’s day. Situated at the north end of Killiney beach, with views that stretch to the Sugar Loaf in Wicklow, White Rock is reached by walking down the Vico road, crossing the bridge over the Dart tracks and descending a series of steps. Killiney beach has a blue flag, so the cove is suitable for bathing and swimming. To get there,take a 20-minute Dart ride from Dublin city centre. If driving, there is limited parking at Killiney beach car park. blueflagireland.org

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Velvet Strand
Portmarnock, north Co Dublin

This wide, soft stretch of beach is 5km long with a large sand dune area. It stretches all the way to Baldoyle, adjoins Malahide Beach and offers lovely views of the Dublin Mountains and Howth harbour. Along the beach lies a path that leads to Malahide: walk it, cycle or even roller-blade to add another element to your day out. Portmarnock beach has a blue flag and Green Coast award for 2016. It also has plenty of facilities – lifeguard, toilets at the northern end, hotels, restaurants and golf courses. There’s a large public car park and the beach is also accessibly by Dart or bus (332B, 42).blueflagireland.org

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Balcarrick beach
Donabate, north Co Dublin

A sweet childhood memory for many Dubliners and one of just four blue flag beaches in Dublin in 2016, Balcarrick’s 3.4km stretch of sandy beach has views of Lambay Island, Howth Peninsula and Malahide estuary. If you’re feeling energetic, go canoeing, visit nearby Newbridge House and Farm or take the coastal walk from Donabate to Portrane, where you can seek out Tower Bay beach and admire the Martello Tower above. There’s a large public car park at Balcarrick. Using public transport, the beach is about a 20- minute walk from both the nearest bus stop and train station. There are public toilets and a lifeguard station. blueflagireland.org

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48

Ladies’ Cove
Greystones Co Wicklow

Fashionable Greystones boasts two sweeping beaches, north and south, and this little gem of a cove sits virtually in the middle. Ladies’ Cove offers rocks to jump off, beachcombing and sunrise photo opportunities for camera enthusiasts. We would say bring a picnic, but that might mean you won’t venture up to the popular Happy Pear cafe. Greystones is a blue flag beach. There are two public toilets at the main beach and a lifeguard station. Take the Dart from Dublin city to Greystones, the beach is a five-minute walk. blueflagireland.org

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Luxury by the beach

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49

Kelly’s Hotel
Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford

Never mind blue- flagged Rosslare Strand: visitors return year after year to enjoy the hospitality at Kelly’s hotel, which has been run by five generations of the same family. With guests floating happily from breakfast to lunch, afternoon tea to dinner, lengthy walks on the beach are advisable to work it all off. The hotel was refurbished in 2014, but what’s really nice is the personal attention. The owners chat to guests during dinner and the atmosphere is as it should be at a beachside hotel: relaxed and friendly. Children are well- catered for with earlier meal times and daily discos, and while you might think about heading into Wexford town for a day, the truth is that you probably won’t want to leave Kelly’s at all. kellys.ie

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50

Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa and Inchydoney beach
Clonakilty, Co Cork

Blessed with a picturesque, romantic west Cork location, Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa overlooks a blue flag beach and some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery. The award- winning Island Spa offers seawater therapies while the beach is a haven for surfers and other water sport lovers. Eat at the Lodge’s Dunes pub and bistro or at the Gulfstream restaurant. The hotel is a 50- minute drive from Cork city.

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