Ireland's top 25 beaches
GO IRELAND:We’re lucky to live in a country with more than its fair share of gorgeous shores and silken strands. SANDRA O'CONNELLrounds up 25 of our favourites across the country
BEST FOR PICNICS
DOLLAR BAY, Wexford
This aptly named beach has real live buried treasure under its fine golden sands. Spanish gold was buried here by mutineers from a gold-laden vessel sailing from Tenerife to London in the 1700s. Guaranteed to bring a frisson to your sand-castle building. Even if you’re not lucky with the treasure, the scenery is pure gold.
SILVER STRAND, Wicklow
A little gem of soft sand sheltered on three sides by steep cliffs. On a sunny day this beach, accessed via a privately owned campsite just south of Wicklow town, is like being on a Greek island. Just don’t bring too much paraphernalia, it’s quite a hike back up to your car.
INCHYDONEY, Clonakilty, Cork
A great family-friendly swimming beach with lifeguards on duty in summer, Inchydoney is also well known for the hotel resort of the same name that perches on the base of the spit of land that divides the beach in two. It has two-night BB packages, including a two-hour surf lesson, from €250 pps.
Waves break long before hitting the crescent-shaped expanses of Rossnowlagh, the dramatic 4km long beach north of Sligo town. The resulting endless roll of white horses galloping ashore is a wonderful sight and no doubt part of what attracted Hong Kong’s Emily Browne when she moved here, buying the Smugglers Creek Inn that overlooks it three years ago. Check it out for yourself with an overnight stay from €70 pps.
CORAL BEACH, Carraroe, Galway
Reckoned to be Ireland’s only coral beach, the strand at Carraroe is one of the most picturesque beaches in the country, but it’s hard on feet so don’t forget your sandals. Great for snorkelling with plenty of rock pools to explore.
BEST FOR SCENERY
SILVER STRAND, Malinbeg, Co Donegal
If you’re from Donegal, there’s only one Silver Strand and that’s the horse-shoe shaped one near Glencolmcille. To be fair, this one is even more stunning visually, with the land circling the sea like a torc. Be prepared for loads of steps here too. Rest up at Malinbeg Hostel a couple of hundred metres up the road, where family rooms start from €14 per person.
INCH STRAND, Kerry
This piece of sandy heaven is still remembered as having stolen the show, or rather the movie, Ryan’s Daughter. Terrific for swimming, surfing and sea angling or just for sitting back and watching others swim, surf and sea angle from the comfort of the enormous deck of Greene’s Cafe Bar Bistro which overlooks it.
BALLYMASTOCKER, Lough Swilly
This one has been adjudged by overseas press as not just one of the best in Ireland, but in the world. How it was ever pipped by some old Seychelles beach is beyond us. Ballymastocker is divided in three, like a golden-sanded triptych that catches your breath as you round the bend on the Knockcalla coast road overlooking it. It is also just up the road from Rathmullan House which is offering three-night midweek specials for July.
Few vistas in Ireland are as gorgeous as Clew Bay and at Bertra, 12km west of Westport on the Louisburgh Road, you’re right in the middle of it. The beach sits on an arm of land extending out into the bay with great views of Clare Island.
BEAL BAN, Ballyferriter, Kerry
Before visitors of the two-legged kind arrive at Beal Ban in Ballyferriter in Kerry each summer, the beach will already have seen a stampede of four-legged ones in its annual race meet, which takes place each year in early June. For the rest of the year it reverts to being a beach that offers some of the most stunning views in the country of the Dingle Peninsula and Mount Brandon.
BEST FOR CHILDREN
The white sandy beach at Gurteen – and neighbouring Dog’s Bay – put the Connemara village of Roundstone on the map as a summer destination. South-facing Gurteen is perfect for children with beautifully clear waters and a headland sheltering it like a natural windbreaker.
WHITEROCKS, Portrush, Antrim
Ireland’s answer to the white cliffs of Dover, Whiterocks near Coleraine is backed by an impressive wall of limestone which Mother Nature and Father Time have, between them, carved into all sorts of caves and arches, perfect for exploring and all overlooked by the ruins of spectacular Dunluce Castle.
CAHORE BEACH, Wexford
Further south lies the small but perfectly formed Cahore Beach in Wexford, a 500m section of sandy coastline backed by a line of sand dunes. It’s beside the little village of Cahore which has a pier, and a mobile home holiday and leisure park. It’s also close to Gorey, where the Amber Springs Hotel has three-day mid-week offers for €219 per person sharing.
GALLEY COVE, Crookhaven, Cork
Just west of the village of Crookhaven in west Cork, Galley Cove is a 250m sandy beach which forms part of a special area of conservation and is also a designated national heritage area. In other words, it’s very beautiful, with views of Fastnet Rock 10km out to sea. If you’re staying over check out Heron’s Cove BB and restaurant in nearby Goleen, where two nights’ BB and one dinner costs €105 pps in summer.
KEEM, Achill, Mayo
Another blue flag beach, this one is 10km west of the village of Keel along one of the most scenic roads in the country. The sheltered horseshoe-shaped bay stands at the end of a valley bookended at by Croaghaun Mountain and Moyteoge Head, with a car park and, in summer, a lifeguard. Foodies will be visiting July 19th-22nd for the island’s annual Seafood Festival.
BEST FOR SOLITUDE
KILMURVEY, Inis Mór
This beautiful stretch of sandy beach is just off the road between the largest Aran island’s main village, Kilronan, and the cliffside fort Dún Aengus. For tourists cycling between the two on a hot summer’s day, its white sands are the most welcomed sight imaginable. Well sheltered and perfect for swimming.
FIVE FINGERS STRAND, Inishowen
At Five Fingers Strand near Malin Head you can see the wreck of the Twilight, a vessel which sank in 1889 having made it all the way from Newfoundland en route for Derry. It’s also a beautiful beach and the perfect end to a summer day spent touring one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
GOAT ISLAND, Waterford
As if there weren’t reason enough to visit the pretty village of Ardmore in Waterford it also has great beach just up the road at Goat Island. Sheltered, south facing and with fine golden sands, it’s the perfect place to soak up rays by day, before retreating to the nearby Cliff House Hotel for a night, where balcony rooms start at €200, including breakfast, for two.
STRADBALLY COVE, Waterford
One of half a dozen soft sandy coves that fringe the Copper Coast, so called for mining activities in days of yore, or ore. Stradbally Cove, surrounded on two sides by high land banks, has the added visual attraction of a fast-flowing river which makes its way out to sea here. Stay over at Paul Flynn’s Tannery in Dungarvan, whose three-course “easy evening” menu runs Tuesday to Friday at just €30 a head.
GARNISH, Beara Peninsula
The beautiful Beara Peninsula has lots of scenic attractions but surprisingly few sandy beaches. Garnish, at the southern tip, is one of the exceptions and holds a Green Coast Award too – given to rural beaches with good bathing water standards, a clean environment and natural beauty, all of which Garnish has in (buckets and) spades.
BEST FOR WALKING
BARLEYCOVE, Goleen, Cork
The vast expanse of beautiful Barleycove in west Cork provides for surprisingly non-crowded bathing even on the hottest days. For a great day out twin it with a visit to the Mizen Head lighthouse just up the road which has a great visitor centre and offers a chance to see how former keepers coped in splendid isolation.
Curracloe is famous for having played the part of Omaha Beach in the movie Saving Private Ryan but it’s impossible to reconcile those horrendous opening scenes with what is one of the most idyllic spots in the sunny southeast. Tom Hanks may be long gone but the beautiful coastline here still stretches for miles and offers safe swimming, powder-soft sand and nature trails through the dunes.
TRAWMORE STRAND, Achill, Mayo
Achill Island’s south-facing shore is home to Trawmore, a name you won’t need honours Irish to translate. The 3km sandy beach, which has blue flag status, runs from Keel to Dookinelly and attracts all sorts of water sports enthusiasts courtesy of its Atlantic breakers. Not all of it is equally safe for swimming, so keep within the demarcated spots. Local clothing store and cafe Blackfield runs surf camps all summer.
BRITTAS BAY, Wicklow
Brittas Bay’s 4km of golden sands have been attracting Dubs for generations and on sunny weekends and bank holidays the traffic can send tempers soaring. On weekdays, however, there’s usually plenty of scope to set up camp for a day, with dinner at McDaniels to set you up for the drive home. This summer sees the arrival of Brittas Bay Surf School, a sort of outreach campus of Surf World in Bundoran and a very welcome addition.
Tyrella is as well-known for its dunes as it is for its beach. There are 25 hectares of them here in scenic Dundrum Bay, giving way to 2km of wide, sandy and well-maintained beach. Perfect for picnicking – an hour before swimming, obviously. You won’t want to overeat in any case because the wonderful Buck’s Head Inn is just up the road.