“Entering the water comes with feelings of excitement and anticipation. You don't know what to expect when you are descending into the depths!”
Geoff Millar of Malin Head Shipwrecks in Donegal knows a thing or two about descending into the cool blue of Ireland’s waters. For him, the lure of diving off Ireland’s coast is the allure of the unexpected: will it be a German U-boat or a magnificent ocean liner that was torpedoed on its way to America?
“When you’re almost near the wreck your heart starts to speed up with excitement,” says Geoff, “especially when it comes into view. Different thoughts go through your mind, like what was her fate? You also think about the poor souls who lost their lives when it sank.”
Ireland may not have glittering coral reefs or a brightly colourful underwater-world, but what it lacks in natural spectacle it more than makes up for in drama. After all, it’s one of the best places in Europe to wreck dive. And the discoveries never seem to stop: in June 2012, two gigantic anchors from the famous German gunrunning ship, The Aud, were found in Irish waters. Lost for years, the murky depths of Cork Harbour had concealed the anchors since the vessel sank back in 1916 while trying to smuggle ammunitions into Ireland.
Beneath the Irish waves mysterious shipwrecks are contrasted by the flourishing marine life that calls them home. According to Geoff diving at Malin Head off the coast of County Donegal offers “clear Atlantic waters with the best visibility in Ireland and probably Europe”.
It’s also where you’ll find what Geoff claims to be the largest amount of German World War II U-boats in the world – 116 of them to be precise. “Malin Head also has the largest amount of sunken ocean going liners, too,” he says.
Off the northern coast, you’ll find an incredible array of wrecks including the remains of the HMS Justica, an ocean liner built by Harland and Wolff (the company that built the Titanic), which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1918. And the Laurentic, which served as a liner on the Liverpool-Montréal route carrying thousands of emigrants to Canada before being converted to an armed merchant ship.
In 1917, the SS Laurentic liner struck a mine off Fanad Head and sank within an hour taking 354 out of a crew of 470 down with her. What’s more, the ship also took down 43 tons of gold bullion – £10 million worth of which is still missing!
The wreck of the Athenia, which was the first British ship to be attacked by the Nazis in World War II is also located off Malin Head.
Rarely dived locations
The Irish Sea off east Antrim also offers incredible wreck-diving opportunities. Most wrecks littering the seabed around Whitehead on Belfast Lough and up the coast past Larne include everything from smugglers’ vessels to coal freighters.
Islandmagee offers superb scenic, drift and shore diving, with drop-offs from 15 to 60m; while the Maidens north of Larne is one of the UK's most spectacular and rarely dived locations.
Modern day treasure hunters will be interested to know that the wrecks of the ill-fated 16th-century Spanish and 18th-century French Armadas also lie in Irish waters off the north and west coasts
Who knows what secrets they still conceal?
Of course, it’s not just wreck-diving around the island, there’s a whole lot more to discover. But don’t take our word for it, just look at what diving superhero Jacques Cousteau had to say.