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Focus on Ireland's Ports

10th September 2016

Contributing €891 million to the Irish economy and employing just 11,000 people, the fishing sector in Ireland may seem relatively modest compared to the national income and employment but the figures bely the importance of the industry in the country’s rich and historic relationship with the sea. An island nation, fishing has been at the heart of the Irish culture since records began; exploiting the rich stocks of both the Irish sea and the Atlantic Ocean small fishing communities established themselves along the coast either supporting the small economies of their village or, from the eighteenth century onwards, contributing to the wider national interest in the export markets. Traveling the coastline of Ireland throws up town after town with historical links to fishing, many of which are still operational today.

The industry includes fishing itself as well as processing, marketing and aquaculture as well as ancillary companies which provide services to larger operators.

With almost 2,000 registered commercial fishing boats and 5,000 fishermen fishing is a small but important part of Ireland’s economy. In this article, we will be taking a look at some of the important ports and harbours which make up the hubs of the country’s fishing sector.


Ireland’s most important fishing port, Killybegs is situated in the County of Donegal and offers the resident midwater pelagic fleet a natural deep-water harbour with depths of up to 12m in low-tide. It also benefits from being located within a fjord-like inlet which offers ships safe shelter; a rarity around this rugged and exposed coastline which cements the ports importance to the industry. The port handles a large amount of traffic in addition to fishing vessels including cruise liners, cargo ships and recreational boats. Since the completion of the ports €50million pier in 2004 the area has seen an increase in the demand for servicing of offshore oil/gas drilling rigs as well as being a hub for the import of wind turbines.

Until recently the town of Killybegs was well employed within the fishing industry and was considered the centre of Ireland’s fishing and processing industry. Enjoying sizeable hauls the area was set-up to process, freeze and distribute stocks of blue whiting, scad, mackerel and herring across Europe, Africa and the Middle East; however, in recent years changes in EU regulations have seen a decline in the local fishing economy which has led to redundancies being made in the processing side of the sector.

With a population of just under 1300 fishing is still an important part of this small harbour town. Annual celebrations still take place during the summer in a traditional festival in which the fishing boats are blessed and thanks are given to celebrate the years catch


Though historically the town has always had a fishing fleet the industry in Castletownbere was only really established during the 1950’s and is currently the largest whitefish port in the country. Utilised by Eastern European fishing vessels in the 1960’s, the harbour could accommodate up to 80 factory ships at a time as they refuelled en-route to and from the Atlantic fishing waters.

Offering seven miles of safe anchorage the port is the world’s 2nd safest natural harbour and is home to a local fleet of up to 70 fishing boats as well as playing host to vessels from all across Europe. With the completion of a new, purpose built deep water quay in 2011 the port is also marketing itself to cruise liners, navy vessels and cargo ships. The annual catch for the area is in the region of 40,000 tonnes and represents approximately €90-100 million each year to the economy. Factories in the area process the fish for export as well as domestic sale.

Castletownbere is also home to the Irish Sea Fisheries Board training school and hosts an annual Festival of the Sea. The event incorporates a regatta as well as a fish festival during which local produce is given the centre stage as fish filleting competitions are staged, seafood BBQ’s are held and the annual ‘The Skipper’ award is given out to the fisherman of the year. The small but vibrant community of this stunning harbour town understand their connection to the sea and continue to celebrate its influence on their town.

The port offers a variety of berths from 350m along the town pier offering depths of 4m (low tide) to the Dinish Island pier which accommodates vessels along a 250m stretch with depths of 8.5m (low tide). There are excellent repair facilities on site with a synchrolift capable of lifting 200 tonnes from the water and providing 30m of quay space for repair work to be carried out.


The only town on the Dingle Peninsula, this headland on the west coast of Ireland in County Kerry projects out into the Atlantic Sea and provides an ideal port for the local fishing fleet. Fishing has been a primary industry for the town since the early nineteenth century. Though records show the community relied on fishing prior to this, it wasn’t until the development of relationships with the ‘nobby’ fleets from the Isle of Man in the 1870’s that the port became an economic success. The location of Dingle allowed trawlers from the UK mainland to extend their fishing season. Skippers from Lowestoft, in particular, were able to enjoy extended fishing trips to search for herring. With the development of rail links at the turn of the twentieth century, Dingle grew to become a major port.

The port itself is principally a fishing harbour with very few recreational vessels counted in the marina traffic logs. With a depth of 2.6m the port is well sheltered and offers safe access barring a couple of outlying rocks adjacent to the western entrance; however, these are easily avoided.

Dunmore East

Located on the south-eastern coast of Ireland, Dunmore East is an historic fishing port and has roots of a fishing community dating back to the Iron Age. Situated in a valley which slopes gently down towards the sea Dunmore East fishing prior to the mid-19th century was a small business and supported local families. However, in 1814 dramatic changes took place when work commenced to develop the harbour to accommodate the huge packet ships that carried mail between the UK and Ireland. Though the project didn’t really pan out as planned owing to the development of steam ships making passage to the larger town of Waterford easier, the harbour did offer greater shelter for the fishing fleets and, as a result, the industry began to flourish. One of Ireland’s National Fishery Harbours, Dunmore East continues to play its part in the national importance of fishing within the country. It also holds a number of marine firsts and is the home to Ireland’s world record holder for the largest rod-caught Cod.

Kilmore Quay

Also located on the South-eastern coast of Ireland, Kilmore Quay is a small fishing port that continues to thrive in the commercial fishing sector whilst also offering sailing and sea angling charters. Offering modern facilities in its 60-berth marina, Kilmore Quay is renowned for its access to the Saltee Islands that are home (for part of the year) to nesting puffins, guillemots, razorbills and cormorants. Its strategic location makes Kilmore Quay a popular landing point for recreational visitors from across Europe using the marina for sailing. As with other fishing villages across Ireland, Kilmore Quay celebrates its links to the sea with an annual festival in which the local produce is showcased both for tourists and locals alike.

Ireland offers an amazing range of fishing ports for both commercial and recreational fishermen to enjoy and the hospitality of the locals are legendary. Most harbours are well serviced with great pubs, restaurants and accommodation so visitors will be made comfortable and welcome. Don’t forget to mention Find A Fishing Boat if you are visiting Ireland anytime soon!

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