Over the years, hundreds of ships have fallen victim to the power of the wild Atlantic. We’ve mapped out some of the most famous shipwrecks along the wild Atlantic coast of Ireland; from an ill-fated member of the famous Spanish Armada fleet to the many British warships torpedoed by German submarines during the Great Wars. These are their tragic yet fascinating stories.
Dive & Explore
Many of those British battleships were wrecked off Malin Head in Donegal, as the area was used as a lookout point for approaching German vessels during both world wars. The HMS Transylvania (1), a liner-turned-armed merchant cruiser, was sunk by German U-boat in 1940. Sadly, 36 lives were lost. Twenty four miles off the coast lies the HMS Audacious (3); a battleship sunk in 1914. The SS Empire Heritage (2) meanwhile was torpedoed in 1944 and is ideal for exploration as its wreck lies only 70m deep. One of its tanks fell off the ship and can still be seen lying on the ocean floor to this day. Malin’s local diving centre ably caters for those seeking an underwater adventure.
Further south, off the coast of County Mayo, lies the SV Arethusa (4), a British barque attacked by German submarine in 1917. Having been badly damaged, the crew were forced to abandon ship, thankfully without loss of life. The boat was then scuttled with explosive charges, sending it and its cargo of 19,000 tons of timber to the murky depths of the ocean floor. From Doonamoe Fort at Belmullet, you can look out to Eagle Island, where the Arethusa sank.
No shipwreck story is complete without some hidden treasure! The SS Gairsoppa (5) was a British merchant ship, torpedoed en route to Galway in 1941, with 85 deaths. Since its wreck lies 300 miles offshore and 3,000ft deeper than the Titanic, it’s not accessible to divers, however in 2012, a mission was undertaken to recover its cargo of silver resulting in the “deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history”. As you gaze out to sea from Galway Bay, imagine this vessel – from which just one crew member was rescued – disappearing from the horizon on that ill-fated day.
Fancy seeing a famous shipwreck up close? Plenty of fascinating wrecks washed ashore following their demise, and lie dotted along the coastline. Take a trip out to stunning Inis Oírr (the smallest of the three Aran Islands) and you’ll find the MV Plassy’s (6) remains on its beach. This steam trawler was caught in a storm in 1960, but a group of local islanders dramatically rescued the entire crew. Spanish ship the MV Ranga (8) was wrecked at Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry on her maiden voyage in 1982. Part of wreck was removed due to the filming of Tom Cruise’s Far & Away, however the bow is still visible and is well worth a visit. Also in Kerry you’ll find the Sunbeam (9); a schooner and local attraction driven ashore in 1903, and washed right up onto Rossbeigh Beach in early 2014. The walk to its wreck is popular with locals and will blow away the cobwebs!
The Spaniards’ Tomb
To the oldest ship on our map next; the San Marcos de Portugale (7). Having set sail in 1588 to assist the Spanish Armada’s invasion of England, the San Marcos was damaged in battle and began the long journey home. She was broken up on a reef off County Clare though, and all but four on board were killed. Those remaining four were later hanged, and all were buried in a mass grave known to this day as Tuama na Spáineach (the Spaniards’ Tomb). To this day, historians remain intrigued by the story of the mysterious San Marcos; in fact, divers have recently undertaken a major exploration of the Atlantic in the hope of locating this 790-ton vessel. It made its mark on land too; Spanish Point in Clare is named after that fascinating period in Ireland’s rich history.From its famous sandy beach, you can still see the reef that caused the San Marcos to perish all those years ago.
Tragedy of the Lusitania
Finally, to one of the biggest Irish maritime catastrophes; the RMS Lusitania (10), which was torpedoed and sunk off the Cork coast, near the Old Head of Kinsale, by German U-boat in 1915. Tragically, there were 1,198 deaths and, like the Titanic which sank just three years earlier, there weren’t enough lifeboats for all those aboard. Many of the Lusitania’s victims are buried in a mass grave in the Old Church Cemetery in Cobh, while a memorial in the town honours their passing.
Check out the exact location of each of these fascinating shipwrecks in our Google map.