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One of Ireland’s most intrepid sea kayakers, David Walsh has written the book on kayaking in Ireland… literally!

Oileáin - A Guide to the Irish Islands takes readers on a journey to 574 islands off the coast of the country. In his trusty kayak, David ventures to wild islands, both inhabited and uninhabited, for local flavour, anecdotes and “more flora and fauna than you could shake a stick at.” 

For two decades, Walsh and his trusty seafaring companion Fred Cooney have been exploring the greater and lesser islands off Ireland’s west coast. Interest in kayaking is increasing, but David and Fred are two veterans with something of a niche interest as they paddle to new locations, log them and write about their experiences, keeping the evolving Oileáin project up-to-date.

Duis in reprehenderit voluptate esse
Duis in reprehenderit voluptate esse
  • For two decades, they have been exploring the greater and lesser islands off Ireland’s west coast
  • Duis in reprehenderit voluptate esse

In this personal piece, he shares his experience of an early autumn visit to Inishturk, an island that rises from the waters off the coast of County Mayo on the Wild Atlantic Way. As David notes, September is an especially lovely month for going to sea off the west coast of Ireland, as the water is at its warmest for swimming when the weather is settled and the nights are short. Renvyle Beach, a beautiful and sheltered strand in Connemara, County Galway, is the perfect jumping-off point for an exciting adventure, and it's here where David’s Inishturk journey begins.

A kayak is the perfect craft for two or three days wandering about the bigger and smaller islands and islets off the Galway coast and with the mix of a blue sea speckled with islets and rocks, Connemara is a rather special location on the Wild Atlantic Way. With mainland mountains behind you and the larger offshore islands out in front, you can expect a majestic sensory experience.​

Wandering through the rocks near Renvyle House Hotel, one can hear the seagulls call and the seals moan. This proved the atmospheric start to his kayaking adventure to Inishturk, as David and Fred looked to travel to the island of Davillaun, a site of significance marking the 400th ‘lifetime’ island visited by the pair. They chose Davillaun because it was the very island where their chosen endeavour had begun 20 years prior. 

  • Kayaking on the open sea

“The landing on sausage-shaped Davillaun was surprisingly easy but poignant for us. It is not a well-known island and though nice, it isn’t objectively special – there is no beach, for instance. After passing it by without finding a landing in 1991, Davillaun had kickstarted a very worthwhile period in both our lives. On this occasion, we walked its length and breadth. We crossed its rock bridges. We  swam to nearby land. We dozed. We left.”

David and Fred overnighted on Inishdalla, a high rocky island southeast of mighty Inishturk. The most remarkably wonderful aspect of the view at sunset from the summit is that despite there being no other hard land nearby, solid land is visible across almost the entire horizon, from Croagh Patrick to Clare Island and Achill Island to Inishbofin. There is also an enormous colony of breeding grey Atlantic seals here. 

  • A peaceful way to explore the coastline
  • Travel under your our steam
  • Day or night there are places to explore

“Inishturk is one of the most rugged and remote of all the inhabited west coast islands,” notes David. “The beautiful sheltered harbour is 200 years old and stands as a monument to a time when 600 people lived here until the Great Famine of mid-1800s Ireland. Today there are only 50 inhabitants, one pub and one basic shop. A regular ferry can be boarded from Roonagh Pier, while another from Cleggan is more infrequent.”

wonderful looped walk circumnavigates the island. On the south side is the beautiful little natural harbour of Portdoon, the headquarters of the island in Neolithic times now used by curraghs and small lobster boats entering through a narrow cut in rocks. Near the northeast tip is a blowhole, the seaward end of which emerges through a penetrable boulder-choke, creating a reputed scuba dive location of the highest quality.

A kayak is the perfect craft for wandering about the bigger and smaller islands

“We made our way back to town as a strong wind took hold,” continues David. “There was no sign of it relenting and so it appeared that there was to be no ferry to Cleggan today. A scuba boat couldn’t help, nor a passing yacht. We did what seafarers do a lot… nothing, for hours. Then the miracle happened. The Cleggan ferry arrived on an impromptu visit. The Inishturk harbourmaster Michael O’Toole pleaded our case for us with the ferrymen, the Concannon brothers, and he did it so well that they loaded us on board and wouldn’t even take a fare. They muttered something about ‘the law of the sea’, stranded castaways and doing their good deed for the day. I just love Inishturk!"

“Once on the ferry I found a seat and fell asleep straight away, waking up when we docked on Inishbofin. Back in Cleggan, we took a taxi to our vans back in Renvyle, had a meal in the pub, and started the long drive home to Dublin, leaving the pure unspoiled beauty of Inishturk in our rear-view mirror.”


If David’s adventure kayaking in Ireland has inspired you, why not explore the route? Find out more about the islands of the Wild Atlantic in our Shaped by the Sea video series, or get to know the rugged Skelligs where Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed.

Remember, some islands of the Wild Atlantic Way are inaccessible and require great care to maintain; check out Leave No Trace for advice on how to keep these sacred lands pristine. 


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