Ireland may not have Hawaii’s water temperature, but with an unadulterated Atlantic coastline, immaculate beaches without the crowds and big, year-round swells created by the Gulf Stream, it's one of the finest surfing destinations in the world. Here’s our pick of Ireland’s best remote surf spots. Just bring a thick suit.
These destinations are best accessed with your own vehicle – there's no public transport to Streedagh, Carrownisky and Dunlaughin, and buses from Sligo to Easky and Westport to Keel are infrequent.
Reef rides and great cafes at Easky
A small string of international camper vans, parked up on either side of the pier just east of the sleepy one-street village of Easky, marks the spot. And what a spot. Expect an exhilarating right-hand reef ride off the rocky strands on either side of the pier. Not for novices, these are best negotiated at low tide due to a tricky reef near the entry point.
The name Easky, an Anglicized version of the Irish ‘Iascaigh’, meaning abounding with fish, refers to the Easky river, which flows from high in the Ox mountains into the sea at the village, some 43km from Sligo. Warm up by the fire with a pint of Guinness and a game of pool at friendly McGowans Bar (Main St), where surfers and farmers mix. Nearby Pudding Row (puddingrow.ie) is one of the best cafes in the northwest. Its homemade artisan breads and cakes, organic superfood salads and hot open bagels will nourish body and soul.
For a sumptuous night, the laid-back Atlantic View guesthouse (holidaylettings.co.uk), has its own bar, pool table and sound system.
Streedagh: Armada’s doom, surfer’s delight
Three ships from the Spanish Armada met a violent end when they were wrecked off the ever-blustery 3km stretch of beach at Streedagh in 1588. Midway between Sligo and surf hotspot Bundoran, this wild place featured in scenes from the 2012 film Calvary and sits under the imposing backdrop of Ben Bulben. The exposed strand and reef breaks with small- to mid-size waves make it a good year-rounder for all levels; it rarely seems to get overcrowded. Big storms over the last decade have dislodged rocks and occasional pieces of wreckage from the Armada, adding to the ferocious feel of the place. Pop into Langs (langs.ie), an authentically traditional bar-cum-grocery in tiny Grange village, where you can sup on an old-fashioned red lemonade and a packet of crisps or go for their gastro fish and chips. Just across the road, Morans B&B (071 916 3131) offers surprisingly bright contemporary rooms over a bar, all with free wi-fi, flatscreen TVs and en-suite bathrooms.
Carrowniskey: from the mountains to the sea
Its isolated location, 15km south of the pretty Connemara town of Louisburgh in south Mayo, helps keep Carrowniskey, a 4km-long sandy dune-fringed strand, well under the popular surf radar. Its consistent beach breaks and gentle gradient make it a great try-out spot for beginners. Surf Mayo offers boards for hire and lessons. Make use of the wheels you’ll need to visit this remote corner to take a tour of the stunning neighbouring Delphi valley, historic Croagh Patrick, Leenane and Killary Harbour.
Not far from the beach, you can enjoy panoramic views of mountain and sea, as well as a hearty breakfast and big welcome, at the Three Arches or venture about 20km south to the wonderfully isolated Delphi Mountain Resort (delphiadventureresort.com) to indulge in on-site adventure activities, a spa and delicious locally sourced food.
Surfing with dolphins in Keel Bay
An island connected to the mainland by a bridge, Achill is renowned for its rugged coastal scenery. On the south side of the island, Keel Bay is a 4km-long stretch with a gently sloping beach, open to southerlies and westerlies, that throws up waves all year round.
Afterwards, you can sit back and enjoy a picnic, sheltered by the dramatic Minuan cliffs to the east, and if you’re lucky, glimpse some of the resident bottlenose dolphins in the turquoise water of the bay. Bed down or party on at the laid-back Pure Magic guesthouse, which has a good homemade pizza menu and selection of craft beers. Alternatively, there’s a range of accommodation at the thoughtfully designed Achill Lodge Guesthouse. Achill Lodge also rents bikes, and those with energy left can tackle a section of the Great Western Greenway (greenway.ie), a glorious 42km stretch of disused railway turned cycle path between Achill and Westport.
Dunlaughin: off the Beaten Track in Connemara
Secreted away on a small headland on the Connemara coast just north of Ballyconneely is the beautiful and remote narrow strand of Dunlaughin. Well off the road and with hardly a cottage in sight, its isolation – access via stone-walled fields and dunes – gives it the feel of a hidden oasis. And chances are, if you visit outside the summer months, you’ll have it more or less to yourself.
Southwesterly winds yield shorter waves here, just right for novices and intermediates. There are no facilities here, but that’s what makes it special. Pitch your tent for a night under the stars and take full advantage of the sublime location or replenish tired limbs and body with a plate of fresh seafood and a soft bed at Oliver’s in Cleggan, 20km north of here. For a break from the board, you could take an overnight trip to tranquil Inishbofin and enjoy the glistening sea view from land for a change.