Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - The Maharees - Ireland
When I told people I was going to Ireland and Great Britain (in 1995), I was continually asked if I was going there to dive. My reason for travelling to Ireland (where I was to spend most time) was to meet up with my sister Cathie, her husband Joe and my two nephews as they visited Joe's family. Since I was travelling to such an exotic location (can Ireland be called that?), I figured that I had to at least try and get a couple of dives in while I was there.
Additionally, I am sure I would have suffered extreme withdrawal symptoms if I went five weeks without a dive (I have never gone more than three weeks before!!). After making a large number of phone calls, I finally tracked down the only Irish dive operator I could find that hired out more than "bottles and lead". This dive operation was called Waterworld and has a main shop in the south-western County Kerry town (city?) of Tralee as well as a dive shop and accommodation about 20 miles away (they still talk miles and even road signs are in a mixture of miles and kilometres - very confusing, but very Irish) past a small village called Castlegregory. Their Web Site gives you some idea of the location and their operation.
I stayed the night a few kilometres away from the dive operation and arrived at a leisurely 9 am for the first dive of the day. The owner of Waterworld, Ronnie Fitzgibbon Snr, warmly welcomed me and made me have a cup of tea before getting down to the diving. As can be expected from the Irish, much talk and laughter went on before we were permitted to get ready for the dive. Very relaxing indeed.
As I was hiring all my gear (I only took my dive computer), I picked out a 7mm semi-dry suit, BCD, fins etc and loaded all the gear except for the wetsuit aboard their truck. After donning our wetsuits, we walked the 100 metres down to the ramp/wharf where one of Ronnie's rigid inflatables awaited us. This boat was his newest and largest, carrying about 14 divers. The waters around the dive operation are named after seven islands, collectively called The Seven Pigs or The Maharees. The seas were millpond, something you would only see off Sydney maybe twice a year. I was informed that this was their average seas for this time of the year.
The 2.5 kilometre run out to our first dive site, Gurrig Reef, only took a few minutes. Located off Gurrig Island, the reef was a kelp covered top (21 m) with a few small walls and then a larger four metre wall dropping down to the sand at 28 metres.
Nearly all their diving is drift diving, although there was little, if any current. The calm seas enable you to easily drift and see twice as much of the reef as you would be able to otherwise. There were not too many fish to be seen, although I did see a few small "blue groper" and "sergeant bakers". A few other fish darted around here and there, but what I did see on this dive were plenty of crayfish. While there was not too much sponge life to be seen, a large ray passed by me on the dive. After 23 minutes, it was time to ascend as I was nearly out of bottom time and my buddy was almost out of air (I still had about 120 bar).
We returned to the dive centre and had tea and biscuits while awaiting the time for the next dive. I chatted with Ronnie and his instructor son Ronnie Jnr about their diving. I found out that they get a lot of Irish divers from Dublin as well as many British divers. Quite a few of their regular divers have dived in Sydney when they were on working holidays in Australia. They arrange dive trips for their divers to the Caribbean and Spain, with the Caribbean being their most popular dive location.
Our second dive was to another nearby island called Inistookskert Island. This was only a few hundred metres from the first island and was also a drift dive. The depth was about 20 metres and the terrain consisted of a cris-cross of canyons, each about a metre or two wide. Swimming above it reminded me of a city landscape, with intersections galore. The kelp here was taller, about 1.5 to 2 metres high. More crays were seen as well as heaps of edible crabs. I also saw a thornback ray (looks like its name), dog sharks (about 10) and a few spider crabs. The dive only lasted 25 minutes as the people in my group chewed up all their air (one even lost a fin which I had to retrieve as it floated to the surface). Nevertheless, quite a good dive.
The visibility on both dives was fair, say 10 metres or so. The minimum water temperature was 15°C, not too bad considering I only had 14° on my return to Sydney.
In summary, the diving was quite nice, the operation very casual but extremely well run, and the operators, Ronnie Snr and Ronnie Jnr, very friendly. If you are going to visit Ireland and would like a dive while you are there, phone the two Ronnies on 0011 353 66 25803 (dive centre) or 39292 (Tralee) or have a look at the Waterworld web Site.