Kilfarassey – a swimmer’s paradise

In 2010 while Channel training I did the majority of my Waterford training at Clonea, trying to eek out some fractional comfort from the average extra 0.25 degree Celsius water temperatures, after spending the previous few years mainly swimming at the Guillamene, where I returned again last winter and this spring and early summer.

Kilfarassey signposts

But by mid summer I was looking for another location and this time as I explored it more, I grew enamoured of Kilfarassey as a swimming location and it was influential, along with the Guillamene to Sheep Island swim, as the genesis of the Project Copper idea. I was looking forward to talking about Kilfarassey particularly. Prepare yourself for effusive gushing and lots of photographs. In fact it was hard to reduce the number of images I wanted to use here.

Kilfarassey beach & Brown's Island & Sheep Island panorama

The beach is about 6 kilometres from Tramore by sea, as I now know more accurately from the first swim of Project Copper.

Beach cut off by tide sign

At high tide most of the surrounding beach is cut off from the small car park but at a mid to low tide it’s possible to get around the headlands and walk from the west end of Kilfarassey beach to Garrarus car park, three kilometres away.

Brown's Island & rocks from cliff

Right in front of the car park is Brown’s Island, which looks like a single island from the road but is actually a collection of rocks and the larger island in a line.

Brown's Island and rocks

Western end of Kilfarassey beach

To the west end of the beach is a very large sea arch, passable from about half-tide, or lower if you are swimming, since it’s protected by reefs on the east side, but through which you can still swim. This arch could fit three or four swimmers side-by-side and is as high or higher than a room and about 50 metres long.

Western arch and Yellow Rock sea-stack

All along the beach are reefs peeking out are various tides but at high tide giving the impression of fairly empty water.






There are two particularly tall and imposing sea-stacks, one at either end of the beach, the one at the west end called Yellow Rock.

The western arch end is only about ten or twelve minutes swim from the car park, the east end is further, about twenty minutes or twenty-five minutes away.

Sheep Island & Orthanc and eastern end of Kilfarassey

At the eastern end , around an outcrop of cliff, is the rocky section down to the next promontory and Sheep island outside it. The promontory itself looks like an island with a sandy gap between it and the cliffs.

Promontory inside Sheep Island

Sheep Island is separated by a narrow gap of only a couple of metres. And there is a long narrow tunnel about 75 to 100 metres wide through the back of the promontory. There is a very big sea stack just west of Sheep Island, which I’ve dubbed Orthanc for myself, onto which you can climb on a very calm day with a nice jumping location on the south-west side, from about 4 metres up. There are reefs all over the place down here, and the outside of Sheep Island picks up a stiff easterly current, but even on a rough day, I’ve been able to swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island from the promontory.

Long tunnel closeup

Once beyond Sheep Island to the east you are into Gararrus Bay, with the island I’ve previously dubbed The Watchtower just on the other side of Sheep island, on the Gararrus side.

Eastern promontory arch with Dee for scale at low tide

There are huge arches through the promontory inside Sheep Island, which can just be swum at high tide and are portaged by canoeists.

Brown's Island from east side

On prevailing onshore winds the area is of course rough. I’ve swum out to Brown’s Island, it takes about 10 minutes to get to the near side on a calm day and you can add five minutes for a rough day, and another ten to circle around to behind all the rocks on the far side.

Reefs seen through old cliff wall

Once out at the island, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming between the rocks, in fact it feels like there are two arms of reefs reaching out from beyond the the main island that you can swim between, and the largest of the reefs also has another narrow, one-person-wide tunnel through it. The reefs are light coloured rock beneath the water and on a sunny day are fascinating with the variation of colour and shape and kelp and fish. There’s something that I love about looking at the steep reefs while that drop off suddenly underwater, it’s like flying around mountains.

The sea, the colours ...

The only downsides of Kilfarassey are its exposure to onshore prevailing winds, and the fact that at low tide too much reef is exposed, restricting the area that can be swum. On a bright day the area is spectacular from the cliffs, although this also applies to the entire Copper Coast.

Tipperary colours, blue & gold

There are all the usual Mid-Waterford coast sea birds in the area along with choughs and plenty of cliff to walk on both east and west sides of the car park.

Chough in flight

The erosion of the cliffs can also be easily seen, there are regular overhangs where all that is left is the final bed of topsoil with plant root systems holding it in place, so keep your distance from the edge.

All the colours and more

Kilfarassey has become a swimmer’s paradise for me. I wanted to wait until I’ve done a lot of swimming there before I “unveiled” it here, as it’s not like I’ve discovered it, though I guess like the rest of the coast no-one has anywhere near the same amount of experience swimming it as me.

They say green and blue should never be seen together. They're wrong.

Cormorant and Fulmar on The Watchtower

The entire coast is hugely popular with canoeists and kayakers for the variation in geography, and it’s been many the time that I’ve been getting in the water this year after passing Mick O’Meara’s‘s van. Mick is a veteran of a round-Ireland canoeing expedition, who arranges trips and training all the way along the coast and the gallery on his site shows a lot more of the arches and tunnels, since he can actually carry a camera with him. I’ve actually talked to more canoeists this year since I started moving up and down the coast more, but have yet to talk to Mick at sea. Mick, I’m the guy in the orange hat!

Faded Thrift through cliff wall

In fact one day I swam around the back of the Brown’s Island rocks, and there, standing precariously on one of the small rocks, was a guy in a high-vis lifevest. He had his kayak (not canoe) hoisted onto the rock and he was barely balanced there. I don’t know which of us was more surprised. I stopped to talk. But it turned out that he was Polish, and didn’t seem to have great English. I asked if he was okay, which made me laugh afterwards, he had a boat, I had a pair of goggles and we were a kilometre from the coast, what could I do?

Divers at low tide

On this picture I didn’t even know there were divers out there until I saw the photograph.

I picked one particular swim for this post, and, given how long this post already is, I’ll only give brief synopsis.

Kilfarassey swim map

West from the car park, around Yellow Rock, through the arch, back around the promontory, across to Brown’s Island and outside reef, weave through the reefs and swim through the small tunnel in the second rock, swim around the big island, then strike out across to Sheep Island, passing Orthanc on your left, a swim that feels a bit longer as you are swimming into an adverse current, swim back out around the outside of Sheep island, again weave through the reefs and swim in the narrow gap separating Sheep Island to the big promontory, swim the inside of Orthanc, up along the beach, back out around the next reefs  and into the main beach. There are plenty of variations.

Oh, there’s one other problem with Kilfarassey. I’ve been swimming it solo, when I want to share with friends. Describing it is like being Steven Black, Mike Harris, Liz or Finbarr fifteen years ago trying to explain Sandycove before it became the world-famous swimming location it is now. Kilfarassey is fantastic, and right now it feels like I’m the only swimmer that knows it.

Hope you enjoyed this post. If you feel like exploring Kilfarassey, drop me a line.


2 thoughts on “Kilfarassey – a swimmer’s paradise

  1. Pingback: Ring-a-Ringarogy | Owen O'Keefe

  2. Sounds like this place is worth a visit. Must say though I was only jumping off the wall in Sandycove 15 tears ago. I’m not sure if at 10 I had built up to even swimming as far as the Island. Now I’m off to scan my diary for a free swimming day to visit you…


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