Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 6

Of the Nature of the Irish Sea, and of the Tides which go in it.

The Irish Sea not so tempestuous as it it is bruited to be

THAT part of the Irish sea which divideth Ireland from Great Britain, is very much defamed both by ancient and modern writers, in regard of its boysterousness and tempestuousness, as if it were more subject to storms and raging weather than any other, and consequently not to be passed


without very great danger: Mare quod Hiberniam et Britanniam interluit, undosum inquietumque, toto in anno non nisi paucis diebus est navigabile That is, 'The sea which passeth betwixt Ireland and Britain, is boysterous and restless, so as but few days in the year ships can go upon it'; saith Solinus with whom Giraldus (who several times went to and fro betwixt England and Ireland) fully agreeth, writing in this manner, Hibernicum mare concurrentibus fluctibus undosissimum, fere semper est inquietum, ita ut vix etiam aestivo tempore paucis diebus se navigantibus tranquillum proebeat. That is, 'The Irish sea being very boisterous through the concourse of the waves, is almost always restless, so as even in the summer time it is hardly for a few days quiet enough to be sailed upon.' Likewise also Camden and Speed give unto this sea the surnames of boysterous and tempestuous. Yea it is a common proverb in England, 'As unquiet as the Irish sea'. Nevertheless it is nothing so bad as they make it, and the words of Stanyhurst, in his annotations upon Giraldus, Mare Hibernicum satis tranquillum est, nisi ventorum vi agitetur, et non solum aestate, sed etiam summa hyeme vectores ultro citroque navigant. 'The Irish sea is quiet enough, except when by high winds it is stirred, so as not only in the summer, but even in the midst of winter people do pass it to and fro,' are altogether true, and confirmed by daily experience. True it is that some ships do perish upon this, but the same happeneth also upon other seas, who are all subject to the disaster of tempests and shipwracks.

Causes of the Loss of such Ships as perish upon this Sea.

THE common cause of the casting away of ships upon this sea, and upon the east coast of Ireland, is this, that in the long dark winter nights (when this disaster is more frequent than at other times of the year) some furious storm arising, the ships are dash'd against the rocks, against the rocky shores, or against those grounds which extend themselves betwixt the Tuskard and the bay of Dublin, whilst the steermen and pilots by reason of the darkness not being able to discern the land, or any of their wonted marks, do not know which way to steer to shun those dangerous places, and to keep themselves in the open sea.

Nature of the Ground of the Irish Sea.

THE ground of the Irish sea, as well in the midst, as under the land, is almost every where clear sand, but in some places black and muddy or oozy earth; in very few places rough and sharp; and scarce any where else but in the bay of Wicklow, so hard and stifly compacted, that the anchors can take no hold of it.


Of the Tides in the Irish Sea.

WHAT concerneth the ebbing and flowing in this sea, which invironeth Ireland upon all the west side it floweth against the land, and the ebb falleth back from it into the sea, the flood from, and the ebb towards the west, for which reason very great tides, as well of ebb as flood go upon all this coast, not only the open shores, but in the bays and inlets (even those which go a great way into the land, as the haven of Limerick) so as those, who have been at Galloway, do assure us, that it doth so mightily ebb and flow there, that at high water great vessels may sail over those rocks, the which with the ebb come above water.

Upon the other side of Ireland it ebbeth and floweth along the land, for upon the north side of Ireland the ebb and flood falleth in the same manner as upon the west side, flowing from, and ebbing towards the west. But upon the east side, from Fair-foreland unto Carlingford, the flood cometh from, and the ebb falleth to the north as upon the rest of this east side, to wit, from Carlingford to Carnesore, it floweth from the south, and ebbeth from the north. For although upon all this side the flood runneth along the land, yet doth it not take its beginning from one and the same, but two contrary points; the which two floods coming the one out of the main sea in the north, and the other out of the main sea in the south, do meet and stop one another before the haven of Carlingford.

From Tuskard and Carnesore as far as to the head of Clare, being the whole southeast coast of Munster, the flood falleth along the coast ENE, and the ebb WSW. But upon the rest of the coast of Munster, beyond the head of Clare westward, which coast lieth W and by S, the flood falleth eastward, and the ebb to the west.

Strong Tides in the Sounds. Strange Property of the Bay of Wexford in the matter of Tides.

THAT which the sea-faring men do witness, that in the sound of Blasques, of Dalkee, and in that of Lambay, as also in some other narrow channels of this sea, there goeth a very strong tide, as well of the ebb as flood, is no other than may be observed almost everywhere else in places of the like nature.

But it is much to be wondred, what the same do relate of the channel or entrance of the haven of Wexford, to wit, that it ebbeth and floweth there three hours sooner than without in the open sea, so as when it is high water in the


channel of that haven, and upon the bar of the same, the flood doth still for half a tide, or three hours after, strongly run by it to the north, whereby it cometh to pass that the end of Haneman's path (a great sand lying just before the haven of Wexford) is cast up more and more to the north, and that the channel which passeth by the north side of that sand, being the entrance of the haven, is now more to the north than it hath been formerly. And as it floweth three hours longer in the open sea than upon the bar and in the channel of this haven, in the like manner also, the ebb in the sea falleth to the south three hours after that it is low water in the same place, but not so strongly as the flood.

Some other strange Particulars about the Tides in the Irish Sea, related by Giraldus, but found not to be true.

MORE strange it is what Giraldus writeth of the havens of Wicklow and Arklow, to wit, that in Wicklow haven it ever floweth, when in the sea it ebbeth, and that it ebbeth there when it floweth in the sea. And that in the same river (this haven being nothing else but the mouth of a little river) the water is salt as well when the ebb is at the lowest, as at the flowing and high waters and that to the contrary in that rivulet, which at Arklow dischargeth it self into the sea, the water keepeth its sweetness at all times (never receiving the mixture of any saltness) as well with the flood and high water, as with the ebb. But experience sheweth these things to be repugnant to the truth, as also what he writeth of a rock not far from Arklow, at the one side whereof he saith that it always ebbeth, when it doth flow on the other, and to the contrary. Also that in Milford haven (situated in the southernmost part of Wales, in a manner over against Waterford) and upon the next coasts, it ebbeth and floweth at quite contrary times to what it doth at Dublin, and the coast thereabouts, so that it should begin to ebb in Milford haven, when in the bay of Dublin it beginneth to flow, and to flow in Milford haven when it beginneth to ebb at Dublin: which how untrue it is, all those can witness, who having been in both places, have had the curiosity to observe the times and hours, at what age of the moon forever, wherein it doth begin to ebb and to flow there.