Sheephaven divers enjoyed a weekend of snorkelling last week, with Saturday morning being of
particular note for the clarity of the water.
Water temperature continues to drop, now down to 11 degrees Celsius. However, if settled conditions
allow it produces crystal clear visibility, providing a panoramic view throughout the snorkel.
The depth of the sea around Portnablagh is never much deeper than 12 metres and on a good day
the seabed will be clearly visible from just under the surface and with that the shoals of sand eels,
juvenile fish and Sprat can be seen.
Followed by seals
As nature would have it these small marine creatures are predated by bigger ones, such as the large
seal that followed the divers all Saturday morning long and was still there when the divers came
back for their normal Sunday morning run out.
Local fisherman John Perry was of the opinion that herring are in the bay, an event that is no longer
taken for granted in Sheephaven, but once upon a time was the mainstay of the local economy for
the local community.
The herring fisheries of Donegal were so proficient in the late 19th and early 20th Century that special
fishing boats were built for the area, the Zulus boats were provided for local men to fish the herring,
with master fisherman brought in from Scotland to provide the necessary training.
The demand of the protein hungry populations in Britain and America was serviced by the Donegal
herring fisheries, with the building of the railways the essential element in delivering the product in
The key ingredient was the advent of the Congested Districts Board to finance boats and public
works on the basis that local prosperity will follow, priming the economic pump of the day as it
Sheephaven Bay is associated with the tragedy of a sudden storm that wrecked the fishing fleet of
Scotch herring boats on the Dunfanaghy bar, with the local boats reportedly escaping due to their
knowledge of the area.
A mass grave of the lost fishermen is in one corner of the local graveyard and the story goes that one
woman who had lost her husband, son and grandson in the drowning cursed the bay and the herring
never came back in numbers again.
Whatever the reason for the herrings demise the few occasions that they appear is always a
reminder of what the sea can give- but a warning of its great danger.
While snorkelling is a key feature of Sheephaven SAC diving activities in its own right, it also has a
key role for scuba diving – in that it builds up in-water stamina and is therefore used to demonstrate
that a diver is fit to dive.
A sandy hand
Each year a diver has to do their ‘water fitness’ test, 400 metres in 10 minutes, followed by a 6
metre free dive and finally a 50 metre tow of a simulated in-water casualty.
Other clubs elect to do this in the comfort of a swimming pool – but that will not do for the
Sheephaven divers and the first round of fitness test was conducted on Sunday morning under the
critical eye of the club Diving Officer, Ryan Ward.
A free dive to the seabed at 9 metres was required, with the proof of a sandy hand to show that the
test had been completed – how else could a Sunday morning be bettered other than breakfast in Lizzies.