The Bull Run

The Bull Run


The west coast of Ireland is one of those stretches of water that offers majestic beauty that few experience from the sea.  The famed Fastnet Rock acts as a beacon very few pass to enter the rugged west coast.  It is unfortunate as this part of Ireland offers some of the best waters for boaters.  Open seas, sheltered coves, sandy beaches, sea cliffs, quaint towns and renowned hospitality. 

Kenmare is a little town in County Kerry famed as Irelands only town with more restaurants than bars.  That is some claim as it has 38 bars so you can imagine the culinary choice.  Everything from hand cut chips and fresh Cod to two five star hotels in a town of 2000 people.  Nestled at the top of Kenmare Bay the boating in this area is sublime.  With the Ring of Kerry and its mountainous peaks on the north shore and the beauty of the Ring of Beara to the south the Bay is a boaters delight.  Just a few miles off the tip of the estuary is Dursey Island.  The Bull Rock lies some 7 miles further out to sea and this is the destination for many boaters on Easter Monday.  Just like the Fastnet, The Bull Rock is one of those landmarks that many see from land or indeed from sea but never actually get out as far as. 

Some years ago a group of local ribsters and motor boaters got together and pencilled in Easter Monday for what was to become the first The Bull Run for Fun.  No race or sponsorship but simply a safety in numbers outing to the rock that is home to a lighthouse the structure standing today dating from 1889.  The first year 7 boats took part and word began to spread.  It is a great time to plan such an outing as everyone gets their boats ready for the year so as a result they make the most out of the season ahead.  Last year 12 boats took part on the 74nm trip to experience the rock with a tunnel through the middle.  It is an awesome sight from land never mind from its shadow.  It is majestic in every sense.  Its sheer size, its tunnel, the construction and the part it plays and has played in the lives of many fishermen and sailors. 

One of the boats last year took a local lifelong sailor with him.  While having sailed all his life in these waters the sailor had never made it to The Bull Rock.  That is the fear of the place.  It’s the rock on the horizon that few brave to visit. 

The trip is a wonderful experience.  It brings boaters from the calm waters of Kenmare Bay past the Maiden Rock to the light swell of the Atlantic as the Bay opens up heading west.  These waters are well known to local boaters as Killmackilogue and Sneem Harbour are regular ports of call for boaters as they offer traditional hostelries and good anchorage for sailboats and piers for landing.  From Sneem harbour heading west the swell increases and very quickly you are fully aware the waters you are travelling in have rolled all the way from America.  Big rollers just keep coming as your boat rises and falls in seas whose reputation is renowned.  However on these occasions we all travel at 22 knots and keep channel 72 open for communication.  Adrenalin flowing we pass by Dursey Sound and Derrynane and head for The Bull.  Growing as we get closer the rock rises out of the sea and we witness buildings dating from the late 1800’s that look like they were glued in to the rock face.  The thought of living on them as the great light keepers of bygone years did for six months at a time turns your blood cold.  How the men built such buildings in a desolate place in the 1800’s with none of the equipment we can employ today is nothing short of astonishing.  No matter how many times you make it out to The Bull you always have the same feeling.  My God how did they do it? 

The Rock was bought from Queen Victoria in 1850 for £21, which would appear to be astonishing amount of money for a rock in the Atlantic back then.  It is fair to say it would be hard to sell in today’s world for £21.   The Lighthouse as we know it today was first lit on January 1st 1889 and the light stands a majestic 269ft above high water.  The Bull Rock was the new home for the paraffin light protecting sailors having moved from nearby Calf Island as its 136 foot high light was constantly lambasted by storms.  That will give you some indication of the storms and waters that are prevalent in these waters.  Twice the Calf Island light at 136 feet above high water was flattened by waves.  The light on The Bull Rock was fully automated in 1991 and the keepers withdrawn leaving the rock uninhabited today.  I always think it would be a writer’s dream location.  No interruptions but the Puffins and Gannets that call it home gliding by your window.  Bliss. 

Most visitors today arrive by helicopter to service the light but there are steps to a landing pier for those brave enough to abandon their boat.  One of the most daunting elements of The Bull Run for Fun is to guide your boat through the tunnel with its swirling waters at either end.  For those who do it is a life lasting experience as you see white water ahead and the cold wind whistles past your ears leaving an eerie feeling.  The middle of the tunnel is one of those places like the end of the earth.  A black hole.

After spending an hour or so bobbing on the water, no one talking just absorbing the solitude of the place and the brave men who but such structures in such a God forsaken place we turn our boats and slowly leave to return home.  Skipping along with a following tide we usually head for Killmackilogue or Con’s for a post mortem on the day and experiences.   Last year “The Sailor” mentioned above could not believe he was to The Bull and back within 5 hours.  While he did not own a rib or motorboat he grinned when asked what he thought of the day.  His wife told him he looked like Jedward with his spiked hair and smooth complexion impregnated probably from fear!  He still sails and I guess will never buy a boat with a decent engine but I know in the back of his mind he craves the joy of motor boating. 

Despite the location and waters we have never encountered inclement weather that made the trip unpleasant.  Young and old take part in boats from a Zodiac 5mt with 75hp to a Redbay Stormforce 11 capable of continuing to America if the skipper so wished.  We do not race but just all stay together and enjoy the time.  No entry fees or booking is required.  Boaters can use the boat slip at Dromquinna Manor, Star Outdoors or Kenmare Pier and join in. 

The day really offers everything.  Three different types of water, majestic scenery and of course a renowned destination.  Combined with the safety and friendship of fellow boaters it is a wonderful reason for visiting this part of Ireland.  Kenmare offers many accommodation options to suit all budgets.  As mentioned the Heritage Town of Kenmare has a wealth of restaurants to choose from.  Planning a few days around The Bull Run for Fun might just be the key to finding your dream destination. 

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We would be delighted to have you join us and experience something truly special

Adam Brennan. 

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