Emerald Isle; Sapphire Sea?

People are drawn to visit Ireland for many reasons: to see the rolling green hills of its countryside; to explore the vibrant arts, music (and pub) scene; or to connect with their family history.  Relatively few, I expect, come to scuba dive in its decidedly non-tropical waters.  It was to my surprise, then, to learn that Ireland actually has one of best diving scenes in Europe.

For obvious reasons, the diving in Ireland is quite different from your typical Thai or Caribbean tropical fare, where most people (myself included) get their start.  The waters are colder, and the stormy weather can stir up some fierce currents.  But across the island, there are a number of remarkable dive sites with a spectrum of marine life (even the occasional seal or dolphin) and historical wrecks (a German U-boat off County Cork; the Alastor in Strangford Lough in County Down).

I only just learned to dive myself this past summer (and in much warmer waters), and it was really an incredible experience.  I probably spent too much time watching Star Wars movies as a kid and dreaming of flying around in outer space, and diving strikes me as probably the closest thing on Earth to that experience.  Maintaining neutral buoyancy (such that you neither sink to the ocean floor nor rise to the surface, but rather are suspended at your target depth) has a feel of zero-gravity levitation to it, and observing the hum of aquatic life around an ocean reef has a real sense of observing an alien world.

So I have been keen to get diving in Ireland.  I’ve joined DUSAC (the Dublin University Sub-Aqua Club) here at Trinity, and I’ve been attending a series of build my certification towards the next level (I’m currently an ‘ocean diver’, and I’m working towards a ‘sports diver’ certification).  The dive season is Ireland is not year round – the main season runs from April to October – so I unfortunately haven’t been able to make it into Irish waters just yet.  I was slated for a November trip to County Cork, but a big storm put an end to that.

In the meantime, I have had to look elsewhere to get my cold-water diving kicks in.  I traveled to Iceland for a week with my girlfriend Blaire over the holiday, and we went diving at Silfra.  Silfra is a rift in a lake in the þingvellir National Park that is part of the boundary at which the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart.  The water is frigid (generally between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius) so the dive requires a drysuit, but the water is relatively calm and crystal clear (with visibility over 100 meters), allowing incredible views of some really unique geological structures.  And the feeling of surfacing at the end of the dive into falling snow was pretty surreal – it made me feel like a penguin as I waddled back to the jeep in my jet-black drysuit.

In the Silfra rift

As the new year unfolds and the weather warms, I’m excited to explore what the Irish waters are hiding.  Even without penguins or seals, it should make for a good adventure.

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