Downpatrick Head juts out of the Mayo coastline about 27km northwest of Ballina, not far from the Céide Fields. Though the Cliffs of Moher are the international superstars of Ireland’s Atlantic coast, their northern Mayo cousins are no less dramatic. On September 12, the headland hosted a round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
12 men and 12 women competed in front of an in-person crowd of 200, a small flotilla of boats, and the Naval Service patrol vessel LÉ James Joyce. The event was also broadcast online and on TG4.
This year marked the competition’s fifth visit to Ireland, following a round in Dún Laoghaire harbour in 2019, and events in Inis Mór in 2017, 2014 and 2012. The annual series is made up of six rounds held at locations around the world, with the winner being the competitor with the highest point total at the end.
The Cliff Diving World Series was established in 2009 and has been held annually since then, though the 2020 event was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic. It was open to male competitors only until 2014, but now has separate categories for men and women.
Despite the name, not all of the diving actually takes place from cliffs. Every year since 2015, the series has included a round at the iconic Stari Most bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other novel venues have included the mast of a 19th century warship in Hamburg, and the roofs of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the neo-futurist Copenhagen Opera House.
The precise rules and scoring system for the competition are complex, specifying exactly what kind of dives are performed and how the scores from the five-judge panels are combined. Competitors jump from varying heights of more than 26m, and reach speeds of up to 85km/h before hitting the water, according to Red Bull.
“Both are veterans of the competition, with Iffland having won the women’s category every year since 2016, and Hunt clinching the men’s title eight out of the 11 times the series has been held.”
The Downpatrick round was won by Gary Hunt of France and Rhiannan Iffland of Australia. Both are veterans of the competition, with Iffland having won the women’s category every year since 2016, and Hunt clinching the men’s title eight out of the 11 times the series has been held. Both are also World Aquatics Championships gold medallists in conventional high diving.
Commenting on her win, Iffland said it felt “great to be on top of the podium once again”.
“I guess I can kind of relax a little bit now and enjoy the competitions a little bit more. Saying that, I still want to go out there and give it my all to break those scores again,” she continued. “This is what I’m aiming for next.”
“From Italy I expect fireworks,” said Hunt, referencing the next scheduled round of the series, which will be held in Apulia on September 22.
He continued: “I feel like everyone is really getting into their stride. You’ve seen how many 10s have been awarded this competition and everyone is getting comfortable. It will be really, really tough, but that’s what I love about this sport. It’s gonna get tougher every year and let’s hope to finish this season with a bang.”
Indeed, a record number of 10 out of 10 scores were awarded in Mayo: 23 in one day. Spaniard Carlos Gimeno also made competition history by performing the first ever handstand dive directly off a cliffside, earning himself a unanimous perfect score from all five judges.
With the departure of the cliff divers, the nearby village of Ballycastle will return to being notable mostly for being the gateway to the Céide Fields and for Healy’s Lounge, which claimed in 2014 to be the first Irish pub ever to have accepted Bitcoin as payment for a pint. But the stunning local geography will no doubt have left an impression on watchers of the World Series, and the town may have just been added to some people’s travel bucket lists.