The western Irish Sea gyre (WISG) is a cyclonic baroclinic flow around a dome of stagnant water which develops each year during the heating season in the western Irish Sea. Research was carried out to determine long-term changes in the strength of stratification within WISG and associated changes in the gyre structure, circulation patterns and retentive properties. Model simulations were carried out for the 58-year period 1951-2008. The characteristics of the gyre were quantified by means of potential energy anomaly (PEA), measuring the strength of stratification, and total kinetic energy (ME), reflecting the strength of cyclonic circulation. Additionally, long-term changes in flushing rates within the gyre were assessed.Results show that stratification in the western Irish Sea consistently begins to develop in March, increases linearly from April till June, peaks at the beginning of July and remains at close to maximum level throughout the month of July, before a start of a sharp decline at the beginning of August. The strength of stratification is significantly correlated with averaged summer air temperatures and summer wind speeds. Trend analysis of PEA shows an increase in the stratification strength over the period considered; the increase of PEA peak value is accompanied by a shortening of the gyre duration and a delay in the timing of the peak value. There is also an increasing trend in the KE value, showing that the thermal stratification plays a crucial role in the hydrography of the region. Flushing analysis shows that the stronger the stratification the lower the residence time and thus the faster the removal of the material from the western Irish Sea. Residence time within WISG shortens on average by 8 days over the 58-year period. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.