The island of Ireland comprises two separate jurisdictions, involving different governance, policy and planning arrangements. Attempts to introduce a cooperative all-Ireland spatial planning framework invite new thinking about the planning and management of the coast. This paper considers the differentiated nature of the island's coastal settlements and highlights common issues shared north and south of the border. The use of typologies to inform policy intervention is discussed in relation to the development of coastal typologies. The paper identifies coastal towns as being relatively poorly understood and proposes a preliminary categorisation of small coastal towns to inform strategic planning practices.