Identification of the relevant forcing factors behind coastal change is a major societal demand in the face of rising sea level. Changes in the patterns of coastal erosion and accretion at a century scale in Dundrum Bay, Northern Ireland, are here attributed to natural changes in the nearshore bathymetry of sufficient magnitude to alter incident wave-energy dispersal. Simulations of wave propagation across the nearshore reveal a marked change in the nearshore patterns of energy dispersal and related sediment-transport pathways between 1861 and 1968. The 1861 bathymetry is associated with a simulated longshore drift divide in the middle of the bay and with sediment dispersal to the southeast and northeast, whereas the 1968 bathymetry is associated with a consistent northeastward drift throughout the bay. These changes are consistent with recorded shoreline changes: sediment accumulation and foredune accretion in the northeast and northeastward spit elongation across a tidal inlet. This study reveals a case in which purely natural changes in the seafloor at a century scale can be related to long-term shoreline changes. Similar changes during relative sea-level rise during the Holocene were potentially capable of significant modification of shoreline morphology and dynamics. Near-shore extraction of sand for beach nourishment purposes may have consequences of similar magnitude for adjacent beaches.