By Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh
For some months now, we have been taking a tour through many of Ireland’s great lighthouses. All of the lighthouses we have discussed so far still function as navigational beacons.
Today, we are going to look at a lighthouse that ceased to be operational in 1965, but which today can be booked as a boutique guesthouse: Clare Island in Clew Bay, on the coast of Mayo.
Bill Long, in his book Bright Light, White Water, writes, “The old Clare Island lighthouse must, arguably, be situated in the most picturesque location in the whole Irish coast. Perched near the edge of a high, sheer cliff, it commands a grandstand view of one of the most rugged and beautiful stretches of sea-board.”
The most famous name associated with Clare Island is that of Granuaile, or Grace O’Malley, the 16th-century noblewoman and pirate who (as the story goes) refused to bow on meeting Queen Elizabeth I, that most intimidating of monarchs.
Tradition holds that Grace is buried on the island, and her castle still stands there. She is also commemorated in the name of the lighthouse service’s flagship vessel, the Granuaile.
The Clare Island lighthouse which ceased operation in 1965 first shone its light in 1818, but it was not the first lighthouse on the island. That was built in 1806, by the Marquis of Sligo, but came to a very untimely end; only seven years later, its lantern was burned down by a careless lightkeeper, who threw still-smouldering oil wicks into a barrel beside it!