A series by David Mullen

Much of the history of the three small Copeland islands, Lighthouse, Copeland and Mew, lying off the coast near Donaghdee, County Down, is concerned with maritime matters. They sit near the mouth of Belfast Lough and, as such, are very close to important shipping lanes in and out of the port of Belfast.

The area has been the location of several major shipwrecks and the Copelands’ lighthouses have long been important for keeping vessels safe at sea.

There was once a thriving community on the island with gravestones in the old churchyard dating back to at least 1742 with Clegg, Emerson and Wright being popular surnames. In the nineteenth century, Lighthouse Island reportedly had a population of around one hundred, with a school and twenty-eight pupils.

A newspaper reporter who visited in the 1930s reported, according to David Walsh in his book, Oileáin, that the islanders maintained their property very diligently with neat hedges and whitewashed garden walls. They seemed, however, to have little knowledge of or interest in their islands’ heritage.

Though the islands were mostly evacuated in 1946, the last people to leave, Frederick and Aise Clegg departed in 1953, and when they died, in 1964 and 1965 respectively, they were the last people buried on the Copelands.

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