They’ve been a part of our coastline since time immemorial, wonderful structures that in themselves are great feats of engineering and construction. Here Mary Rose McCarthy gives a brief glimpse into twelve great lighthouses of Ireland.
Perhaps because of their location, often looking as if perched on the edge of the land, lighthouses have long interested us.
In 2016, Irish Lights, who are the commissioners responsible for overseeing lighthouses, set up an all-Ireland tourism initiative with Bord Fáilte, focusing on 12 lighthouses on coasts around the island.
In conjunction with local tourist and community development groups at some locations, it is possible to stay in the original dwellings once occupied by keepers and their families. At other sites, accommodation is easily found nearby.
The first aids to navigation were fires lit along the shoreline to guide vessels safely to land. Then came wooden structures, succeeded by the stone built towers we see today. Some of the towers also had fog signals.
With advances in technology, it is no longer necessary to have personnel living and tending the light at these coastal locations.
Fog signals are no longer required either due to more sophisticated systems of navigation. But lighthouses still play a vital role in aiding maritime safety for commerce and for leisure.
St. John’s Point, Co. Donegal.
This lighthouse is at the end of a long peninsula and appears miles from anywhere. Designed by George Halpin, constructed of cut granite, and painted white, its light was first exhibited on 4th of November 1831. For years prior to that, merchants, traders, and seamen of Killybegs looked for the establishment of a light to protect the North shore of Donegal Bay.
There are two keepers’ residences on the site, named Clipper and Schooner which are now run as holiday lets. Operated by the Irish Landmark Trust they make a perfect base from which to explore all that Donegal has to offer.
The station was converted to unwatched in the early 1930s and in July 1942, the light was changed to flashing. The Spanish Armada in 1588 were driven off course by violent storms. Twenty four of the fleet went aground including three wrecks which can be seen on nearby Streedagh Strand.
There is plenty to do in the area including taking in the breath taking views, good fishing, walking, or surfing on nearby Rossnowlagh. Killybegs Heritage Trail is about 25 mins drive away and Bundoran adventure park approximately 55 mins away.
Or just stay indoors in the characterful tastefully restored cottages, listen to the sea and imagine life as a ‘keeper of the light’ in this wild and beautiful place.
Ballycotton, Co. Cork
Ballycotton Lighthouse is one of only two black lighthouses on the island of Ireland. Sirrus, the first paddle steamer to cross the Atlantic completely under steam, went aground near this site in dense fog. This prompted the building of the lighthouse.
Designed by George Halpin, it is built on Ballycotton island close to the shore but accessible only by boat. The light was first exhibited on June 1st 1851, its ‘character’ was flashing white every ten seconds, and in clear weather was visible at a distance of 18 miles.
At first lighthouse families stayed on the island in keepers dwellings, and children rowed ashore to school on the mainland. However, in 1896 it was decided to make Ballycotton, reliving, meaning that families now lived ashore rather than in the difficult conditions on the island. The light was converted to electric in 1975 and became fully automated in 1992.