Beacons of history: Explore Ireland’s Great Lighthouses

Hook Lighthouse, County Wexford

The island of Ireland has 16 Great Lighthouses that are important keepers of maritime heritage and offer extraordinary visitor experiences.

There is something magical about a lighthouse. Set on a cliff-top location with breath-taking seascape views, every lighthouse has witnessed the dramas of seafarers over centuries and has a fascinating tale to tell.

Some of the designated Great Lighthouses on the island of Ireland offer accommodation and make for a memorable overnight stay, while others offer guided tours and fascinating, interactive exhibitions that explore the island’s maritime history.

Fanad Head, County Donegal

Voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world, Fanad Head was first lit in 1817. It stands on the windswept Fanad peninsula between Lough Swilly and sandy Mulroy Bay. Guided tours of the lighthouse give an authentic insight into its history and the people who worked there and from the top of its tower, whales, dolphins and porpoises can often be glimpsed. Overnight accommodation is available in the former lightkeepers’ houses.

Blackhead Lighthouse, County Antrim

Overlooking Belfast Lough, Blackhead Lighthouse has guided many famous ships into and out of the lough including the Titanic and her sister ships. It was manned up until 1975 but now offers accommodation in three restored lightkeepers’ houses beside the lighthouse. The houses contain interesting fragments of lighthouse paraphernalia, including the whistle pipe system used to wake up the next watch.

Loop Head, County Clare

Loop Head Lighthouse began life in 1670 as a coal-burning brazier on a platform and has been warning sailors about the dangers around the County Clare coast since then. There are interactive exhibits in the lightkeeper’s cottage and you can climb to the top of the lighthouse tower for 360o views over the gorgeous landscape. A stay in one of the lightkeepers’ cottages extends the amazing experience.

Rathlin West Light, County Antrim

The island’s quirkiest lighthouse is the ‘upside down’ Rathlin West Light on tranquil Rathlin Island, just 25 minutes by ferry from Northern Ireland’s spectacular Causeway Coast. Built into the cliff face, the lighthouse rises above its beacon, which still plays an important role in maritime safety. Rathlin Island is also famous for its significant seabird colonies that include guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins.

Hook Lighthouse, County Wexford

Sitting at the entrance to Waterford Harbour in Ireland’s Ancient East, Hook is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. An almost intact medieval lighthouse, it continues to serve its original function and also welcomes visitors for guided tours that reveal the secrets of its 800 years. As well as the daily tours, private sunrise and sunset tours are available.

St John’s Point, County Down

 The striking yellow and black stripes of St John’s Point lighthouse make it an unmissable landmark. It is also the tallest onshore lighthouse on the island’s coastline. The two adjacent lightkeepers’ cottages offer overnight accommodation and are a great base from which to explore the beautiful surroundings. The lighthouse is connected to two beacons of Irish culture. It is mentioned in Van Morrison’s song Coney Island, and the playwright Brendan Behan helped his father to paint it!