Ireland’s Lighthouses: Part 2

Loop Head Lighthouse

Back on the trail of Ireland's lighthouses, this instalment features lightning strikes, 17th century beacons, and a luxury island escape.

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When it comes to lighthouses, there’s always more than meets the eye. These life-saving lights watching over Ireland’s seas come with countless curious tales that have been gathered over centuries.

Here, in Part 2 of the series, we meet six more of the species from Wicklow’s gorse-covered coast in the east, to stormy seas on Ireland’s western extremity.

Clare Island Lighthouse – County Mayo
Clare Island Lighthouse – County Mayo

1 Clare Island Lighthouse – County Mayo

Settled into the humps and bumps of Clare Island’s most northerly point, the 1806-built cylindrical Clare Island Lighthouse drinks in some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most dramatic sea views. More modest in size than its siblings, the lighthouse here was decommissioned in 1965. The reason? Its setting on such high cliffs saw it too often shrouded in mist for its light to be effective.

Renovated into luxury accommodation, the owners see the dwellings here as a ‘great escape – a restorative haven’. And they’re not wrong. WiFi, wrought iron beds and art deco furnishings sit side by side with panoramic views of Clew Bay, salty Atlantic swells and miles of jagged cliffs.

Loop Head Lighthouse – County Clare
Loop Head Lighthouse – County Clare

2 Loop Head Lighthouse – County Clare

If lonely isolation attracts you to a lighthouse, Loop Head might be just the ticket. Described by the Irish Landmark Trust (from whom the lighthouse keeper’s houses can be rented as accommodation) as being, “Perched at the tip of Loop Head”, the site here is three miles from the nearest village, Kilbaha.

The original light here in the 1670s was a brazier of lighting coal, sitting on a platform on the roof of a stone cottage where the original lighthouse keeper lived.

Today’s light stands some 90 metres over the Atlantic Ocean on a peninsula voted as ‘The Best Place to Holiday in Ireland’ in an Irish Times competition.

Valentia Island Lighthouse – County Kerry
Valentia Island Lighthouse – County Kerry

3 Valentia Island Lighthouse – County Kerry

Quite a view, isn’t it? While you’re enjoying it, spare a thought for the Right Honorary Maurice Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry, whom we have to thank for Valentia Lighthouse. It was he who first applied for the light to be built here.

While it might be the most obvious and dramatic site on Valentia Island, the lighthouse – manned by an attendant up to 1947 – isn’t the only point of curiosity here. To your ‘Things to See on Valentia’ list add a 16th century defensive fort as well as the very landing point where the first transatlantic cable was laid in 1866, connecting Europe with the North American continent.

Ballycotton Lighthouse – County Cork
Ballycotton Lighthouse – County Cork

4 Ballycotton Lighthouse – County Cork

Did you know that the Sirius was the first vessel to cross the Atlantic under power of steam in 1838? Just nine years later, the jubilation of that milestone was soured when the ship hit Smith’s Rock, to the Southwest of Ballycotton.

By the time the captain attempted to bring the ship into Ballycotton’s harbour, it was a wreck. Inspired by this disaster, Ballycotton Lighthouse was built, and by June 1851, the light, towering some 60 metres above the water, could be discerned in clear weather from as far as 18 miles.

Today, boat tours access Capel Island, where you can greet the resident goats before climbing the stairs to share the Celtic Sea views from the red lantern balcony.

Wicklow Head Lighthouse, County Wicklow
Wicklow Head Lighthouse, County Wicklow

5 Wicklow Head Lighthouse – County Wicklow

Wicklow is lucky. Not only is it nicknamed the Garden of Ireland, but it also boasts a beautiful, often overlooked coastline. Overseeing a scenic panorama of sea, fields and yellow gorse bushes, the striking octagon-shaped Wicklow Lighthouse was one of two lighthouses built along that very coast in 1781. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

On the 10th of October, 55 years later, a bolt of lightning struck the tower, destroying the interior. Unsurprisingly, the metre thick stone walls stood their ground. Step inside today and you’ll find six octagonal floors of nautical luxury, all yours to rent as self-catering accommodation thanks to the tender loving care of the Irish Landmark Trust.

St John’s Lighthouse – County Down
St John’s Lighthouse – County Down

6 St John’s Lighthouse – County Down

Standing 80 feet over the Irish Sea (St John’s is the tallest onshore lighthouse in Ireland), St John’s Lighthouse might look like an ode to bees, but it didn’t start out that way. In fact, the lighthouse has undergone two separate makeovers in its time: white when first exhibited in 1844, two black bands were added in 1902, with the yellow bands you see today painted on in 1954.

Fancy overnighting in the sensitively renovated lighthouse keeper’s house here? You can, thanks to – you guessed it – the Irish Landmark Trust.  

Dream on, read on:

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