Ireland’s many lighthouses are located in some of the most magnificent, unspoiled, and scenic places on earth.
The earliest beacons were simply bonfires built on cliffs to warn passing ships. Today Ireland’s coastline is guarded by numerous 19th century lighthouses.
A few years ago the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and my mind turned to lighthouses and the important job they do guiding ships past treacherous terrain.
I created this photographic tour of some of Ireland’s spectacular lighthouses to commemorate this event.
In this post, I plan to share a compilation of lighthouse pictures from the Emerald Isle, whose rugged coastline has long posed unseen dangers to passing ships in the night.
First up on our tour are a few of Dublin’s beautiful lighthouses.
Howth in northern County Dublin is home to two illuminated towers.
At the end of the pier stands this beautiful block structure.
Built in 1817, the Harbour Lighthouse in Howth was built to aid ships navigating their way into the newly built harbor.
Howth was the terminus for the packet service between Ireland and England, and this beacon guided the carrier ships to safety.
The lighthouses of Howth bring back lovely memories of childhood walks along the cliff paths and pier on this hilly outpost on the northern edge of Dublin Bay.
The other lighthouse in Howth sits on top of craggy cliffs, on the site where the first lighthouse was built back in 1667.
Built by Sir Robert Reading, the original facility was a small cottage with a square tower. A coal-fired beacon glowed atop the tower. In 1790 the coal fueled beacon was replaced with six Argand oil lamps. Portions of the original buildings are still evident in today’s structure.
On a clear day the Kish Lighthouse can be seen from the top of Howth Hill, far out in the waters of the Irish Sea. On foggy nights its plaintive honking penetrated thick, coastal hazes in days gone by.
Today, the fog horns we hear in Dublin Bay, are from the ships themselves navigating through misty waters.
Ireland’s coast is dotted by large lighthouses, once occupied by solitary workers.
They are now empty, with GPS technology replacing some of the invaluable guidance work of years gone by.
Yet, these beautiful buildings are part of our history.
These lonely bastions often stand on desolate Irish outposts, exposed to the unrelenting fury of Atlantic storms.
In years gone by daring lighthouse keepers experienced terrible conditions to keep their warning beacons alight through gale force winds and lashing rain.
Today all of Ireland’s coastline lights are controlled from a central location in Dublin by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
The Perils of the Irish Coastline:
Irish waters have seen more than their fair share of ship wrecks. The Irish coastline is full of myth and legend of famous and not-so famous maritime disasters.
Although the Titanic sank a long way away from Ireland’s shores, its ties to the island are strong.
Built in Belfast, its last stop before sailing into the Atlantic was in Queenstown Ireland, now known as Cobh. As the world’s most famous civilian maritime disaster, analysis of the disaster has contributed significantly to today’s sea faring safety procedures.
Fanad Head Lighthouse:
The lighthouse was designed by George Halpin and first lit on 17th March 1817.
Its fixed light showed red to sea and white towards the Lough, to help guide ships.
Fanad Head is one of Ireland’s most photographed lighthouses, and is situated in one of the most scenic corners of Ireland.
On a clear day Scotland can be seen from the top of the lighthouse.
Ireland’s Seafaring Legacy:
Ireland boasts unique naval traditions and records.
As an island nation, Ireland has over 35 sea ports dotted around it’s long and sometimes rugged coastline.
Living on an island, Irish people have long enjoyed a strong connection to the sea.
It is believed that the first inhabitants of the island of Ireland were seafarers who discovered this fertile island on the edge of Europe. They arrived by boat from continental Europe, and primarily settled along the coast to make a living off the ocean.
Hook Head Lighthouse:
Lighthouses were created many centuries ago as aids to navigation.
Over a thousand years ago, possibly sometime in the 5th century, the monks in County Wexford first lit a beacon to warn boats of the presence of dangerous rocks close to the shore.
Hook Head Lighthouse stands on this site today. The first formal building of a lighthouse on this site was ordered by the Lord of Leinster William Marshal in 1207.
His goal was to guide boats up the river to his thriving town of New Ross.
Once again he called on the nearby monks. They were entrusted to be the first lighthouse keepers and responsible for keeping the beacon fires burning at night. Monks remained as custodians for at Hook Head for centuries.
Hook Lighthouse on Ireland’s south eastern coast is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world.
Hook Head, in County Wexford, is Ireland’s oldest lighthouse, dating back to Norman times in the 12th or 13th century.
Painted in distinctive black and white bands, the impressive cylindrical tower has housed many forms of warning signals over the centuries. In early times lanterns shone and bells pealed, to be replaced by warning cannon and coal gas fires in later centuries. Today remotely controlled electric beacons guide shipping away from the nearby rocks.
Projecting skyward lighthouses stand as enduring symbols of both Ireland’s and England’s sea faring legacy.
Having withstood the persistent onslaught of ocean driven gales for nearly two centuries, these empty buildings are important historical landmarks.
The Wild Atlantic Way:
Many of Ireland’s most spectacular lighthouses are located on its western shoreline, where rough Atlantic weather sends waves crashing against the rocky coast. Here are a few of the most beautiful lighthouses found in Counties Cork and Kerry.
I love the photo above, taken from Valentia Island, County Kerry.
The photographer did an amazing job capturing the vast scope of the landscape. Although the lighthouse appears small and insignificant by day, the jagged coastline underscores its importance as a nighttime safety beacon.
Dingle lighthouse and the keepers’ cottage look so quaint with a fresh coat of red and white paint.
These buildings were erected in 1885 to provide safe entrance into Dingle Harbor. This lighthouse tower is relatively small, but looks so beautiful surrounded by the ocean and the spectacular scenery of the Dingle Peninsula.
Lighthouses are often exposed to severe elements, yet they stand tall on rocky precipices, battered by the wind and pummeled by the waves. The example above is located on the island of Skellig Michael off the coast of County Kerry.
Yet close by, you’ll find a nature preserve, where puffins and other seabirds flourish.
Ireland’s lighthouses are often located beside areas of great natural importance and significance for preserving Ireland’s wildlife.
The Fastnet Rock lighthouse is located off the Mizen Peninsula. The signal house at Mizen Head is a wonderful tourist attraction. The tours are very informative and teach visitors about the building of the outpost on the Fastnet.
In the 17th century Irish ports were an important link for the importation and exportation of provisions for the British Empire, both to and from North America.
Cork Harbour is one of the largest in the world, and the ports of County Cork were important outposts for transatlantic trade.
The first steam ship crossed the Atlantic from Queenstown to New York in 1838. This port is now called Cobh.
Galley Head in County Cork was the home to the first flashing lighthouse in the world.
Tuskar Rock, Co. Wexford
As a child growing up in Ireland the names of distant lighthouses grew familiar as weather forecasters referred to nautical conditions reported from these outposts. Fastnet Rock, Valentia Island and Tuskar Rock sounded as if they were just down the road from Dublin.
In years to come modern technology may make Ireland’s lighthouses obsolete. I hope when that day comes, these symbols of hope, safety, caring and God’s guiding light will be preserved for future generations.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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