The Great Lighthouses of Ireland is a celebration of some the most beautiful Irish lighthouses. Discover their incredible histories, protected secrets and maybe even spend a night or two within their wind-battered walls…
No, it is not clickbait, they are actually called the Great Lighthouses of Ireland and they truly are great. There are twelve of them and they are, according to lighthouse specialists, like really pretty and cool or something. Part of a new tourism initiative by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, these ancient beacons double up as stunning monuments and abundant sources of culture and history. If you’re planning a trip around the Irish coast, even if it’s just along the West Coast, it is definitely worth incorporating as many of these great Irish lighthouses into your adventure as possible.
1. Ballycotton Lighthouse, County Cork
Ballycotton is one of the only two black lighthouses in Ireland (the other one is Slyne Head in County Galway, but it is not one of the great Irish lighthouses) and can only be reached by boat – adds to the authenticity of the lonely lighthouse aesthetic, doesn’t it? It stands dutifully alone amongst the unspoilt landscape, kept company only by a few resident goats and orchestral bird colonies. It was built in the late 1840s but was only lit for the first time in 1851. Enjoy stunning views of the wild Atlantic from its red lantern balcony. Trips can be arranged through Ballycotton Sea Adventures, a great company that organises tours around the island and lighthouse. Unfortunately, the trip is not suitable for wheelchair access, pushchairs or those without a moderate fitness level due to the adventurous nature of the tour.
You can find out more here!
2. Galley Head Lighthouse, County Cork
It is a beautiful lighthouse for sure, friends, but it isn’t just the lighthouse that makes this a Great Lighthouse of Ireland. Surrounded by the blue flag beach of Inchydoney and with the charming market town of Clonakilty nearby, this Irish landmark is a particular haven for those craving a wholesome experience. Built in 1875, this lighthouse was the most powerful lighthouse in the world for a time, with a light that could be seen in clear weather from up to 30km away (not too useful when you’re in a storm though, is it?).
Find out about staying in this southernmost lighthouse’s restored lightkeepers’ houses here!
3. Valentia Island Lighthouse, County Kerry
From this glistening white lighthouse you can see the 300 million-year-old fossilised footsteps the first four-legged, backboned creature to have existed on land, the Tetrapod. More recently and, of course, no less exciting are the 17th-century cannons left from the Cromwell Fleetwood Fort that occupied the spot before this great lighthouse. Included in Valentia Island Lighthouse’s incredible scenic views includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site Skellig Michael and the remote Blasket Islands. This place is literally shrouded in mysterious history, with rumours of hidden dungeons lurking below the lighthouse…
4. Loop Head Lighthouse, County Clare
The Loophead Peninsula has had a lighthouse on it since 1670, which may not be neolithic, but is still a pretty long time. This member of the great Irish lighthouses lies slap bang in the middle of the west coast and guarantees incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean, Blasket Islands and Twelve Pins of Connemara. The Loop Head Peninsula was recently voted in a national competition as the best place to go on holiday in Ireland – so even the locals think you really ought not to miss this one. You can even stay in one of the old lightkeepers’ cottages, which has been restored by Irish Landmark Trust.
You can find out more details about planning a stay here.
5. Clare Island Lighthouse, County Mayo
Clare Island Lighthouse is lucky to share a home with such a proud and mystical past; we’ve mentioned it before in our piece on Inspirational Irish Women and in our Ireland Island Series, but before Clare Island was home to this lighthouse it was home to the fearsome pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, making the island both an adventure and a treat to visit. The original lighthouse was built in 1806 on the isolated northern tip of the island but it burned down in 1813… hopefully at night.
6. St John’s Point, County Donegal
Located at the end of one of the longest peninsulas in Ireland, one of the most ancient Irish lighthouses has been guiding weary travellers home since 1831. This is another location managed by the Irish Landmark Trust that has been renovated to allow you to spend a night (or two) inside the stony sea battered walls of these lonesome towers. Surrounded by breathtaking coral beaches of an almost pink colour, some of the clearest waters in Europe and complemented by views across Donegal Bay, St John’s Point Lighthouse is another can’t miss.
7. Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal
With its privileged positioning along the prestigious Wild Atlantic Way and on the windswept tip of the Fanad Peninsula, everything about Fanad Head Lighthouse is sensational. Although its conception came in the wake of a tragic shipwreck in 1812, Fanad Lighthouse is still regarded as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. With incredible views and an abundance of wildlife, you definitely will not be disappointed.
8. Rathlin West Lighthouse, County Antrim
Known as Ireland’s only ‘upside down’ lighthouse, Rathlin West Lighthouse is truly unique. It was built into the cliff face between 1912 and 1917 and first lit up the Atlantic in 1919. It doesn’t take a trained eye to realise that a lot of love went into the making and upkeep of this lighthouse, though if you take the time to talk to some locals or embark on a guided tour you could find out all kinds of locally known secrets, such as that a special pier and railway from said pier to the clifftop was built especially for the lighthouse’s construction.
9. Blackhead Lighthouse, County Antrim
If you’re heading down to Belfast to see the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, then Blackhead Lighthouse should definitely be on your priority list too. It is on the Causeway Coastal Route, after all. Built in 1902, this lighthouse is relatively young as far as lighthouses go, though not so young that it missed the passing of the ill-fated Titanic in 1912. Stay a couple days on the dazzling cliff edge and wake up to glorious sunrises from one of the three restored lightkeepers’ houses. Enjoy the Blackhead Path coastal walk, which passes sea caves, coves and takes you towards the Gobbins, a coastal path along the Causeway Coastal Route.
10. St John’s Point, County Down
Yes yes, I know, we’ve already had a St John’s Point Lighthouse, but I didn’t make up the names, okay? And besides, John was a popular guy and this one’s taller… so tall in fact that it’s the tallest lighthouse on the Irish coast. The yellow and black stripes on this tower sets it apart from its eleven counterparts and are known as its daymark, which helps mariners identify it. It’s also pretty good if you’re looking for an insta shot that’s a little different. Built in 1839 and first lighting up the skies in 1844, this lighthouse didn’t always have such an iconic look and was originally painted white. It has donned its current look since 1954.
11. Wicklow Head Lighthouse, County Wicklow
It’s not only national parks and monastic ruins that Wicklow is known for. Wicklow has a pretty beautiful lighthouse too – one so spectacular that it was worthy enough to be in the Irish Light Commission’s top twelve (really, is there anything that Wicklow doesn’t have? Well, except for shops and stuff). I never thought I’d say a sentence like this, but this 1781 octagonal tower just oozes romance in its seclusion and beauty. What’s more, you can actually stay in this lighthouse, not just the lightkeepers’ houses – rooms are snugly tucked into what were the vacant spaces within, with deep alcove windows facing the Irish sea.
Find out all about booking your stay here.
12. Hook Head Lighthouse, County Wexford
Now even for a lighthouse, Hook Lighthouse is old. With a whopping 800 years of history behind it, this monument is not only one of the oldest lighthouses in Ireland but one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. This Great Lighthouse of Ireland was looked after by monks until 1641 and then by lightkeepers and their families until 1977. Tours run seven days a week, including sunrise and sunset ones run by local experts, which you can check out here. If you’re visiting during the winter months be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the humpback and fin whales that visit in those months.
That’s it for now on the Great Irish lighthouses! How many of them have you visited? Which of them was your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below!