Irish Lighthouses You Can Actually Stay in

Galley Head lighthouse, in Co Cork, is just one of many on the island of Ireland that you can now stay in
Galley Head lighthouse, in Co Cork, is just one of many on the island of Ireland that you can now stay in | © Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
Kate Phelan

The most westerly point of northern Europe, the island of Ireland is dotted with historic lighthouses that were for centuries essential for safe sea travel. Thanks to the EU-funded Great Lighthouses of Ireland project, launched in 2015, they’ve become a tourist attraction – and several you can even stay in overnight.

Blackhead Lighthouse, Antrim

Built in 1902, County Antrim’s Blackhead Lighthouse sits on the black volcanic cliff of Blackhead at the mouth of Belfast Lough. There are three renovated lightkeepers’ residences available to stay at right next to the lighthouse, all managed by the Irish Landmark Trust. Having once guided the Titanic on its initial journey from where it was built locally in Belfast to where it would depart on its tragic voyage from Southampton, England, this still-functioning lighthouse has a beautiful coastal walking path nearby.

Fanad Head, Donegal

Voted one of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses, Fanad Head is one of the highlights of the famous Wild Atlantic Way tourist route along the north, west and south coasts of Ireland. Built in the early 19th century, shortly after the shipwreck of the HMS Saldanha in Lough Swilly – in which there were no survivors of an estimated 250 people on board – it overlooks one of the most picturesque locations in the entire country. The three self-catering houses here sleep up to 10.

St. John’s Point, Donegal

A harbour light designed to guide sailors from Donegal Bay, St John’s Point exhibited its first light in November 1831, almost 250 years after more than 20 doomed Spanish Armada ships sent by Philip II of Spain to invade England washed up on Irish shores – three of them across the bay on Streedagh Strand. With two lightkeepers’ cottages, this lighthouse is set on one of the longest peninsulas in the country, looking towards Mullaghmore, the County Sligo coast and out into the North Atlantic.

St. John’s Point, Down

The second St John’s Point is on the opposite coast of Northern Ireland, near the village of Killough in County Down. It stands apart from the Irish lighthouse of the same name by its distinctive colouring – it is decorated with stripes of yellow and black, not unlike a huge bee – and its impressive height of 40m (131ft). Mentioned in a Van Morrison song, the lighthouse here also has tenuous literary connections – the Irish writer Brendan Behan apparently helped his father to paint it in 1950 (before the yellow bands were added).

Clare Island Lighthouse, Mayo

Situated on the rugged island in County Mayo’s Clew Bay, the home of the legendary pirate queen Gráinne O’Malley and her clan, Clare Island Lighthouse was first built in 1806. Decommissioned in the 1960s, it has since been given a luxury makeover and converted into an ideal holiday destination with six tastefully furnished guest rooms. The only two-towered lighthouse in the country, it is also the only one to provide B&B accommodation and a six-course set evening meal to guests.

Roches Point, Cork

Further east on the southern coast, Roches Point Lighthouse lies at the entrance to Cork Harbour, one of the largest natural harbours in the world. Though not a part of the Great Irish Lighthouses initiative, the beachside self-catering cottage at Roches Point can nonetheless be rented through Book a Lighthouse. Sleeping up to five guests in its three bedrooms, it also comes with a fully equipped kitchen and a terrace decked out with sun loungers.

Galley Head, Cork

Not far from the award-winning West Cork town of Clonakilty – named best town in the UK and Ireland a few years ago – Galley Head Lighthouse featured the most powerful lighthouse light in the world at the time of its construction in 1875. According to Great Lighthouses of Ireland, the lightkeepers stationed here would have seen history happening before their eyes, witnessing the sinking of the Lusitania after it was torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915, and sighting many military vessels during WWI and WWII.

Wicklow Head, Wicklow

The oldest and definitely one of the most unique lighthouses to stay at in Ireland, Wicklow Head Lighthouse consists of an octagonal stone tower that would be at home in a fairytale picture book. Built in 1781, it now has two double bedrooms and a top-floor kitchen that is reached by a staggering 109-step climb that’s not for the faint-hearted. But its arched windows look out over the Irish Sea, and it has buckets of character.

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