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 light-keepers’ 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.
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 northern, western and southern coast 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 ten in total.
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 twenty 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 light-keepers’ cottages, this lighthouse is set on one of the longest peninsulas in the country, looking towards Mullaghmore and the County Sligo coast, and out into the North Atlantic.
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 other lighthouse of the same name by its distinctive colouring – it is decorated with stripes of yellow and black, not unlike a huge bee – and it’s impressive height of 40 metres (131 feet). Mentioned in a Van Morrison song, the lighthouse here also has tenuous literary connections – the Irish writer Brendan Behan apparently helped his painter father to paint it in 1950 (before the yellow bands were added).
Situated on the rugged island in County Mayo’s Clew Bay that was the home of the legendary pirate queen Gráinne O’Malley and her clan, Clare Island Lighthouse was first built in 1806. Decommissioned since the 1960s, it has since been given a luxury renovation 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 its guests.
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 fully equipped kitchen and a terrace decked out with sun loungers.
Not far from the award-winning West Cork town of Clonakilty – recently named best town in the UK and Ireland – 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 light-keepers 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 the First and Second World Wars.
County Clare’s Loop Head Peninsula has previously been voted the best place to holiday in Ireland, and undoubtedly one of the best places to stay in this popular locale is the 1850s lighthouse, at the cosy, traditional lighthouse-keeper’s station that sleeps five. When conditions are right, this spot apparently has views as far as Kerry’s Blasket Islands and the Twelve Pins mountain range in Connemara.
The oldest and definitely one of the most unique of all 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.
Another absent from the Great Irish Lighthouses project is a lighthouse first erected in 1843 in the Cork village of Crookhaven, on Ireland’s most southwestern tip. Dating from the same year, the light-keeper’s cottage-turned-guest accommodation here was originally restored in 1999 before being given a design overhaul during the early 2000s, so that the airy, modern and comfortable upstairs living space now has breathtaking views of Ballydevlin Bay, Fastnet Lighthouse, Streak Head and more.
Speaking about Great Lighthouses of Ireland, the CEO of Irish Lights – the primary body responsible for developing the project – says that the strategy aims to ‘celebrate and share the history, tradition and heritage of Irish Lights, as well as sustaining it for the future’, an objective they are pursuing with great enthusiasm. The 2017 May Bank Holiday weekend will see the second annual Great Lighthouses of Ireland Shine a Light on Summer Festival take place at some of the sites mentioned above.