High above the Waves in the Lightkeeper’s House - Open House Dublin 2022
Journal •

High above the Waves in the Lightkeeper’s House

The wind howled around the building, buffeting the sturdy walls, the torrential rain battered against the window shrouding it in mist and rain.  The wild Atlantic Ocean pounded the rocks below with spumes of spray rising above the cliff’s edge. We were safely ensconced high above the waves In the Lightkeeper’s house having a bird’s eye view of the storm raging outside. I have always loved lighthouses and what better way to celebrate a milestone birthday than under the lantern of Loop Head Lighthouse. The storm was the icing on the cake and then when it passed the sun came out.

Looking through a window to a white light house surrounded by green grass

We are an island nation, and because of this we are blessed with 120 Lighthouses around our coastline.  The European Union funded The Great Lighthouses of Ireland project in 2015 and this has sparked a renaissance in our lighthouses in recent years.

The two seasons of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland series capitalised on that interest.  The series followed the lives of the Lightkeepers, their families and the Towers themselves.  There is also a book due to launch on the 3 November 2022 on the same subject.

The Association of Lighthousekeepers (ALK) have a passport for lighthouses in the British Isles and Ireland. Six of our Irish lighthouses are included so far: Ballycotten in Cork, Fanad in Donegal, Hook in Wexford, Rathlin in Antrim and Valentia in Kerry.  It gives an incentive to visit more of our lighthouses to adults and children alike.

Probably the most famous Irish lighthouse is the Fastnet Rock. It is the most southerly point in Ireland (roughly 6.5 km southwest from Cape Clear) and often the last thing Irish emigrants saw as they left for America giving it the unofficial name of “Ireland’s teardrop.

Our lighthouses are not only beautiful and functional, but some have interesting stories attached to them.

  • Clare Island is said to have been the home of Grainne O’ Malley the Pirate Queen. This is now run privately as a B&B.
  • Fanad has been voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. It was built as a result of the sinking of HMS Saldanha on the rocks below with the loss of 253 lives on the 4th December 1811.
  • Galley Head was built in 1875 and was reputed to have the most powerful light in the world at that time. The Lusitania was torpedoed in the waters below the lighthouse in 1915.
  • Hook is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world built 800 years ago by a Knights Templar William Marshal.
  • Blacksod The weather forecast from the lighthouse keeper in June 1944 was pivotal in the timing of the Normandy Landings in WW2.
  • Poolbeg The distinctive red of the lighthouse provided the backdrop for over 2000 volunteers to “bare all” for Spencer Tunick’s naked art installation photo on the 21st of June 2008.   The lighthouse can be reached by a fabulous walk along the South Pier at Ringsend.

Finally, to end this homage to my all-time favourite buildings, you can now stay in ten of these special places and experience them for yourself through the Irish Landmark Trust.

They are magical places so go if you can and if you can’t – buy yourself one (or a few)  – I did.

Contributed by Deirdre Gallagher

Aerial view of Fastnet lighthouse with waves crashing into the rocks
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