Best Lighthouses – Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
Best Lighthouses to Visit – Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland.
Lighthouses are among the most striking structures on the Irish Wild Atlantic Way landscape. They were built to protect ships and warn of dangerous rocks. Many were built in response to the tragic loss of ships with crew and cargo. They are magnificent feats of engineering and a prime example is the Fastnet Lighthouse, built high on a rock 9 miles into the Atlantic and one of our top 10 places to see in Ireland. They have their origins hundreds of years ago, going back to the stone-vaulted cottages for a light-keeper with a platform nearby for a fire signal.
These are the 12 best lighthouses to visit on the Wild Atlantic Way as you drive from Cork in the south to Donegal in the northern end of the route. Trips to Lighthouses can be organised as well as transport and activities as part of a holiday or short break on the Wild Atlantic Way. Send us an enquiry form with your wish list. The first blog in this series tells of the lighthouses, the changes that have taken place down the centuries and the people who lived and worked in them.
Lighthouses are now used for any or all of the following:
- Visitor and Education Centres.
- An attraction reachable by a scenic walking route
- A striking feature to sail around, especially if on an island
- Accommodation for those who like something unusual
- Communities have become more involved with lighthouse upkeep and they are seen as an important part of our maritime heritage to be shared and visited.
1 Kinsale Lighthouse – Visitor Centre
Nearest Town Kinsale, Co Cork. Position N51°36.287′ W08°32.018′
Tower – 30 m high tower. Light Range– is 20 nautical miles.
History – 0pened 1853 as a radio beacon base until 1999 and automated in 1987 with keepers withdrawn. There was a light at the Old Head of Kinsale since pre-Christian times. An old cottage with light was noted in 1665. The present lighthouse was built at the entrance to Kinsale Harbour in 1812 and replaced in 1853.
The RMS Lusitania was sunk on 7.05.1915 by a German U-boat, 17 km south of the Old Head of Kinsale. The ship sank in 20 minutes with a loss of 1198 of the 1959 people on board. A Lusitania memorial stone commemorates this event besides the signal station. The Old Head is now occupied by a world-famous private golf course, making access difficult.
What to do in Kinsale Area
- Visit Old Head Signal Station – The Old Head Signal Station is an older lighthouse on the site recently renovated and opened as the ….visitor centre
- A Lusitania memorial stone commemorates this list besides the signal station.
- Old Head Golf Course – The Old Head now has a world-famous golf course, making access difficult.
- Old Head Cliff Walk – There is a cliff walk on the Old Head of Kinsale but this does not provide access to the lighthouse.
- See the Old Head of Kinsale from the sea – Take a 2.5-hour Whale and Dolphin boat trip off the coast under the Old Head which also gives you views of the seabirds on the cliffs.
- Cycle the Old Head of Kinsale – Take a two-hour loop cycling trip from the Old Head Signal Station along the coast.
- Instagram – best shots are from the bank opposite the signal station with the Old Head of Kinsale in the background.
2. Galley Head Lighthouse – Walk or Stay
Nearest Town: Clonakilty, Co Cork. is 15km north Position- N51°31.798′ W08°57.210′.
Tower – 21 Meter high tower with houses inside a courtyard on the cliff edge. Light Range – reaches 23 nautical miles
History: Opened in 1878, converted to electricity in 1963 and automated in 1979. The final attendant left the station in 1997. Galley Head Lighthouse is on Dundeady island, 20 minutes drive south-west from Clonakilty, West Cork. The lighthouse is on the cliff and …above sea level, with a white lighthouse with a red collar around it. It is joined to the mainland by a long narrow causeway. . The tower was connected by a 38m corridor to the semi-detached two-story dwelling of the lighthouse men and their families.
This is where my great grandfather Patsy Hooper was born and raised as one of 7 children. Some of the Hooper relatives still live in the local Dirk area. There is a separate article on a visit to the Galley Head Station on an open Day . The Irish Landmark Trust took over the management of the two keepers’ cottages and they have been renovated using traditional materials and can be rented as self-catering units.
What to do in Galley Head Area
- Walk to the lighthouse – Park near the old water pump and reach the lighthouse via a road which was built hundreds of years ago. The views of Long strand to the west of the lighthouse and of the cliffs are spectacular. There are no regular tours of the lighthouse.
- Stay in a lighthouse cottage – Park near the old water pump and approach as above.
- Go for a Swim or Meal at Beach Shack – Nearby is Long Strand, a sandy beach which is good for swimming or a delicious meal at the beach shack (open April to October) and no need to pre-book.
- Photograph- There are lots of great spots to get photos but my favourite is on the walk towards the lighthouse with stone walls on either side, on the straight stretch after the bend turn around and the lighthouse will be on your shoulder.
3. Fastnet Lighthouse
Nearest Town: Schull, Co Cork is the nearest town Position–N51°23.358′ W09°36.178’ on an island.
Tower: is 54 meters high. Light: Range- is 27 nautical miles.
History:– Opened in 1904, automated in 1989. Became part of the radio navigation beacon in 1994.
Fastnet Lighthouse, called Deor Eireann (Ireland’s Teardrop) as it was the last view emigrants saw of Ireland as they travelled by ship to the USA and Canada. Fastnet Lighthouse is the tallest and on the wildest spot in Ireland, on a rock 9 miles off the south-west coast. The granite lighthouse was designed to withstand the force of the Atlantic by William Douglas, Engineer to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and took 5 years to complete. It was built of over 2,074 interlocking granite stones, each cut precisely to fit into the next stone. Fastnet Lighthouse had a 3 man crew at all times until 1989 when it was automated. In winter storm waves crash over the lighthouse and it must have been a frightening place for the lighthouse keepers to live.
The first lighthouse was built on the southern cliffs of Cape Clear Island in 1818 but, being often fog-bound, was decommissioned in 1854. The packet ship Stephen Whitney sank nearby in December 1847 with the loss of 92 passengers, leading to a demand for an effective lighthouse. A new cast-iron lighthouse was built on Fastnet Rock 6.5km south-west of Cape Clear, which tumbled into the sea. The base of the old Cast Iron lighthouse can be seen below the present lighthouse. Fastnet Lighthouse is famous for an annual yacht race organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club from Cows, Isle of White around Fastnet every two years is a 605-mile course. In August there was a bad storm which hits the boats as the rounded the Fastnet, causing 75 boats to capsize, 24 yachts abandoned yachts and 19 deaths. We always confirm trips around Fastnet, which only take place in the summer season, in good weather.
What to do in Fastnet Area
Boat Trip Around Fastnet- The best way to visit Fastnet Rock in summer is from Baltimore. The boat takes you to Cape Clear Island (Óilean Cleire) and then around the Fastnet Rock lighthouse. Trips are very weather dependent and take place on Sundays from June to September and on Tuesday or Thursday in high season, depending on the weather. This is a spectacular family-friendly trip with great views and you can take great photos. Allow a full day from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. Suited to adults, family groups or a great day out with friends.
- Sunset Boat Trip around Fastnet – Sunset trips on Saturday evenings in summer, starting at 6 pm. Suited to adults. Reserve a place or make an enquiry here.
- Private Boat Charter to Fastnet – Travel with a group of family or friends (up to 12 people) by private boat charter around Fastnet.
- Cape Clear- On Cape Clear visit the heritage museum and walk to the old lighthouse on the southern cliffs (about 40 mins walk from the harbour).
- Mizen Head – Visit Mizen Head Lighthouse to see how the lighthouse was constructed-the site has some of the same blocks.
- Instagram- the boat circles the rock twice clockwise (check with the crew as it’s weather dependent), so get in position on the upper deck with the rock to your right for the best photos. You might also see dolphins.
4. Mizen Head Lighthouse
Nearest Town: Schull, West Cork. Position: – 51°26.991′ North 09°49.225′ West
Tower – 7 metres high white round tower on a square building. Light Range – is 16 nautical miles.
History – Opened in 1908 with staff quarters and fog signal station in 1909. It was automated in 1993. At the southern end of the Irish mainland is Mizen Head Lighthouse built-in 1906. The lighthouse is built on Cloghnane Island with over 90 steps down the path and a concrete bridge over a crevasse to the lighthouse. Before you go down the steps there are granite blocks on display to show how the lighthouses were built here and on Fastnet.
Fastnet is famous locally for the rescue of shipwrecked crewmen by the lighthouse keepers. In 1908 they saved 60 men from the SS Trada after it was wrecked on the Mizen. As well as having a visitor centre run by the local Mizen Co-operative group many a journey or race on the Wild Atlantic Way starts or finishes here, with Malin Head being the other point on the map.
What to do in Mizen Head Area
- Visitor Centre and Lighthouse Visit -The roads narrow as you get to the car park at the Visitor Centre which gives information on how lighthouses work – great for children. The displays show how a lighthouse was managed and run. Walkthrough the lighthouse and past it to the headland which is the most southerly point on Ireland’s mainland – a great Instagram spot. A great visit for all the family, allow 2 hours.
- Swim or Surf – Nearby is Barleycove Beach- a long sandy beach and great for surfing. During summer months we offer surfing lessons.
- Brow Head – While in the area drive towards Crookhaven, and turn left up Brow Head just at …cove, beside the Marconi statue. At the top is the now derelict signal station used by Marconi to send the first messages to the US. Brow Head was also used in filming The Last Jedi Star Wars film. From the headland, you may see whales swimming past.
- Photo – at the western tip of the lighthouse is a stand with a red light on it – a great spot for a photo with the sea behind you.
5. Sheeps’ Head Lighthouse – Walk
Nearest Town: Bantry, Co Cork. Position R011.3°-016.6° (5.3°), W016.6°-212.5° (195.9°).
Tower – 7 meters tall, with a light of 83 meters and a range of 18 nautical miles
Light Range – 18 nautical miles in white and 15 miles in red light warning of rocks.
History – Opened in 1968, linked by electricity and unmanned from the start. The lighthouse at the western end of the beautiful headland can be reached by the lighthouse walk- which takes about 45 minutes from the car park. This 7 Meter lighthouse on a square base is one of the newest and was built at the entrance to Bantry Bay. The materials for this small square lighthouse were transported by road to Kilcrohane and then by helicopter to the site in 250 lifts of equipment. Bantry Bay is 9 miles long and an Oil Storage Terminal was built on Whiddy Island near Bantry. The lighthouse was built to guide these large oil tankers to safety. On the northern side of Bantry Bay is Roancarrig Lighthouse replaces the original 1838 lighthouse on the opposite side of the bay east of Bere Island.
What to do in Sheeps Head Lighthouse Area
- Walk to the Lighthouse -There is a lovely drive along the Sheeps’ Head Peninsula and walk from the car park to the lighthouse along the wild, unspoilt cliffs to the lighthouse. There are many sheep on the headland as well as a landing post for the helicopter which now serves the lighthouse. Here are some other Loop walks on the Sheep’s Head.
- Instagram – This is Sheep’s Head so try to get a photo with a sheep in the background. The path just before the steps down to the lighthouse will give views of the other headlands.
6. Skellig Lighthouse – Boat Trip
Nearest Town: Caherciveen, West. Co Kerry. Position 51°46.108′ North 10°32.519′
Tower – 12-meter high tower. Light Range – is 12 nautical miles.
History:- Opening in 1826 solar-powered, automated in1987 in 2000. Skellig Micheal/Rock island is 12 km off the coast of Kerry. The lighthouse is 167 meters above sea level on the southern side of the island and is accessed up the cliff by a steep set of steps. The Skellig Lighthouse was one of the most inaccessible lighthouses on the Irish coast with men being hoisted up in a bosuns chair from the crew boat. These days a helicopter can land on the lighthouse roof for maintenance or take off people injured while climbing Skellig Rock.
The two Skellig Islands are composed of sandstone and slate with the larger island being 217 m high. In early Christian times (6th Century) St Finian and his monks built a monastic settlement composed of beehive huts and recently made famous by the Star Wars films. To get to the monastery is a path on the southern side of the rock, the over 600 steps on the ‘Lighthouse Road’.Both islands are bird sanctuaries, the main occupants of Skellig Micheal year around are puffins. There are also Manx Shearwater, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and gulls. The smaller Skellig Rock has one of the 3 colonies of gannets off the Irish Coast. They can be seen diving into the water to catch fish, and they make a raucous noise in the breeding season.
What to do in Skellig Rock Lighthouse Area
- Boat Trip around Skellig – Take a boat trip around the Skellig Islands to enjoy panoramic views of them and the lighthouse. The boat trip takes 2 to 3 hours from May to September or October and is weather dependant.
- Visit the Skellig Centre – The Skellig Centre on Valentia Island has an exhibition on the lighthouse.
- Valentia Island – is where the TransAtlantic Cable Station was opened in 1866 and also a Coast Guard Station which can be visited. (more)
- Photos – There are loads of sights to photograph. The lighthouse is only properly visible from this tour. Its remote location means is not accessible on island visits. Skellig Beag has the most amazing sound of birds in the breeding season (May to July). There may be dolphins and other big fish in the area – so keep your eyes peeled. Best get a selfie on the way back to the mainland with the islands behind you.
- Eating – We recommend eating light before the trip and plan to have a good meal on return to the mainland. Don’t forget to call into the Skellig Chocolate shop.
7. Loop Head Lighthouse – Walk
Nearest Town; Kilkee, Co Clare. Position – N52°33.672’ W09°55.938′.
Tower – 23 meters high. Light Range – is 23 nautical miles.
Opened – 1954, automated in 1991. On the Southern tip of Co Clare, on the northern side of the River Shannon estuary is Loop Head Lighthouse. Travel the R487 from Kilkee to Kilbaha and out along the headland to Loop Head, a drive of about 45 minutes. The first lighthouse built about 1670 was a stone cottage with fire outside, important for shipping approaching the Shannon mouth on their way to Limerick. The lighthouse dates from 1854 and was designed by George Halpin.
Loop Head lighthouse is 84 metres above sea level on a clifftop. The first lighthouse on this spot was built in 1670 and the present lighthouse stands 23 metres high. The station was automated in 1991. Loop Head weather station is at the lighthouse base.
What to do in Loop Head Lighthouse Area
- Drive- the Drive from Kilkee on the R487 is stunning and there is a one-way loop driving system on the headland, as the roads are so narrow they do not allow for passing or overtaking in parts. Stay in the lighthouse.
- Cycleway– The Loop Head Cycleway is a 40km loop cycle route.
- Visitor Centre- The lighthouse visitor centre tells its history and you can climb the lighthouse tower.
- Walking the Loop – Take the loop walk around the lighthouse to Lovers’ Leap and see the sea stack where legend tells that Diarmuid and Grainne jumped to escape the pursuing Fianna.
- Photography – There are great views of the Atlantic from the cliffs near the lighthouse and brilliant colours as the sun sets to the west behind the lighthouse.
8. Clare Island Lighthouse – Stay
Nearest Town: Westport, Co Mayo. Position – N53.49371 W -9.58590.
Tower – Light Range – is 23 nautical miles.
History – Opened in 1818 automated in 1965. There have been lighthouses on Clare Island off the West Mayo coast for centuries, positioned strategically at the entrance to Clew Bay. The original 1805 lighthouse lasted 7 years before it was accidentally burnt down. The new lighthouse was commissioned and opened in 1818, but was occasionally covered by low cloud or fog due to its height on the western cliffs. Instead of building a new lighthouse on the island a new site on Achillbeg was chosen and Clare Island Lighthouse was decommissioned after 159 years. A ferry service operates from the mainland to Clare Island. The lighthouse is on the western tip of the island, is a listed building and is the only lighthouse operating as a luxury Bed and Breakfast.
What to do in Clare Island Lighthouse Area
- Stay –Clare Island Lighthouse operates as luxury accommodation with Bed and Breakfast or Self-Catering. Minimum stay is 2 nights or a weekend. Family groups are catered for and the ferry from the mainland adds to the experience.
- Activity – Clare Island is a great place for outdoor activity with walking and watersports in summer. There is a sandy beach which is good for swimming.
- The Pirate Queen – Grace O’Malley/Granuaile is one of the most notable women in Irish history, becoming head of the O’Malley clan who controlled much of the coastline around here. Visit her castle where she ran her pirate operation in the 1500s. Grainne had 2 husbands and was much feared along the coast. She eventually made her peace with the English, meeting Queen Elizabeth 1 in London.
- Instagram – from the boat before you land get a photo with the ruined Grace O’Malley castle in the background. Walk to the top of the island for the best photos of the lighthouse and this stunning island.
9. St John’s Point Lighthouse – Walk or Stay
Nearest Town: Killybegs, Co Donegal. Position – N54.34097 W-8.27394. Co Donegal.
Tower – 14 meters above sea level. Light Range – is 14 nautical miles.
History Opened in 1831, automated in 1932 and electrified in 1962.
St John’s Point Lighthouse is on the coast of Donegal Bay, between Donegal town and Killybegs is made of cut grey granite. The fishing port of Killybegs has been important since the 14th century. When the Spanish Armada was sailing for home in 1588 many of its ships were wrecked in storms along this area of coastline.
What to do in St Johns Point Lighthouse Area
- Self-Catering Cottages – The Clipper and Schooner cottages area available for self-catering rental with each cottage sleeping 4.
- Sliabh League/Liag Cliffs – take a drive one hour west of St John’s to these dramatic cliffs, which are nearly 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher. From the car park enjoy a bracing walk to the top of the cliffs, with lots of great photo opportunities.
- Instagram- Take a boat trip to the base of the Sliabh League cliffs for stunning views of the cliffs rising above you.
10 Tory Island Lighthouse – Walk
Nearest Town: Falcaragh, Co Donegal. Position - N55°16.357' W08°14.964'. Co Donegal.
Tower – 27 Metres. Light Range – is 34 km in clear weather.
History – Opened in 1832 and automated in 1990. This lighthouse is 15km off the north-west Donegal coast on the western side of Tory Island, an exposed island battered by the Atlantic waves. The wide white band on the black lighthouse marks it out. The lighthouse is important for shipping approaching the northwestern side of Ireland and for those who fish off the north-west coast. Oilean Toraigh ( Tory Island) is an Irish speaking island and over 12 km from the mainland and there is the accommodation on Tory, for those who wish to stay over and enjoy island life. The island is one of the last places in Ireland to have an elected King of the Island, an elder of the community who is elected for life.
What to do in Tory Head Lighthouse Area
- Tory Island is accessed by Ferry from Magheraroarty Pier off the N56 in North West Donegal. Oilean Toraigh ( Tory Island) is an Irish speaking island and over 12 km from the mainland. Tory is the most remote island off Ireland’s coast and is famous for its Artists. Check our Ferry page on booking tickets. A day trip from the mainland will allow you to ee the island and take the 20 mins to walk to the Lighthouse.
- The island is an important its wildlife especially the birds, Corncrakes can be heard in the fields and the seabirds nest on the cliffs with puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes and many more birds to be seen.
- The seas off Tory are rich with fish with Minkie Whales, dolphins and sharks to be seen. Diving and deep-sea fishing charters can be organised off Tory.
11. Fanad Head Lighthouse – Visit or Stay
Nearest Town: Letterkenny ( 45 mins Drive) Position – N55.2761391. W 07.6324510
Tower – 39 m high tower with a compound of houses. Light Range – 22 km on a clear day. The fixed light showed red to sea and white to Lough Swilly.
Opened – Fanad was opened in 1817, converted to electricity in 1975 and automated in 1983. The lighthouse, designed by George Halpin, is in the Donegal Gaeltacht on the northern tip of the Fanad Peninsula, about 45 minutes drive from Letterkenny. The lighthouse is built in Dublin grey granite with diamond-shaped windows and a spiral staircase in the main tower. The view of the lighthouse from a distance is spectacular as you drive towards the headland and is the most beautiful on the northern end of the Wild Atlantic Way. Fanad Lighthouse was build in response to a shipwreck, the Royal Navy’s HMS Saldanha in 1811 in Lough Swilly. The lighthouse is now run and managed as a tourism venture by a community development group, employing local people all year round.
What to do in Fanad Head Lighthouse Area – Tour
- Guided tour of Fanad Lighthouse-Take a guided tour of Fanad Lighthouse with a local bi-lingual guide. Pre-book a tour if bringing a group and the opening hours are (link)
- Stay in a lighthouse -Stay at Fanad Head Lighthouse in the lighthouse keepers’ cottages where the 3 self-catering houses sleep 2 to 4 people. Bring your groceries as it’s a long way back to the shops!
- What to see in the area – While staying in the lighthouse travel the Harry Blaney bridge to the Ros Goill peninsula for unspoilt beaches and wonderful scenery, Grianan an Aileach hillfort, Glenveagh National Park and many activity centres on the Donegal coast are nearby
- Instagram– get a photo inside the gates of the site with the lighthouse in the background. Another option is a small lighthouse over your shoulder as you drive away from the lighthouse.
12. Malin Head – Irelands most Northerly Point – Walk
Nearest Town: On an island off the Donegal coast. Position – N 55.25518 W 07.14377 – On an island off the Donegal coast.
Tower – 12.8 m high. Light Range – is up to 19 nautical miles.
Opened – The first one was built in 1813, replaced in 1958 and this was automated in 1987. Solar-powered light since 2000. When I first went to Malin Head on the northern point of the Inishowen peninsula, Ireland’s most northerly point I expected to see a lighthouse, as at the southern end at Mizen Head. But there is no lighthouse just a signal tower, a WW2 Eire Sign for aircraft and a path along the cliff. This is because the most northerly lighthouse is Inishtruahull on an island 9.6km north of Malin Head on an island about 1.5km long, This lighthouse guides the shipping to the north coast of Ireland, along with Tory Lighthouse. The first lighthouse built on this island was in 1813 with a tower of 12.8m.In 1958 a new lighthouse was built at the eastern end of the island and the following summer the old lighthouse tower was taken down as it was obscuring the light.
What to do in Malin Head Area
- Facilities at Malin Head include a car park and toilets.
- At the tour of the headland is Banba’s Crown signal tower from 1805, locally called the crown, and built to protect against Napoleonic invasion. Banba’s Crown is named after the mythological patriot goddess of Ireland. A modern Sculpture beside the tower commemorates this legend.
- Cliff Walk – the Malin Head Trail along the cliffs on a gravel surface. Follow the trail walk to the Eire sign in stones and in the distance you will see the island of Inishtrahull with the lighthouse on it. Further to the northeast, the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura are visible on a clear day
- Walk to Hell’s Hole – Hell Hole (Poll Ifreann) is a 570m a natural break in the rock into which seawater explodes with great force when the swell is strong enough. This walk is about 1 km west of the car park in Malin Head. You can walk another 1km beyond Hell’s Hole but there are steep cliff drops near the path.
- *Instagram- get the best photo from Malin Head with Eire in the background with Inishtruahull and Scotland in the background. The Hell’s Hole photos are also great.
Have we left out any important information to help you find the best lighthouses in Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way? Blog 1 deals with the history of Lighthouses in Ireland and blog 3 has details of the Lighthouses of the East coast of Ireland. Enjoy driving the Wild Atlantic Way wand tag us in your best lighthouse photos. For those who want help in planning a holiday in Ireland to include a lighthouse visit, walk or stay contact Activity Days Ireland by contact form and the trip can be planned for you.
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Reading Material on Lighthouses
Lighthouses of Ireland by Roger o Reilly – an Illustrated guide to the Lighthouses of Ireland with Drawing of each lighthouse