Standing resolute against the elements on remote and romantic outcrops, Ireland’s famous lighthouses have been beckoning ships at sea for centuries. With stories of sunken treasure, captivating wildlife, pirate queens and many offering the unforgettable overnight stays, it’s no wonder so many of them have been named Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
Below are seven of the Wild Atlantic Way’s stunning lighthouses, each one of them offering the coastal getaway of a lifetime.
1. Fanad Head Lighthouse, County Donegal
Unforgettable views from Fanad Lighthouse
Starting in the breathtaking Northern Headlands, at 39 metres tall Fanad Head Lighthouse braves the crashing Atlantic waves from its perch on the western shore of the rugged Fanad Peninsula.
Gleaming white and showcasing incredible panoramas of Tory Island, Lough Swilly and more, be sure to take a tour up the lighthouse tower - a fixture on the landscape since 1817. But windswept seascapes aren’t all that Fanad offers, along with picturesque drives, great golf and plenty of water activities - there’s history in these waters too. The lighthouse was proposed after the wreck of the HMS Saldanha occurred here in 1812, and further south along the peninsula at Rathmullan Pier is the very location the Flight of the Earls took place in the 17th century. And there’s even treasure afoot, 22 gold bars are said to lie deep in Fanad’s waters after the SS Laurentic sank and lost its precious cargo in 1917.
Sound like the ideal escape? Would-be lightkeepers will soon be able to stay in one of Fanad’s three pretty self-catering lightkeepers’ cottages as well.
2. St John’s Point Lighthouse, County Donegal
The 14-metre tall tower of St John's Point Lighthouse, Donegal
Another Donegal treasure on one of Ireland’s longest peninsulas, majestic St John’s Point Lighthouse has been a guiding light for Donegal Bay, Killybegs Harbour and Rotten Island since 1833. Nestled on a stunning stretch of coastline, its pristine white tower stands 14 metres tall and treats visitors to views of Inishmurray Island and Europe’s highest sea cliffs - Sliabh Liag.
Streedagh Strand, on which 24 of the Spanish Armada’s ships were wrecked, is also nearby and worth an exploration. Boasting some renowned diving spots, why not dive in and see what lies beneath these idyllic waters? Or try nab the catch of the day with your pick of sea fishing and angling operators.
3. Clare Island Lighthouse, County Mayo
Cyclists roam Clare Island
To the Bay Coast next, where off the coast of County Mayo you’ll find a veritable island paradise. Perched on mesmeric Clare Island, Clare Island Lighthouse is truly one-of-a-kind. Not only can visitors roam its picturesque Blue Flag beach and spot beautiful birdlife, the opportunity to stay in a lighthouse is also available; B&B accommodation at the two-towered, 19th-century lighthouse provides an experience where guests can indulge in a sumptuous six-course dinner served in the lighthouse’s exquisite library.
And the island itself? It’s simply begging to be explored. Why not take a guided tour of the lighthouse before roaming the unique landscape? Discover nesting seabirds, winding mountain paths, and an array of unspoilt scenic spots. The island was even owned by the family of legendary pirate queen Grace O’Malley in the Middle Ages, so it’s safe to say you’ll be in fine company.
4. Loop Head Lighthouse, County Clare
Loop Head lighthouse offers an unforgetable place to stay
On the captivating Cliff Coast you’ll find Loop Head Lighthouse, incredibly a light has been guiding ships from the same spot on Loop Head Peninsula since 1670, making it one of the world's most famous lighthouses indeed. From bird watching at the breathtaking Bridges of Ross and glimpsing dolphins in Carrigaholt, to cycling the stunning peninsula, this rugged patch of West Clare has it all. And that’s before you’ve toured the lighthouse’s interactive exhibition, embraced unrivalled views atop the tower’s balcony or better yet have stayed overnight in the delightfully quaint lightkeepers’ cottage. Those visiting in the warmer months can get fully immersed in peninsula life, with Loop Head Summer Hedge School's creative, environmental and artistic events.
5. Valentia Island Lighthouse, County Kerry
Rugged and remote stands Valentia Island Lighthouse
With a vantage point over some of the most exceptional sights along the Wild Atlantic Way, nestled in the Southern Peninsulas, a trip to Valentia Island Lighthouse is a serene slice of island life.
With a guided tour of the lighthouse tower and balcony you’ll encounter astonishing panoramas over UNESCO World Heritage Site Skellig Michael and the remote, wave-thrashed Blasket Islands. For more information on the unique Skellig Michael, a trip to the nearby visitor centre is a must. The world heritage site’s landscape is so otherworldy that some of the latest Star Wars film was even shot there! Stroll the island and discover the 300-million-year-old footprints of a Tetrapod, the first dinosaur to step from water onto land, or find out more about the pictorial island’s past at the Valentia Island Heritage Centre.
For a small island, Valentia certainly makes its historical mark. It was from Valentia Harbour in 1866 that the world's first transatlantic cable was laid, stretching an incredible 1,686 nautical miles to Newfoundland. Discover more about this engineering feat at the home of the Valentia Cable Station's first supervisor, James Graves. And after all that sightseeing, don't forget to embrace the ocean views from the idyllic discovery points GeoKaun and Bray Head.
6. MIZEN SIGNAL STATION/FASTNET LIGHTHOUSE, County Cork
Spot sealife from Mizen's suspension bridge
Perched high on a cliff-top on the stunning Signature Point and Ireland’s most southwesterly point - Mizen Head, stands Mizen Head Signal Station.
Facing the sea from this wind-beaten point since 1906, the station’s fascinating visitor centre details everything from local geology and seafaring history, to Italian inventor Marconi’s time spent in Cork. After taking on the 99 steps to the signal station’s suspension bridge, take a breather and see if you can spot some sealife or even the propeller of the wrecked 19th-century ship, the SS Irada. The bridge is also a particularly good point from which to spot basking sharks, seals and humpback whales. Remarkably the remains of Wolfe Tone’s ship L’Impatience can also be seen in Mizen Head’s waters, so keep your eyes peeled.
Just beyond Mizen Head, standing tall against the elements on Fastnet Rock is Fastnet Lighthouse. With its impressive granite tower standing firm against the Atlantic’s might since the 19th century, Fastnet is also known as Ireland’s Teardrop as it was the last trace of Ireland visible on the horizon to departing emigrants bound for America. And what a sight it is too.
7. Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse, County Cork
Kayakers around Kinsale's Old Head
Down on the sandy shores of the Haven Coast awaits world-class golf, gastronomic gems, a Wild Atlantic Way Signature Point and of course a majestic lighthouse, in beautiful Kinsale. The Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse is hard to miss with its dramatic black and white markings and its position on a headland that juts 3km out into the Atlantic.
While you can’t visit the lighthouse itself, one of the best places to admire it from is on a cruise or kayak in these idyllic coastal waters. Out on the water you can also spot historic sites like Charles Fort and James Fort, both 17th-century strongholds. Back on dry land, take one of the town’s many walking tours to learn about the likes of the famous Battle of Kinsale and the Lusitania’s tragic sinking close to the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915. Make time to visit the recently restored 200-year-old Old Head Signal Tower, which boasts wonderful views and some artefacts from the Lusitania itself. History buffs can dig even deeper in to the ill-fated ship's history and the area's heritage at the Kinsale Museum, while the Kinsale Ghost Tour is sure to give you more chills than you bargained for.
Feeling inspired to start your own coastal adventure? Find out more about the Great Lighthouses of Ireland here or plan your trip to one of these gorgeous getaways using the Trip Planner.