Designed by engineers Thomas and David Stevenson, Isle Ornsay Lighthouse was established on 10th November 1857.
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The Skye village of Isleornsay on the eastern side of the Sleat peninsula follows the curve of its natural sheltered harbour. The village overlooks the small island of Ornsay, and it is possible to walk out to the island at low water.
To the southeast of Ornsay is the tiny neighbouring islet of Eilean Sionnach. Here the lighthouse is accessible by a walled walkway, and the lighthouse cottages are close by.
Thomas Stevenson devised a revolutionary new lighting system for Isle Ornsay Lighthouse. Using additional prisms in part of the light sector, the light could be seen from a greater distance at some points within the narrow sound. This new condensing apparatus was part of a series of improvements in the dioptric lighting system. The new apparatus was displayed at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, London, in 1851. The optic was later removed and is in private ownership.
Isle Ornsay Lighthouse was automated in 1962. It is unmonitored and relies on an observer to report any issues to the Northern Lighthouse Board.
In 1966 Scottish naturalist and author Gavin Maxwell bought the redundant keepers’ cottages. He also bought the cottages at Eilean Ban (Kyleakin), a few miles further north.
He enjoyed converting houses and thought they might have commercial potential renting out the cottages at 50 guineas a week. The cottages at Isle Ornsay had four bedrooms in total and a 27ft long sitting room that enjoyed spectacular views of the Sound of Sleat.
The lighthouse was modernised in 1988 when mains electricity replaced the previous Acetylene gas system. A white occulting light is exhibited every 8 seconds. There is a battery backup system in case of light failure.
The lighthouse features in the film Blessed, released in October 2008. In the film, Peter (played by James Nesbitt), a former city trader, begins a new life as a lighthouse keeper. The novel The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne is also set at Isle Ornsay Lighthouse.
The cottages were later sold to the Sedgwick family, and close to the cottage can be found a memorial stone for actress Paulita Sedgwick.
There is also a burial ground and a chapel site on the nearby island.
Just off the northern tip of Ornsay is the Ornsay Beacon.