Rhinns of Islay Lighthouse is on the tiny island of Orsay off the southern coast of Islay. Overlooking the island is the pretty village of Portnahaven.
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Rinn is the Gaelic for point, but here the name comes from the Gaelic Rann, which means a division. The Rinns formed one of the three divisions of Islay.
The lighthouse was established in 1825 by Robert Stevenson.
Although it is only a short crossing from Portnahaven, there are strong tides. In Martha Robertson’s book A Quiet Life, memoirs of being a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Martha recalls rowing to and from the island:
“The sound was only a few hundred yards wide, but through it ran a powerful current, making it difficult for the experienced to negotiate and downright dangerous for anybody else. The current varied depending on the state of the tides. At that particular time, it was at its height. The boatman had to row strongly, parallel to the shore against the current until he reached a choppy bit of water which swung the boat sickeningly round to be swept rapidly back the way we had just come, the boatman rowing as strongly as he could at right angles to the current. In this way, he reached the pier safely. I was relieved when we landed all in one piece, but my father soon mastered the art and later even Jean [Martha’s sister] and I were able to take an oar in the wee boat we kept on the island for fishing”.
In 1978 the lighthouse was converted to electric operation, and an array of sealed beam lights were installed.
Rhinns of Islay Lighthouse was automated on 31st March 1998.