Copinsay Lighthouse


Copinsay Lighthouse is located east of Mainland Orkney and was the last major lighthouse built in Orkney. It is positioned on the highest cliff edge on the island’s southeastern side.

From the lighthouse, a track runs down the hill to the old farmhouse, which was still in use after the Second World War.

The lighthouse was established on 8th November 1915, displaying five white flashes every 30 seconds.  D Alan Stevenson was the engineer responsible for its design.

Copinsay Lighthouse

Charles J McNeish was the first Principal Lighthouse Keeper.

The island became a bird sanctuary more recently and was farmed by Mr Groat in the 1930s.  Groat had thirteen children who used one of the farmhouse rooms as a classroom.  They were joined by the lighthouse keepers’ children and the resident teacher on the island.

Three islands lie off the western side of Copinsay: Ward Holm, Corn Holm, and Black Holm. These islands are accessible at low tide. The smaller island, Horse of Copinsay, is to the northeast of Copinsay.


The foghorn sounded four blasts every 60 seconds but was later decommissioned.  The fog signal tower was demolished in 1985.

The final inhabitants moved from the island to the Mainland in 1985.  Three lighthouse keepers and their families lived on the island.

Copinsay Lighthouse was automated in 1991, and following automation, the keepers’ cottages were sold. 

Copinsay lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Paul Craig from Burston in Staffordshire bought the former keepers cottage for use as a holiday home in 1991.  He approached Scottish Hydro Electric to try to get the cottage connected to mains electricity in 1993, but they quoted close to a million pounds to connect the work.

The island is now an RSPB nature reserve. 

Established: 1915
Engineer: David A Stevenson
Tower Height: 16 metres
Light Character: Fl (5) W 30 s
Light Range: 14 miles
Elevation: 79 metres