Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad Head Lighthouse is located at Lough Swilly and is the oldest of three lighthouses in the area. It faces the North Atlantic and guides vessels into the entrance of the lough, serving as a harbour and sea light.

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In 1812, the frigate Saldana ran aground at Fannet Point, which it was then known as. All her crew were lost except the ship’s parrot, which wore a silver collar inscribed with the ship’s name.

As a result, Captain Hill of the Royal Navy in Derry asked the Dublin Ballast Board to build a lighthouse at the headland. He was convinced that the Saldana would have been saved had there been a lighthouse. Approval was granted in July 1814, and construction began in 1817.

Lighthouse Fanad Head

Fanad Head Lighthouse was first lit on 17th March (Saint Patrick’s Day) 1817. The lighthouse was designed by George Halpin and made of local stone. It originally displayed a fixed catoptric light with white towards the lough and red to seaward. The original optic contained nine Argand oil lamps with parabolic reflectors. The seaward lamps would have contained red-tinted glass.

Following its construction, there were subsequent calls for lighthouses at Dunree Head and Buncrana Pier.  The Duke of Abercorn was one of the first to campaign for better lighting in Lough Swilly. Trinity House inspected the lighthouse in 1872. They recommended that the lighthouse be converted to a second-order dioptric fixed optic, with a red sector to show over the Swilly Rocks.

Construction of a new lighthouse started, and a larger tower and a further dwelling replaced the original one. The new lighthouse came into operation on 1st September 1886. It displayed an occulting white and red light every 30 seconds in a second-order optic. An occulting screen around the burner was turned by clockwork. An auxiliary fixed white light shone from the tower’s base over the Limeburner Rock. 

Fanad Lighthouse

In August 1909, the character was altered to group flashing to avoid confusion with Tory Islands Lighthouse, 23 miles to the west. A new revolving third-order optic used paraffin vapour, and its character changed to 6 flashes every 15 seconds.

The character was changed in 1932 to one white flash every 3 seconds.

Over the course of the 20th century, Fanad Head Lighthouse saw further technological updates. In 1940, the lighthouse was electrified, replacing the earlier oil lamps.

In 1969, Fanad Head became the land base for helicopter reliefs to Tory Island and Inishtrahull Lighthouses, improving working conditions and reducing overdue reliefs for keepers.

Fanad at sunset

The lighting apparatus was replaced in 1975, and the light was converted to unwatched electricity. Its character was altered to five white and red flashes every 20 seconds. The light over the Limeburner Rock was discontinued in 1977, and another red sector in the main light replaced this over the Swilly Rocks.

In early 1978, the station became a Principal Keeper station, and the Assistant Keeper was transferred. On his retirement on 30th September 1983, Fanad Head Lighthouse was automated with an Attendant in service.

Fanad Head Lighthouse has become a popular tourist attraction in the years following automation. Its picturesque location on the Fanad Peninsula draws plenty of visitors. It is one of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland.


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Established: 1817, current tower 1886
Tower Height: 22 metres
Light Character: Fl (5) W R 20 s
Light Range: W 18 miles, R 14 miles
Elevation: 39 metres
Automated: 1983