Haulbowline Lighthouse

Haulbowline Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Haulbowline Lighthouse stands at the entrance of Carlingford Lough, on the eastern side of the Haulbowline Rocks, which form part of a bar across the entrance to the lough. The lough separates Northern Ireland from the shores of the Republic of Ireland.  

The lighthouse is built on a low, wave-washed rock, exposed at low water, and originally it marked the rocks and the depth of water over the bar.

In 1817 applications were made to replace the lighthouse at Cranfield Point. Complaints were received that it was not adequately marking the channel and rocks at the entrance. Eventually, it collapsed in the early 1860s.

The tower is 112 feet high and was built in 1824 and designed by George Halpin. It is built on a semi-submerged rock surrounded by fast-flowing currents, and the rock is only exposed at low water. The lighthouse was originally painted white, but this reverted to a natural stone colour in 1946.

Haulbowline from Cranfield Rocks
Cranfield Point with Haulbowline Lighthouse in the background
by Eric Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A light was first exhibited on 1st September 1824, displaying a fixed white light, and a secondary light shone from on a seaward-facing balcony. This secondary light was known as half-tide light and was lit when there was sufficient depth for ships to enter the lough via the bar. In addition, a black ball was hoisted on a mast above the tower during the day to indicate the same, but this system stopped in 1922.

In 1899 the character changed from a fixed light to three white flashes every 30 seconds. In 1922 the character changed to three flashes every 10 seconds, which is still the case today.

A fog bell sounded every half minute in poor visibility. An explosive fog signal came into operation in September 1898, firing every ten minutes.

Haulbowline and Leading Lights
Haulbowline Front and Rear Range Lights viewed from Greencastle
Photo: Eric Jones CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Two leading lights are close by, Haulbowline Range Front at Vidal Bank and Haulbowline Range Rear at Green Island, which were established in 1873. When aligned, these form leading lights marking the safe channel, and Haulbowline displays a backup light. The Haulbowline Lighthouse Keepers were also responsible for these lights.

A red turning light and white standby light was displayed at the same time from the lower windows in the lighthouse tower in case of failure of the leading lights. 

From 1824 until 1922, the keepers lived at Cranfield Point until a new shore station was built at Greencastle. Both the Cranfield and Greencastle cottages are now privately owned.

Greencastle Cottages
The former shore station buildings at Greencastle
Photo: Patrick Tubby

In 1965 the lighthouse was made unwatched and converted to electric operation with a new lighting apparatus installed. Haulbowline became the first major Irish offshore lighthouse to be made completely automatic, and an Attendant at Greencastle was appointed.

The lighthouse was modernised in 1990, and in 1995 new optics were installed. The previous optic was upgraded and relocated to Mew Island during its automation.

The turning light was discontinued in July 2008, and the fog signal was discontinued on 8th January 2009.

In July 2011, the range was decreased to 10 miles, retaining its existing character of Fl (3) W 10s.

In August 2019, the lighthouse was illuminated to remember those who had died here. A coal ship collided with a passenger ferry from Greenore headed for Holyhead in 1916, with the loss of 97 people. The lighting also marked 195 years of the commissioning of Haulbowline Lighthouse.

Across the waters is Greenore, from where Greenore Lighthouse can be seen. Carlingford Ferry operates between Greencastle and Greenore in the Republic of Ireland at certain times during the year.

Cranfield Beach
Haulbowline Lighthouse from Cranfield Beach

The best place to view Haulbowline Lighthouse is from Cranfield Beach car park. The former Shore Station at Greencastle is at the end of Greencastle Pier Road, beyond the Carlingford ferry terminal. The former keepers’ accommodation is now in private ownership.

Haulbowline LighthouseEstablished: 1824 Discontinued: Engineer: George Halpin Snr Tower Height: 34 metres Light Character: Fl (3) W 10 s Range: 10 miles Fog Signal: Elevation: 32 metres Automated: 1965
Haulbowline Range Front (Vidal Bank)Established: Discontinued: Engineer: Tower Height: 8 metres Light Character: Oc W 3 s Range: 11 miles Fog Signal: Elevation: 7 metres Automated:
Haulbowline Range Rear (Green Island)Established: Discontinued: Engineer: Tower Height: 14 metres Light Character: Oc W 3 3s Range: 11 miles Fog Signal: Elevation: 13 metres Automated: