Portpatrick Lighthouse guards the harbour at Portpatrick, along the west coast of the Rhinns of Galloway.
Being the closest harbour to Ireland, the village of Portpatrick developed into a vital mail boat route. For a time, Portpatrick filled a similar role to Gretna Green. Irish couples would escape from Donaghadee to get married in the village. Couples were said to have their ceremony and be back on the boat within an hour!
In 1774 a pier was built on the southern side of the harbour. This served boats crossing to Ireland, and a lighthouse was built at the end of the pier.
Robert Stevenson visited Portpatrick Lighthouse in 1792. He was sent to supervise the installation of a reflector light. This is thought to be the first independent task set by his tutor and father-in-law, Thomas Smith. Smith had heightened the lighthouse two years before.
By 1819 improvements were needed, and Sir John Rennie drew up plans for a larger harbour. Work on this extension began in 1821, and the southern pier extended from the previous 1774 pier, at the end of which a new 46ft high lighthouse was built. The pier was completed in 1836, and in September of the same year, the Treasury asked the Commissioners to take charge of the new lighthouse.
Alan Stevenson carried out an inspection in November 1836 on the old light, which had been in use for over 30 years and the new lighthouse on the southern extremity of the new pier. He also commented on the lack of accommodation close to the lighthouse for the Lighthouse Keeper.
In westerly gales, it was impossible to approach the tower around high water. Stevenson disapproved of the fixed light and installed a temporary apparatus until a new optic was obtained from Paris.
The temporary light was installed and remained in use until 7th January 1839, when a violent storm undermined the foundation of the south pier, threatening the new lighthouse’s structure. The storm caused a great deal of damage to the lighthouse and other property in the harbour. In addition, there were several shipwrecks.
Pressure was applied to relight the pierhead light. But the Commissioners disagreed due to the poor state of the building, and the inner light was not suitable. By 1845 however, they had made repairs to the pier head.
By 1852 The Commissioners decided to discontinue the pierhead lighthouse from 1st January 1853, and the building was handed over to the Portpatrick Commissioners to whom it belonged.
With further pressure from interested parties, in 1856, the Portpatrick Harbour Commissioners decided that the light should be re-established, and Mr J Beggs was appointed as the lightkeeper.
A railway station arrived in Portpatrick in 1861, and this terminus was built to serve the steam packet services. Soon afterwards, the Irish Packet Boat service moved to Stranraer. By 1875 the railway had been discontinued, and the Stranraer line closed by 1950. Despite this decline, Portpatrick began to grow as a popular resort as it still is today.
Under the Harbours Transfers Act 1862, the lighthouses were taken over by the Board of Trade. As a result, on 1st April 1870, the NLB once again took over the responsibility of the old harbour light, which is still in existence. Mr Beggs was retained as the lighthouse keeper. A house close to the lighthouse tower was obtained from the Board of Trade and converted into accommodation for the Lighthouse Keeper, along with a storehouse.
By 1873 the mail packets were no longer using Portpatrick, and the Board of Trade ended their responsibility for the harbour. Shortly afterwards, the tower at the end of the south pier was removed, and it is thought that Trinity House took the stones to the Trinity House Depot at Holyhead.
In February 1900, the Board of Trade agreed to decommission the lighthouse. It was officially discontinued on 1st October 1900, when Killantringan Lighthouse was established. Retired Keeper George Edgar rented the house until his death in 1907. Following his death, his daughter lived at the lighthouse until Mr J Beggs bought it in April 1908.
In September 1910, the Parish Council asked if they could use the lighthouse to display a light inland. The NLB allowed them to continue to use the tower, and the Council was still using it in 1920. The cottages and towers have since been sold off and are now privately owned.
The lighthouse stands alongside the former keeper’s cottage and Lighthouse Pottery, which sells a range of arts and gifts.
The inner harbour marks the start of the Southern Upland Way, a long-distance walk to the east coast of Scotland to Cockburnspath. Killantringan Lighthouse is located a few miles along the coast on the route.