South Rock Lighthouse is located off the fishing village of Portavogie on the Ards Peninsula.
There have been two lighthouses marking South Rock.
South Rock Lighthouse was originally named the Kilwarlin Lighthouse in honour of Lord Kilwarlin. Lord Kilwarlin, Second Marquis of Downshire, was granted £1,400 to help with the building of a lighthouse on the South Rock. The grant was obtained in 1783, but it took a few further years until construction began.
The lighthouse was designed by Thomas Rogers and built in 1797. It was the oldest wave-washed lighthouse in Ireland, standing at 600 feet high. Only Eddystone and Bell Rock Lighthouses had been built earlier.
The light was first exhibited on 25th March 1797. The keepers sounded A fog bell in poor visibility every half hour.
Work began on its construction in September 1793. Stone blocks from Wexford were meant to be used, but this was abandoned when the first supply vessel sank en route and the second was driven off course. It was then decided to use a local quarry near Newcastle.
They were based in Newcastle on the Ards Peninsula. A masonry platform and short quay were built, and construction materials were transported out to the rock.
The lighthouse was operational for 80 years until it was replaced with the South Rock Lightvessel on 1st April 1877. It was then abandoned and became an unlit beacon.
South Rock Lightvessel was located around 2 miles east of the Kilwarlin light. The South Rock Lightvessel was automated, and the crew left on 31st March 1982.
The lightvessel was originally painted black with a white stripe, and a radio beacon for use during fog was installed. In 1955 the colour of the vessel was changed to red.
In 1977 a foreign vessel mistook South Rock for Killantringan Lighthouse, on the Dumfries and Galloway coast, as the lights were identical. So later that year, the colour of the light was changed from white to red.
The lightvessel was replaced with an automatic vessel on 14th July 1981.
The former shore station for the keepers and their families is at Newcastle on the Ards Peninsula. Three houses were built in 1820, and a fourth in 1863. After the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1877 off duty crew members of the South Rock Lightvessel were housed there. The accommodation is now privately owned.
Located off Portavogie, the beacon is only accessible by boat but visible from the shoreline. It is visible from the village of Kearney.