St John’s Point Lighthouse, Down

St Johns Point Lighthouse
Photo: Patrick Tubby

St John’s Point Lighthouse is located at the southern end of the Lecale peninsula in County Down, across the bay from Newcastle to the west and Killough to the east. It is the tallest mainland lighthouse in Ireland and warns vessels of the dangerous shore of Dundrum Bay.

The Cape’s name is derived from a church dedicated to St John in 1170. The nearby harbour at Killough in the early 18th and 19th centuries increased the need for a beacon to be constructed on this coast. Approval for its construction was granted in 1839 by the Ballast Board. Captain P R Browne was the contractor, and the Marquis of Downshire laid the foundation stone. Although work progressed well, the light’s commissioning was delayed.

St John's Point Lighthouse

The 45 feet high tower had two small cottages. The cottages were designed by George Halpin, Inspector of Works for the Ballast Board.

A boat landing stage was cut into the rock nearby to the southeast for boats to land.

Lantern at St Johns
Photo: Patrick Tubby

The light was established on 1st May 1844, displaying an occulting character, and was changed from white to red on 1st July 1860.

An on-site gas works were set up at the station in 1875, so gas was manufactured on-site to replace the oil supply. Between 1891 and 1893, the tower’s height was increased to 120 feet to increase the range.

Fog signal
Photo: Patrick Tubby

A fog signal and subsidiary light over Dundrum Bay were established in July 1893. The subsidiary light shone from the third-floor window of the tower showing a fixed light with red and white sectors. An engine house was built for the fog signal, and two extra dwellings were also built to house the additional staff required. This was overseen by the Board’s Engineer, William Douglass.

Subsidiary light
Subsidiary light
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Three black bands were added to the tower in 1902, and the gas burners were upgraded. In 1908 a huge bi-form optic was installed, and incandescent paraffin vapour burners replaced the gas burners. The light character changed from red to white with a character of two flashes every 75 seconds. The subsidiary light was also converted to a paraffin vapour burner in October 1910.

In 1954 the two yellow bands were added, and the accommodation and subsidiary light was electrified and renovated. 

An electric fog horn replaced the siren in 1981, and this was discontinued on 11th January 2011.

Fog horns
Photo: Patrick Tubby

St John’s Point Lighthouse was automated on 31st May 1981. The following year the subsidiary light was changed to flashing white and red every 3 seconds.

Irish playwright Brendan Behan was employed as a painter at the lighthouse. But the keeper Mr Blakely complained that he was not “amenable to any law and order”. Despite his protests, Behan was hired the following year again for work.

Lighthouse and cottages

The Irish Landmark Trust now owns the accommodation. In 2021/22, further modernisation works were planned, including an upgrade to the power system. This included removing the mercury from the optic but retaining the existing optic and upgrading the lighting system.

St John’s Point is accessible, but the lighthouse compound is private, and the cottages’ privacy should be respected.

Established: 1844
Engineer: George Halpin Snr
Tower Height: 40 metres
Light Character: QFl (2) W 7.5 s
Light Range: 25 miles
Elevation: 37 metres
Automated: May 1981