Wicklow Head Lighthouse

Wicklow Head

Wicklow Head Lighthouse is located southeast of Wicklow town. Several lighthouses have been on the headland since 1781.

The first two lighthouses were established at Wicklow Head on 1st September 1781, forming a pair of leading lights. One tower was built on Long Hill and was known as the Upper or Rear Light, and the other was the Lower or Front Light on the headland. Both towers were designed by John Trail and were lit using twenty candles in front of a large reflector.

Two octagonal stone towers were built to avoid confusion with the single lighthouses at Howth to the north and Hook Head to the south.

Old lights
Photo: Ruth Drinkwater

The Wicklow lights guided vessels between the offshore India Bank and Arklow Bank. They also assisted shipping traversing through the Swash, heading for Wicklow town or the channel to Dublin.

Due to its elevation, the rear light was often obscured in low clouds and was in a poor state of repair by 1810. Both lanterns were neglected by this time, and improvements were desperately needed.

The Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin had taken over the responsibility for the lights in 1810. However, it was not until 1816 that George Halpin Senior was given the go-ahead to oversee the construction of two replacement towers.

Old lighthouse

The two new towers were sited on the same bearing as the original 1781 buildings. The new upper lighthouse was 75 feet high and located near the old front tower. The new front tower was 45 feet high and built further down the cliff. Both towers were painted white. The original front tower from 1781 was subsequently demolished, and the upper tower was discontinued. The upper tower remained as a daymark.

The two new lights were first exhibited in November 1818. Each displayed a fixed light from 15 oil lamps with reflectors.

Current tower

On 10th October 1836, the old rear tower was hit by lightning, causing a fire that destroyed the lantern and internal floors. George Halpin recommended that the tower should have its roof repaired, but this was not carried out until 1866.

By the mid-19th century, there was mounting pressure to improve the south and southeastern approaches to Dublin. Following a review, the Wicklow Swash Lightvessel was stationed off Wicklow Head in 1865, displaying a fixed red light. The upper light on Wicklow Head was then discontinued.

At the same time, the lower light was improved, with a cast-iron lantern replacing the 1818 one, and a first-order dioptric lens was installed.

Current lighthouse

The Wicklow Swash Lightvessel remained in service until October 1867, when the North Arklow and Codling Lightvessels came into operation.

Wicklow lighthouse was converted to gas operation in January 1868, with purpose-built gas works established on site. Initially, oil produced the gas, but later, coal was burned to produce cannel gas.

The gas lighting was replaced by an incandescent paraffin vapour burner in 1906, and a third-order optic was installed.

Wicklow Head Lighthouse became a relieving station in October 1974 when the families were relocated. A modernisation programme then followed. A new watch room was built over the keepers’ quarters to monitor two new Lanbys (Large Automatic Navigation Buoys), which replaced the Codling and Arklow Lightvessels.

The lighthouse was electrified in March 1976, and in April 1978, a radio beacon was added. This radio beacon linked with six other radio beacons in the shipping area.

Wicklow Head Lighthouse
Photo: Ruth Drinkwater

in 1996, the Landmark Trust took on the lease of the original octagonal tower, which is now available for holiday accommodation.

Wicklow Harbour Lighthouse

Wicklow Harbour Lighthouse was established on the East Pier in 1884.

In 1976 the lantern dome was destroyed during a storm, and was rescued by fishermen. A replacement lantern was added to the tower, but was also destroyed.

Wicklow East Pier Lighthouse
Photo: Ruth Drinkwater

For a while the whereabouts of the original lantern were unknown, but it was later rediscovered and repaired and replaced.

In October 2023, the lighthouse dome was restored after almost 50 years.

Wicklow Harbour
Trevorquinn, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Established: 1781 (1), 1818 (2)
Tower Height: 14 metres (operational tower)
Light Character: Fl (3) W 15 s
Light Range: 18 miles
Elevation: 37 metres

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