Youghal Lighthouse

Youghal Lighthouse

Youghal Lighthouse is located at the entrance to Youghal Harbour.  It is next to the road overlooking the bay. 

In 1190, Maurice Fitzgerald built a light tower on the site where the current tower stands. The nuns from the Convent of St Anne maintained it. However, in 1542, the nuns’ community was dissolved, and the light was discontinued.

Capel Island

From here, about half a mile offshore, is Capel Island, with its tower that almost became a lighthouse in the mid-19th century.

At this time, the coast was not lit between Hook Head and Old Head of Kinsale. This stretch of coastline is hazardous, and more navigation lights were needed for the busy ports of Cork and Waterford. Roches Point Lighthouse was built in 1817 but was considered a harbour light, not a major one. 

Youghal was becoming a busy port in the 1820s, with trading in timber, coal and anthracite being imported.    Exports included wheat, oats, barley, flour, pigs, sheep, calves, bacon and butter, and fishing was also increasing.

Youghal Lighthouse from the beach
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Navigation off the coast of Youghal was hazardous, and 30 vessels had come to grief over a five-year period.

In 1828, Youghal merchant Thomas Harvey campaigned for the construction of a lighthouse. He had the support of local shipowners and mariners.

Harvey wanted a light on Capel Island, not where the previous tower had stood at Youghal. Irish Lights engineer George Halpin advised that Capel Island was not suitable for a lighthouse.  He recommended that a lighthouse should be built at the entrance to Youghal harbour. Arguments continued for more than twenty years about the best position for a lighthouse.

Halpin felt that lights should be built at Mine Head and Ballycotton and a harbour light at Youghal. However, following further pressure, Halpin was instructed to prepare plans for a light at Capel Island. This work started in April 1847. However, during its construction, the vessel Sirius ran aground on 16th January 1847 at Smith’s Rock, west of Ballycotton, in thick fog. 

Following the loss of the Sirius, the Ballast Board were advised to build two lighthouses to clear Smith’s Rock.  Plans were abandoned for Capel Island, even though work had already started. It was suggested that the partially built tower could be removed and rebuilt on Ballycotton Island.  This was quickly rejected, and a new lighthouse was commissioned. It was proposed to build a light at Ballycotton and the other either at Helvick Head of Mine Head.

Lighthouse at Youghal
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Youghal Harbour Lighthouse

Following further discussions, a light at Youghal Harbour was also sanctioned.  This was finally built on the site of the old convent Light Tower.  The Capel Island tower was finished off as a beacon, becoming the most expensive on the coast.

Work on the Youghal lighthouse tower began in 1848. Ballycotton and Mine Head Lighthouses were first lit on 1st June 1851, and Youghal was lit on 1st February 1852.

In 1906, schooner Annett was wrecked near Youghal, and following an enquiry, a newer, brighter light was recommended.   The lighthouse was converted to electricity in 1964.

Lighthouse at night
Photo: Patrick Tubby

Since 1870 a Tidal Light had been exhibited from a window in the tower two hours before high water and one hour after.  Mr Youdall was paid to maintain this light, but in 1916, it was reported that he was becoming too frail to continue.  The work passed to the principal keeper from then on. The lighthouse was automated in 1939.

The cottages were later sold privately and, more recently, renovated.  The modernised cottage was nominated for Home of the Year.

Light on
Photo: Patrick Tubby

In June 2021 plans were drawn up to create a glass-fronted viewing platform at the lighthouse and to create a visitor centre. 

Youghal Lighthouse is located next to the Youghal Eco Boardwalk, Ireland’s longest boardwalk.

Established: 1852
Engineer: George Halpin
Tower Height: 15 metres
Light Character: Fl W R 10 s
Light Range: White 12 miles, Red 9 miles
Elevation: 24 metres
Automated: 1939