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Howth Harbor Lighthouse

The lighthouse guarding the entrance to Howth Harbor is undoubtedly a scenic delight. Here you have an old building that inherently epitomizes both the yearning to travel abroad and the home sickness you experience while doing so. It can be seen as a farewell and as a welcome. As a symbol of adventure travel, homecoming symbol. But for anyone interested in Irish history, it is also a symbol of Ireland’s struggle for independence, as a little plaque on the lighthouse will tell you.

So let’s take a look at the location and history of the building:

Howth Harbor Lighthouse: Unmissable by default

Anyone who fails to see the lighthouse on a visit to Howth Fishing and Recreation Harbor at the north end of Dublin Bay must either be legally blind, meander through thick fog, or worse, be fully focused on their smartphone and ignoring real life. Because the lighthouse is not only in a prominent position at the entrance to the harbor, it is also quite large and impressive (mainly due to its isolated location, one has to admit).

The latter attributes, large and impressive, are partly due to the dual purpose the lighthouse once served. Not only was it a beacon, it also had a sturdy circular wall, enclosing the position of a weapon. Because in the post-Napoleonic era of its construction, not all visitors were welcome to the new port, and the evil Johnny Foreigner (more than likely Jean l’Etranger, truth be told) was not allowed access to the port. In fact, when you visit the Howth Harbor Lighthouse and look around you, you will notice several defensive fortresses from the same period, the so-called Martello Towers, scattered around.

A Brief History of the Howth Harbor Lighthouse

One could say that the mighty lighthouse was a costly mistake, in the context of the much more costly mistake Howth Harbor itself was – only a fairly small pier existed here since the 17th century, used by local fishermen and as a convenient point to unload coal and supplies for Howth Head Lighthouse (later replaced by Baily Lighthouse). It was only around 1800 that it was decided that Howth would be a good alternative to the Pigeonhouse parcel station, and that a new port should be built here.

The foundation stone for the new Howth Harbor was laid in 1807, the granite stone used in construction was quarried locally (at Kilrock), the economy flourished. And it faltered almost immediately, as sand and mud proceeded to fill the harbor in record time, and maintaining sufficient depth for Holyhead (Wales) package ships proved to be a costly and never-ending endeavor. Too expensive to keep up. However, in January 1818 the lighthouse was completed, although the light was not turned on due to bureaucracy. So when the Post Master General of England decided that the parcels would stop at Howth from July of the same year (transferring that business to Dun Laoghaire), things got a bit hectic.

Mainly due to the fact that the “completed” headlight was not really up to scratch and improvements had to be made hasty. But finally, on July 1, 1818, a steady red light with twelve oil lamps came into operation. In a sturdy tower approximately 14.5 meters high and very similar to Rennie’s design that was already in operation near Holyhead. Only 18 years later, the Treasury raised the uncomfortable question of whether Howth Harbor Lighthouse needed to be illuminated, due to the loss of the packages to Dun Laoghaire.

Inspector Halpin, on behalf of the commissioners, argued that the Treasury did not provide funding and that Howth Harbor was still somehow useful as a port of refuge in emergencies. So they kept it on. With outdated technology.

Only after the Second World War, was electricity considered as a means of illumination. And finally installed: a 250-watt battery-powered lamp (constantly recharged by the mains) replaced the old oil lighting in early 1955. It lasted until 1982, as during the modernization of Howth Harbor, the lighthouse was effectively redundant by a mighty little new light tower on the East Pier extension. However, the Howth Harbor Lighthouse was preserved in its original form (but without light), it still serves as a day mark, a navigational aid in good condition.

Howth Harbor Lighthouse in Irish History

Howth Harbor Lighthouse became the scene of a momentous event when on July 26, 1914, author Erskine Childers (his “Riddle of the Sands” is still a first-class spy thriller) arrived here with supplies for volunteers. Irish. Illegal supplies. Sailing in his private yacht “Asgard”, Childers was indeed firing and brought a cache of weapons to Ireland. There is a slight irony in the fact that Childers had warned against a German invasion of England in his best-seller … but had sailed from Hamburg to Howth with German-supplied weapons, to be used against British forces.

And with history’s tendency to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, Childers was later executed for possession of an illegal weapon during the Irish Civil War. A pistol presented to him as a token of appreciation for his pistol activities.

Howth Harbour Lighthouse Essentials

  • Website : More information on Irish lighthouses can be found on the website of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
  • Directions : Howth Harbor Lighthouse is located at the end of Howth Harbor’s East Pier, but can also be viewed from the end of the shorter West Pier. This is the easiest access, as you can drive to the end of the West Pier (although not recommended on sunny weekends). The best idea is to park anywhere in Howth Harbor and walk along the East or West Pier (or, better yet, both) to get a good look at it. You can also have a great view of the entire Howth Harbor from the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey.
  • Public Transport : Howth Train Station (terminus for DART service) is listed near the West Pier and Dublin bus stops are close to the West and East Pier.

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