Clare Island: 5 Things You Didn’t Know
Ever heard of a two-towered lighthouse?
Overlooking those invigorating Atlantic swells for over 200 years now, Clare Island Lighthouse stands firm on its County Mayo cliff edge. Boasting tales of wild weather, pirate queens and other regal origins, here are just five things you didn’t know about this terrific tower of light:
1. First Light
The original Clare Island Lighthouse was built in 1806 by the second Marquis of Sligo, Howe Peter Browne. That building only lasted until 1813 however, due to a fire caused by the then-common practice of throwing the smouldering ‘snuffings’ of oil-lamp wicks into a cask within the lantern.
2. Two Towers
As a result of the 1813 fire, Clare Island is home to Ireland’s only two-towered lighthouse. The lighthouse tower you see today was built in 1818 and stands a hefty 118m tall and 11m wide. The shorter original tower (without its lantern) sits just behind it. The 1818 lighthouse functioned as a vital beacon for almost 160 years.
3. Mayo Royalty
The Marquis of Sligo, who built the first Clare Island Lighthouse, was a direct descendent of infamous pirate queen Granuaile, also known as Grace O’Malley. This formidable 16th-century chieftain was the head of the O’Malley Clan and was renowned for breaking all conventions. She led her 200-strong army into battle, captained fleets of ships and successfully negotiated with the equally tenacious Queen Elizabeth I. Granuaile’s castle is still standing on Clare Island, just 4.5km from the lighthouse. The seafaring queen is also buried on the island, at the Cistercian Abbey, a quick 4.8km from the lighthouse itself.
4. Bolt from the Blue
Despite its perch overlooking Clew Bay and its changeable weather, Clare Island Lighthouse has enjoyed relatively smooth sailing in its lifespan. One dramatic incident in 1834 however saw the tower struck by lightning, giving the lightkeepers on duty quite the rude awakening!
5. Lights Out
After initial plans to automate Clare Island Lighthouse were set in motion in 1958, it was later decided due to the light often being obscured by fog and low cloud, to fully decommission it. A newly-built lighthouse on Achillbeg took over the role and on 29th September 1965 at 7.45am – after 159 years of illuminating service – Clare Island’s light was extinguished.
Watch island local Chris O’Grady speaking in 1993 about the 1965 loss of the lighthouse in this RTÉ Archives video.
Today, Clare Island Lighthouse is an immaculately-restored luxury B&B guesthouse, so you can still enjoy a snippet of lightkeeping life as it was back then – with added hospitality!