An Irishwoman’s Diary on lighthouses – beacons for artists and tourists

Shining lights

 Fergal McCarthy’s seven-metre replica of Dublin’s Northbank Lighthouse, part of the “Home\Sick” exhibition at the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Fergal McCarthy’s seven-metre replica of Dublin’s Northbank Lighthouse, part of the “Home\Sick” exhibition at the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


As children who spent the summer holidays in Passage East we were acutely aware of the tidal nature of the river Suir, the eternal passage of ships along the estuary and the pulsing beam of the Hook Lighthouse far off in the distance. It stood on the most south-easterly tip of Co Wexford and its light was steady and true. The fishermen always had it in their sights as they headed out to sea or came home on the tide.

To us it was the region’s silent guardian, all alone at the edge of our known world, a beacon of strength and illumination. In our juvenile minds it warded off evil.

When we walked up the hill to the chapel in Crooke on Sunday mornings we heard how Cromwell had threatened to lay siege to a local stronghold, promising to take it by Hook or by Crooke, and thus coining the famous phrase.


Hook Lighthouse is believed to be the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. There has been a light on Hook Head since the fifth century.

Light-keeping families used to live there, maintaining and fuelling the light with paraffin in the early days. Before that it was fuelled by coal. In 1971, the light was connected up to electricity.

It was automated in 1991 and is now controlled via a link with the Commissioners of Irish Lights in Dún Laoghaire.

What is it about lighthouses that can transfix us, ignite us and stoke our deepest memories?

Artist Fergal McCarthy’s seven-metre replica of Dublin’s Northbank Lighthouse, which currently stands in the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin as part of the “Home\Sick” exhibition, is also testament to the eternal allure and beauty of lighthouses.

McCarthy set himself the task of creating this beautiful replica, complete with a flashing green light that casts a beam across the capital’s Pearse Street every night from dusk until midnight. The lighthouse is accessible via a ladder and inside it is furnished as a working studio for visitors to interact with and make work exploring the theme of home.

The Northbank Lighthouse itself sits at the entrance to Dublin at the mouth of the Liffey. It has been guiding travellers home since 1882.

“It’s an incredibly beautiful structure, resembling a giant mailbox on stilts”, says McCarthy, who has been fascinated for several years by the sight of the Northbank Lighthouse at the mouth of the Liffey estuary.


The scheme will involve the establishment of the individual lighthouses as visitor attractions and specialist self-catering accommodation.

On this all-round Ireland trail you’ll find the spectacular Hook. But also along the southern coast the chain of mighty lighthouses will include Ballycotton and Galley Head. Further along the western seaboard, you’ll be able to visit Valentia Island in Co Kerry, Loop Head in Co Clare and Clare Island in Co Mayo. The dozen also includes St John’s Point Lighthouse and Fanad Head Lighthouse in Co Donegal, Rathlin West Light and Blackhead Lighthouse in Co Antrim, St John’s Point in Co Down and Wicklow Head in Co Wicklow.


A powerful infusion of energy is promised to anyone who ventures out to experience the raw power and exhilaration of these stalwart buildings. For those wishing to visit or to enquire further go to For information about the exhibition in the Science Gallery go to