The signal goes out to open up Irish lighthouses as berths for tourists
Ever want to get away from the rat race and take refuge in a lighthouse with the seabirds chirping outside and the surf booming far below?
Now you might just get your chance, as the Commissioners for Irish Lights (CIL) have announced plans to throw open the doors of some of their lighthouses as tourist attractions.
CIL looks after 75 lighthouses around the coast of Ireland, all of which are now automated and unmanned.
But even though the lighthouse keepers are long gone, an all-Ireland €2.5m plan proposes opening up their former cottages to tourists.
Six sites in the Republic are already offering tourist accommodation but the eventual plan is to have 15-20 lighthouses operating as part of an EU-funded All Island Lighthouse Trail.
The plan, announced at Blackhead Lighthouse in Whitehead, Co Antrim, yesterday is for an initial phase of five lighthouses to be opened up – three of them dotted around Northern Ireland's coastline.
Visitor facilities will be developed at Blackhead Lighthouse, St John's Lighthouse near Killough and West Lighthouse on Rathlin with the co-operation of the RSPB, which is also developing facilities for watching seabirds nesting on the spectacular cliffs.
The Blackhead Lighthouse was built in 1902 and originally painted red, but was changed to white in 1929.
It was converted to electricity in 1965 and the fog signal discontinued in February 1972.
In 1975 the lightkeepers were withdrawn and since then it has been in the care of a part-time attendant.
The West Lighthouse on Rathlin was completed in 1916 and the lightkeeper was withdrawn in 1983 after it was converted from a manned paraffin light to an unwatched electric.
The lighthouse at St John's Point in Co Down is the oldest of the three and its foundation stone was laid by the Marquis of Downshire.
The lighthouse was established in 1844, but its height was later increased to 102ft. The keepers were withdrawn in 1981 and a part-time attendant appointed.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: "This wonderful initiative is being spearheaded by the Commissioners for Irish Lights and supported by all of the tourism and development authorities on the island, as well as the Special EU Programmes Body.
"Many of our local lighthouses are historic buildings that play an important role in coastal navigation.
"Not only do they stand as tall reminders of our proud maritime history, but they also offer significant tourism potential."
The Republic's Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: "I am delighted to be in Co Antrim launching this innovative project with Minister Foster, which has great tourism potential. In this 'Gathering' year it's fitting that these beautiful working lighthouses will also welcome visitors to Ireland, at sea and now on land.
"This is a very clever way of utilising a precious asset to grow our tourism industry, create new jobs and provide something truly unique."
Yvonne Shields, chief executive of the Commissioners for Irish Lights, said lighthouses "by their very nature are connecting points between land and sea".
"They continue to play a very important role in the provision of our maritime safety services," she added.
Northern Ireland's 13 lighthouses are:
Angus Rock Lighthouse, Strangford;
Ardglass Pier Lighthouse;
Dunluce Centre Lighthouse, Portrush;
Ferris Point Light, Larne;
Mew Island Light;
Rathlin East Light;
Rue Point Lighthouse on Rathlin.
e Lighthouses open to tourists:
West Lighthouse on Rathlin; St John's Point Lighthouse, Co Down; Blackhead Lighthouse, Whitehead, Co Antrim.