Belfast Telegraph

Rathlin's 'upside down lighthouse' marks century of illumination

Rathlin West Light now
Rathlin West Light now
During construction between 1912 and 1919
A great spot to watch sea birds from
RSPB warden Liam McFaul

By Allan Preston

An 'upside down' lighthouse built into a Rathlin Island cliff has marked a century of service.

Rathlin West Light was first illuminated on March 10, 1919 and today the red light still functions and can be seen for 23 nautical miles.

Doubling as the home of a seabird centre for the RSPB, a record 24,000 visitors from around the world flocked to the famous landmark last year.

With the adjacent cliffs featuring the largest seabird colony in Northern Ireland, the stunning setting is home to the Rathlin puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars.

Constructed on the cliff face between 1912-19, the light was given the unusual place at the bottom of the lighthouse in order to cut through the dense, low fog that can surround the island.

The light first shone out into the north Atlantic in 1919, and lighthouse keepers kept a watch on the seas until the beam was automated in 1983.

Every night the light is still used, as well as in poor visibility during daylight hours. Incredibly, the rotating lens is the original bronze structure of 100 years ago.

RSPB Rathlin warden Liam McFaul's brother John is still an attendant today and their grandfather Daniel helped with the construction a century ago.

"For centuries Rathlin has been notorious for shipwrecks," he said.

"It's just an island sitting in the middle of the north channel where a lot of shipping comes through and the waves can be vicious."

The construction required materials to be shipped in and transported to the top of the cliff using a railway and horse winches.

"My grandfather Daniel was involved in the transportation. He owned a farm with horses next to where the lighthouse was being built so he was a haulier of the day.

"The feat of engineering there is just amazing."

He added: "Lighthouses still have their function today but in those days it was a vital navigational aid for ships."

The seabird centre opens to visitors from April 1 to September 15, and the RSPB is seeking new volunteers.

"The seabird colony is spectacular round there, so it's nearly like a purpose-built platform. The visitors get these amazing views," said Liam.

Hazel Watson is the RSPB Rathlin Visitor Experience Manager.

"It's lovely for us to be welcoming people to the West Light in what is a centenary celebration year for the stunning lighthouse," she said.

"We are getting busier and busier each year, so we would love residential volunteers to join us in April and May."

For further information visit www.rspb.org.uk/VolunteerRathlin

Belfast Telegraph

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