Up until the 1980s, the arduous and noble task of manning one of Ireland’s lighthouses was left to a few dozen men dispersed along the rugged coast of the green island. Now, 12 of Ireland’s great lighthouses have opened their doors to travellers. And through the open doors, hundreds of years of history have unfurled.

In Salutem Omnium is the motto of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Meaning ‘for the safety of all’ it refers to former times when Ireland’s lighthouses were responsible for the everyday safety of hundreds of seamen.

Each lighthouse has its own distinctive colour and light, so that seafarers could navigate their way by day or night. One flash every two seconds could mean that you’re near Valentia Island off the coast of Kerry, four flashes every 20 seconds would mean that you are further up the coast approaching Loop Head.

Hundreds of years of history have unfurled

Before 2012, when the final lighthouse was automated, there were always three keepers whose main job was to ‘keep a good light’ and who divided their duty into six four-hour watches. Their main fear was fog. If the weather looked foggy, watches were doubled – one guard operated the foghorn and the other tended the light. If it was really bad, then they’d sound the deafening signal.

Unfortunately this did not always work, and there have been an estimated 15,000 shipwrecks around the rocky coasts of Ireland. Perhaps these lost lives are what add a ghostly allure to many of these properties – some say that a few of the lighthouses are haunted – one guest reported tapping at her window even though she was high up and another the mysterious appearance of wet footsteps on the bathroom floor the next morning.

Haunted or not, the stories spanning hundreds of years permeate the very foundations of each lighthouse. Even if you don’t find the time to discover the tales, you will undoubtedly feel their weight.

St. John's Point, Donegal

Looming at the end of one of Ireland’s longest peninsulas, above the almost pink sands of Coral Beach, St John’s Point is a springboard for the adventurous with famously clear diving waters at hand.

Ballycotton, Cork

Situated on the steep slopes of Ballycotton Island, the unspoilt setting of this lighthouse provides magnificent views – a backdrop for the legendary tales of those who have manned it.

Wicklow Head, Wicklow

Wicklow Head has 109 steps to the kitchen on the top floor and octagonal-shaped rooms. Arched windows provide 360-degree views to the Irish sea and countryside, while white-washed walls create a minimalist and contemporary feel to the historical site.

Clare Island, Mayo

Perched high on the craggy cliffs, this heritage building, once a safety point for sailors, now offers stylish accommodation complete with sea views and home comforts.

Blackhead, Antrim

Ideal for an authentic experience, the lighthouse at Blackhead Antrim was constructed in the 19th century as a guide for all the ships in and out of Belfast Lough ( including the Titanic) and has been restored to its former glory by the Irish Landmark Trust.

Fanad Head, Donegal

Voted the second most beautiful lighthouse in the world, Fanad Head lies on a rugged stretch of wild Atlantic coastline. The scenic route to get there is as stunning as the view from the top.

Galley Head, Cork

Dating back to the heyday of lighthouse building in 1875, Galley Head lighthouse is rich with history – from the tragedy of Lusitania in 1915 to the supposed inspiration for Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn. HOOK, WEXFORD Heritage runs deep at the Hook Lighthouse – it is the oldest in the world and was inhabited in the 6th century by a monk. Enjoy panoramic views and secluded beaches.

Rathlin West Light, Antrim

Ireland’s only upside-down lighthouse is situated 11 miles from the infamous Mull of Kintyre. It is a prime spot for wildlife and nature lovers and is host to the largest sea bird colony in the UK.

Valentia Island, Kerry

Valentia Island was originally home to a Cromwell Feetwood Fort and is believed to have been built in the 16th century. At the lighthouse, the outline of the fort with its bastions and barracks on the inside walls can still be easily traced.

Loop Head, Clare

As an important navigational point, a stay at Loop Head is an original rural Irish experience. The no-frills self-catering accommodation features a rustic open-fire and is short boat trip away from the Gaelic-speaking Aran Islands.

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