There are references to a lighted beacon at the Old Head in pre-Christian times. The first lighthouse, proper, with a design unique to Ireland, was a cottage-type, with an open coal fire in a brazier on its roof – you will pass its runs on the way out to the Lighthouse. It was one of only six such lighthouses built around the Irish coast by Sir Robert Reading under letters patent granted to him in 1665. In 1804 Thomas Rogers was contracted to construct a temporary six foot diameter lantern with twelve oil lamps and reflectors to replace the coal fire. In 1810 the Corporation for Preserving and improving the Port of Dublin (later becoming the Commissioners of Irish Lights) were charged with the maintenance of existing lighthouses and the establishment of a reliable national coast lighting infrastructure. Two years later the Corporation’s Inspector of Lighthouses, George Halpin, reported on the poor state of the temporary light at the Old Head. A new lighthouse (across the road from the bazier ruins) was built in 1814. The tower was 12.8 meters (42Feet) high with a concentric building around the base to house the Keepers. The light was provided by 27 Argand oil lamps, each having a parabolic reflector. The fixed white light was 89.6 meters (294 feet) above sea level and in clear weather had a range of 23 miles.
The light was frequently obscured by fog or low cloud so it was decided to build a new lighthouse on the point of the headland. This was built by the Corporation’s tradesmen under Halpin’s supervision and completed in 1853. The 1814 tower was then partially demolished.
In 1867 the Commissioners of Irish Lights came into being and took responsibility for the coastal Lighthouses. In 1893 three cannons were installed as a fog signal and a fog signal man joined the two keepers. In 1907 a new lantern with a revolving bi-form first order optic with an incandescent vaporised paraffin burner and clockwork rotation machine was installed. This apparatus provided a double flash every 10 seconds. The tower was originally painted white with two red bands. In 1930 the tower was painted black with two white bands as it is now. In 1972 the light was converted to electric and the explosive fog signal was changed to a siren. A standby generator was also installed. In 1974 when the Daunt Lightship was withdrawn, a radio beacon was installed at the Old Head. In 1985 the fog siren was replaced by an electric horn controlled by a videograph fog detector. The fog signal was disestablished in 2011. Ub 1987 the lighthouse was automated and the Keepers withdrawn. Since then the Lighthouse has been in the care of a part time Attendant. For further information on the Commissioners of Irish Lights and Aids to Navigation see www.cil.ie
By Jerome Lordan