The Building of Fanad Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse was proposed in response to a maritime tragedy –the wrecking of HMS Saldanha in Lough Swilly. On the night of 4th December 1811, the Saldanha –a Royal Navy frigate – struck rocks near Fanad Head during a violent storm and ran aground at Ballymastocker Bay. Over 250 souls were lost, including the young Captain William Pakenham. The only survivor is said to have been the ship’s parrot, who was shot down a few weeks later. An inscription on his collar showed he had belonged to Captain Pakenham.

Snoiteán Clocha le: Caite Fealty
Snoiteán Clocha le: Caite Fealty

A New Design

Soon after the Saldanha was wrecked Captain Hill of the Royal Navy in Derry wrote to a member of the Ballast Board suggesting that a lighthouse should be built at Fannet Point, as Fanad Head was then known. The Saldanha would not have been wrecked, he insisted, if there had been a lighthouse at the entrance to Lough Swilly. Permission was granted and work began in 1815 with a budget of £2,000.

The lighthouse was designed by George Halpin, one of the prominent civil engineers of the era.The light was first lit on Saint Patrick’s Day 1817, using sperm oil wick lamps and parabolic reflectors, showing red to the Atlantic and white to Lough Swilly.

By the 1870s, following an initial request from the Duke of Abercorn, investigations were being made into how the light at Fanad could be improved. The height of the tower was sufficient to light up the Swilly side, but it needed more height to be seen better from the Atlantic. And so, a new, higher tower was built, and commenced operations on 1 September 1886.

Another significant development at Fanad Lighthouse was the construction of the helipad in 1969. This was to enable relief services to the island lighthouses at Tory and Inishtrahull. Nowadays the helipad is used only very seldomly by Coastguard or Army helicopters.

Lighthouse poster
created by dji camera


Covid-19 Update

We are now open! The visitor centre will be open on Saturdays and Sundays in May 2021 and we will publish our full summer schedule shortly. Once again, due to COVID restrictions we will be offering grounds only tickets in May, followed by self-guided tours of grounds and indoor spaces from June. Accommodation will be open again from the beginning of June. For queries, contact

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