E-Bulletin June 2024

Great Lighthouses of Ireland

Great Lighthouses of Ireland is a collaborative tourism initiative developed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights in recognition of the need to protect its Aids to Navigation heritage and enable the development of sustainable tourism in coastal locations in Ireland. The initiative facilitates the innovative use of lighthouse heritage, with a mix of visitors’ centres, boat tours and accommodation along with stories of people, places and technologies that have protected Ireland’s coasts past and present.

Launched in 2015, Great Lighthouses of Ireland is a key part of Irish Lights’ strategy ‘Safe Seas-Connected Coasts.’ This strategy focuses on working with others to protect and share Ireland’s maritime history, support local communities, and create sustainable tourism experiences. One way this has been done is done by repurposing coastal infrastructure, such as former dwellings or lighthouse keepers’ cottages and other properties that are no longer in use, into tourist attractions in collaboration with local authorities, community groups and government agencies.

The project began in 2012 with an investment of €2.56 million from the EU INTERREG IVA Programme Fund. This funding helped restore five lighthouses on Ireland’s northern coast and created the brand ‘Great Lighthouses of Ireland.’ The initiative is now an all-Ireland initiative and includes sixteen lighthouse sites, offering visitors unique and memorable experiences while highlighting Ireland’s maritime history.

Economic Impact and Community Benefits

Irish Lights recognised the importance of working with third parties to lead coastal community programmes that deliver meaningful social and economic outcomes for all stakeholders. The initiative is aligned with government policy in tourism, heritage, and rural development in Ireland. Great Lighthouses of Ireland is an important tourism initiative to create long-term economic and employment opportunities for coastal communities, often in isolated areas.

The most recent independent economic survey conducted in April 2019 showed that Great Lighthouses of Ireland delivered an estimated €16.8m economic benefit in under four years and supported over 400 jobs. In 2022, overnight stays in lighthouses rose to an occupancy rate of 74% (up from 46% in 2019 pre-Covid). This represents an increase of over 1,600 overnights up to 4,350. In total, over 350,000 people visited lighthouses and lighthouse tourism experiences in 2022.

Enhancing the Visitor Experience

As part of future plans, and linked with tourism policy in Ireland, Irish Lights worked with Fáilte Ireland (Ireland’s National Tourism Development Authority) on research. The output from this resulted in international benchmarking Lighthouse Tourism research which revealed opportunities for designing more products similar to Great Lighthouses of Ireland, aligned to their strategic plans, which aims to leverage the appeal of lighthouses for the benefit of the visitor, wider destination, and community. This will include an assessment of the potential for further development of the visitor experience to include year-round outdoor activities and experiences at key coastal sites, exploring the opportunity for including guided walks, cycling, boating, bird watching, wildlife watching, photography, winter storm watching, eco-tourist related facilities, special events, etc.

In addition, Irish Lights and Great Lighthouses of Ireland is one of the founding members of an international lighthouse heritage and tourism partnership known as the EU Route of Lighthouses which is applying for the inclusion of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe programme. This will enable visitors to discover the rich and diverse heritage of Europe by bringing people and places together around a network of international lighthouses and a shared history and heritage. Other countries involved include Estonia, France, Germany, Norway and Portugal.

See here:

Founding Country            Organisation

Estonia                 Hiiumaa Tourist Board

France                   Phares de France (National Lighthouse Heritage)

Germany               Europäische Leuchtturm-Route (Lighthouse Tourism org)

Ireland                  Commissioners of Irish Lights (Great Lighthouses of Ireland)

Norway                 Lindesnes Lighthouse Museum

Portugal                 National Maritime Authority

The success of Great Lighthouses of Ireland is built on several key principles:

  • Partnership and Collaboration: Bringing together various coastal communities and organisations to create engaging visitor experiences centered around lighthouses.
  • Sustainability, Creativity, and Innovation: Establishing a reputation for being sustainable and innovative, recognised by funders and communities.
  • Integration with Other Tourism Routes: Making Great Lighthouses of Ireland a top attraction that fits well with other major Irish coastal tourism routes (like the Wild Atlantic Way, Causeway Coast, and Ireland’s Ancient East).

Irish Lights aims to build a sustainable economic model that benefits many, involving local authorities and community groups in this collaborative effort.

Celebrating Milestones and Future Plans

In 2025, Great Lighthouses of Ireland will celebrate its tenth anniversary.

To mark this occasion, Irish Lights will host an International Lighthouse Tourism & Heritage Conference on 7 and 8 October, 2025, at Dublin Castle. This will coincide with the IALA Sustainability Workshop taking place from

6-10 October, 2025, in Ireland.

The conference will be a platform for national and international partners to share ideas and plan for the future of lighthouse tourism and its impact on heritage and the economy, aiming to support the growth and sustainability of coastal communities and destinations. 

We look forward to welcoming our IALA colleagues and friends to Ireland.

For more information, visit:  



Map of Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
Rathlin West Lighthouse, Co Antrim.
St John’s Point Lighthouse, Co Down.
Galley Head Lighthouse, Co Cork.

Based on material kindly provided by Jane McGahern, Commercial Manager, Commissioners of Irish Lights.

Rapporteur: Paul Ridgway

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