The Heritage Council
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There are 80 lighthouses in Ireland, all automated with 40 located offshore and 40 located on the mainland. Loop Head Lighthouse is located at the tip of the Loop Head Peninsula which is the furthest point west on the Clare coastline. The setting of the lighthouse is spectacular with the wild Atlantic coastline on one side contrasting with the sheltered Mouth of the Shannon on the other side. There has been a lighthouse at Loop Head since 1670. It was originally a signal fire on the roof of a single-storey cottage.
The present tower designed by George Halpin stands at 23 metres high. It was built in 1854 and was operated and maintained by a keeper who lived within the lighthouse compound. It is a free standing circular plan single bay, four stage lighthouse, surrounded by a metal framed blazed lantern with a metal walkway and cut limestone walls. The range of the light is 23 nautical miles and its signal is a white light flashing four times in 20 seconds. There is a walled enclosure around the lighthouse complex. The operation was converted to electricity in 1871. Brendan Garvey was the last lighthouse keeper to serve in the lighthouse. At various intervals Brendan spent a total of fifteen years as lighthouse keeper before the lighthouse went automatic in 1991. Since then, it is in the care of an attendant and is also monitored by the Commissioner of Lights from their base in Dun Laoghaire. Visitors can take a guided tour up the lighthouse during the tourist season.
At the edge of the peninsula, there is a sea stack known as Diarmuid & Grainne's rock, or Lover’s Leap. The mythical Diarmuid and Grainne were running around Ireland, trying to escape from Fionn, Grainne’s betrothed. The legend is that they spent a night on this rock. Loop Head was originally called Leap Head or Ceann Léime. This name goes back to the 9-10th century and originates with the folklore story of Cúchulainn. The hag or witch Mal was chasing Cúchulainn around Ireland. If she managed to touch him, he was to fall in love with her. In his efforts to prevent this and escape Mal, Cúchulainn jumped across to the sea stack and Mal followed. Cúchulainn jumped back to the mainland but Mal fell into the sea. Her body was said to have washed up at Hag’s Head near the Cliffs of Moher. There is also a connection with nearby town Milltown Malbay, called after Mal; whose blood it is said washed ashore there.
There is a restored EIRE sign located at Loop Head. During World War 2, there were 85 EIRE signs placed along the western Irish seaboard so that American and German pilots knew that there was passing over neutral territory. At the bequest of the Americans each sign was also given a number so that the pilots might know where exactly they were, an early GPS system. Loop Head is number 45. The EIRE sign at Loop Head was built on commonage land and unlike most of the others signs, was not dug up after the war.
There is also a coastal watch station at Loop Head where local men were employed to report on any sea or sky activity. These World War 2 lookout posts or LOPs were located 15km apart and there is a total of 83 of them in the country. Local people were employed at these LOPs as it was considered they were best placed to recognise any war activity in the sea or air that might affect neutral Ireland’s safety. In fact, one of the earliest phones in Ireland was installed at Loop Head so that messages could be relayed to coastal headquarters in Dublin on a daily basis.
In 1943, an aircraft, first spotted by the LOP at Loop Head contained John Francis O’Reilly (‘the flighty boy’) from nearby Kilkee town. He parachuted and landed near Kilkee but was questioned and arrested the next day at his family home. It turned out he was a spy for Nazi Germany during WW2 but never got to ‘spy’ and was sent to Arbour Hill Military Detention Barracks in Dublin until the end of the war. He escaped in 1944 but was recaptured, again at his family home in Kilkee when the bounty on his head was collected by his father no less. Quick thinking by John and his father, they realised that the military had never specified who could and could not collect the bounty. In 1940, John was working in Jersey Islands while occupied by the Germans. Looking for more work, he moved to Germany in 1941 working at a steel mill before joining the staff of Irland-Redaktion, the Irish section of the German propaganda broadcasting service where he himself broadcast back to neutral Ireland. From there he joined German Military Intelligence and started planning his return to Ireland by any means possible.
The maritime landscape at the tip of Loop Head results in the flora footprint being dominated by maritime plants. These include a variety of heathers. The pretty and delicate flora grows smaller here than in other places out of necessity to survive the exposed, windswept environment.
The geology at Loop Head is unique and draws geologist from all over the world to the area. The rocks at Loop Head represent the type section of the Upper Carboniferous Ross Sandstone Formation. This formation consists of alternating, parallel bedded sandstones and dark shale. The cliff-face rock formations on the southwest and north sides of the peninsula trace the evolution of a great river delta during the Upper Carboniferous Period, about 320 million years ago when Clare was located close to the equator and was part of the great land mass, Pangea.
Migrant and resident birds are attracted to Loop Head because of its mild Atlantic winters, an abundance of wetlands, rich feeding grounds and undisturbed coastal cliffs. The headland near the lighthouse is the end of major flyways of birds migrating south for the winter from North America, Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic. Over-wintering barnacle geese from Greenland, cormorants, great black-backed gulls and storm petrels can be observed. Autumn is by far the best time of year to visit this region for bird watching. Late July to early November are the most productive months. Regular passage migrants in the autumn include, Turtle Dove, Spotted & Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Black Redstart, Brambling, Snow and Lapland Buntings.
Site Recommendations and Observations
Acknowledging the fact that significant numbers of visitors already walk on Loop Head at present, it is recommended that a walking path be considered on Loop Head. There is significant potential for a high quality loop walk (s) on Loop Head whilst also ensuring that the local environment remains adequately protected.
While it is recognised that preventing people from walking in the area would be difficult, the provision of a walking path should help control and reduce the number of people walking in all directions and on more sensitive areas on Loop Head and should help provide more effective protection to the existing Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) on Loop Head. A variety of walking path sustainable solutions could be considered.
Loop Head lighthouse as with many paying tourist attractions such as Muckross House and Cliffs of Moher, a certain percentage of visitors do not pay for entry but enjoy the surrounding ‘free’ amenities. Therefore it is recommended that in addition to catering to and providing facilities (walking paths, seats, picnic table, etc) for those visitors who do not enter the lighthouse, the quantity of these annual visitors should also be surveyed and counted to gain a better insight into total visitor numbers and their experience at Loop Head.
Loop Head Lighthouse is closed for a period during the year. Tourists arriving in this off peak and shoulder season would like something to do and walking on Loop Head is an obvious activity.
The existing interpretation boards on Loop Head are focused primarily on bird life and are somewhat faded. It is recommended that these could be updated or supplemented with additional interpretation material from this project whilst ensuring that it compliments the official WAW interpretation proposals being undertaken by The Paul Hogarth Company. It is also recommended that a full review of all tourist and information signage be undertaken on Loop Head where all interested parties co-operate to optimise and minimise signage on Loop Head and avoid any duplication of signage.
It is recommended that the provision of additional parking should be considered during the peak season. Parking counts should also be undertaken during the peak season to confirm and quantify any additional parking requirements.
The following three statements apply to all site recommendations:
- ‘All proposals must comply with all planning, local authority and other statutory requirements.’
- ‘All proposals for development within, adjacent to or with the potential to affect a Natura 2000 site will be subject to an Appropriate Assessment Screening. To ensure that a Habitat Directive Assessment is carried out to assess the likely impacts on Natura 2000 sites in order to comply with Article 6(3) of the Habitat Directive and in accordance with the requirements of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011.’
- ‘All projects must be undertaken in accordance with the Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points Remedial Works Guidelines, including the Ecological Method Statement.’
Sources of Information
1) Interview with Stephen Rowen
2) Interview with Laura Foley
3) Interview with Ailish Connolly
4) Interview with Carmel Madigan
5) Interview with Martin McKeown
4) Online Research
Other Research and Facts
EIRE signs- http://eiremarkings.org/
Bird watching - http://www.clarebirdwatching.com/
Geology- Parkes, M., McAteer, C., & Engering, S., The Geological Heritage of Clare: An audit of County Geological Sites in Clare (2005). http://www.gsi.ie/NR/rdonlyres/A6A0DE5E-DE94-448E-922C-0E352BB91A65/0/Clare_section1.pdf