There are a few St. John’s Point Lighthouses to be found in Ulster, but none match the beauty that the Donegal one possesses. The lighthouse is used as a harbour light to guide from Donegal Bay and is used to also mark the north side of the bay leading to Killybegs harbour from the entrance to Rotten Island.
Along with this magnificent structure you will find everything from standing stones to an old abbey in the vicinity. The coastline of Sligo and Mayo lies to the south of St John’s Point.
On the coastline you will find the island of Inishmurray which is rich in archaeological remains and Streedagh Point which played a pivotal part in the Spanish Armada.
To the west you can find the beautiful sea cliffs of Sliabh League and to the east you can see past Doorin Point towards Donegal town.
The history of the lighthouse dates back to the early 1800s. The Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (also known as the Ballast Board) received a memorial on 24th February 1825. It had been signed by merchants and traders from what was then and still is the largest fishing port in County Donegal – Killybegs.
Their requested was that a light was affixed to St John’s Point. The move was held up by red tape and only got given the go ahead in April 1829, with Trinity House providing the statutory seal of approval needed one month later.
The tower itself is built from cut granite and was designed by the Board’s Inspector of Works and Lighthouses – George Halpin – and it was under his supervision that the board’s workmen erected St John’s Point Lighthouse.
The tower, painted in a classic white, had a first order catoptric fixed light which stood 98 feet above high water with a clear weather visibility of 14 miles. The light was first exhibited before the completion of the lighthouse on the 4th November 1831. The lighthouse wasn’t completed until the tail end of 1833 and the finished result came to a total of £10,507.
Although at the time that was a considerable outlay for any structure it proved to be a wise investment with the original structure still standing firm and only minor improvements needed since to modernise the landmark.
The lighthouse moved to an automatic unwatched operation on 30th November 1932 while it converted to electric using ESB utility mains with a diesel generator on standby on the 24th September 1962.
Killybegs harbour remains the largest fishing port in Donegal with large Irish and International trawlers coming and going daily.