Hook Head Lighthouse

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2023 Nominee

Location: IRELAND - South East. Wexford.

Lighthouse Operator: Commissioners of Irish Lights

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Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Commissioners of Irish Lights 2023)

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Commissioners of Irish Lights 2023)

The Hook Lighthouse is situated on Hook Head at the tip of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world. The tower of Hook was built by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, c 1210 to 1240 as a landmark and light tower. William Marshall, a knights templar, known as the greatest knight, built the lighthouse tower to protect and develop the shipping trade, which was so important in the 13th century.

It now marks
the eastern entrance to Waterford Harbour. It is a Category 1 Lighthouse with a Grad RLS 366 LED source, in a third order Fresnel lens, giving an 18 nautical mile range and has a characteristic two black bands on a white tower.

Hook Lighthouse is one of the most fascinating examples of medieval architecture in Ireland. The tower stands 35m hight and it’s 4 stories includes a
Coal Store, Liberty Hall and the Monastery, with walls up to four meters thick in parts. A spiral staircase, known as a mural staircase, was built within the walls and reaches up to the top of the lighthouse. The design of the tower is a round tower castle called a Keep. It is a broad cylindrical tower with double balcony and lantern.

Marshall granted the monks from the nearby monastery an annual allowance to act as custodians of the light, a task which they had performed for several centuries. The monks lived in the tower which served as a monastery as well as a lighthouse
until 1641.Traces of their chapel which projected to the east of the building still survive.

Coal gas replaced oil lamps in 1871 and lasted until 1910. On New Year’s Day 1911, a revolving third order 500mm focal distance optic replaced the dioptric lens, and vaporised paraffin took over from coal gas as the source of light; paraffin succumbed to electricity in 1972 when the intensity was
increased to 480,000 candelas. The duration of the flash was decreased to 0.11 seconds, the character being Fl W 3 secs.

Lightkeepers and their families lived at the lighthouse until 1977. The lighthouse was converted to electric operation in 1972 and automated in 1996.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Commissioners of Irish Lights 2023)

Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

Commissioners of Irish Lights (Irish Lights), the statutory lighthouse authority for the island of Ireland, operate over sixty-five lighthouses around the coast of Ireland, all of which continue to play a vital role in maritime safety. Hook Lighthouse being one of these is a unique building situated on Hook Head at the tip of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, on the South East coast of Ireland and marks the eastern entrance to Waterford Harbour at the mouth of the Three Sisters river system. It is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the world, after the Tower of Hercules in Spain and is a great example of a lighthouse that delivers outstanding universal value in the context of navigation safety and community enterprise whilst also being a monument to the “Anglo-Norman” period in Irish history.

The existing lighthouse tower dates from the 13th century, though tradition states that Dubhán, a missionary to the Wexford area, established a form of beacon as early as the 5th century. The headland is known in Irish as Rinn Dubháin, St. Dubhán’s Head. However, the similar-sounding Irish word ‘duán’ means a fish hook, hence the English name. It is known locally as “the Hook.” The tower was built by Strongbow’s son-in-law William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, who succeeded Strongbow as Lord of Leinster. Pembroke had established a port in the town of New Ross, approx. 30 km up river. In order for his new port to be successful and for ships to safely reach their destination, Pembroke had a 36m high tower built at the mouth of Waterford Harbour. The exact year of construction is not known, but Pembroke first came to the region in 1201 and the first map that shows the lighthouse serving its function is dated 1240, so construction must have taken place between these dates.

The first custodians to the light were a small group of monks whose small monastery was situated on the peninsula. The monks who lived at this monastery would have lit warning fires and beacons all through the years to warn sailors of the dangerous rocks on the peninsula. It was the monks who lived at this monastery in the 13th century that became the first light-keepers. They are also thought to have helped in the construction of the tower.

Hook Lighthouse is one of the most fascinating examples of medieval architecture in Ireland. The tower stands four stories high with walls up to 4m thick. The tower itself consists of three rib-vaulted chambers in the lower tier, while the upper, narrower section would have carried the warning beacon. These two tiers are connected with a mural (within the wall) stairway of 115 steps. The tower was constructed of local limestone and the original building survives intact. The first tier is 13m in diameter at the base and has three storeys, each with its original 13th-century stone fireplace. In the thickness of the wall there are a number of mural chambers, including two garderobes (toilets). The upper tier is 6m in diameter: originally it supported the beacon fire, which was later replaced by the lantern.

Fog signals were operated at the lighthouse as a warning to seafarers during dense fog which can suddenly descend on the peninsula. The fog signal was essential in days before radar and radio. Fog guns situated at the cliff edge were fired every 10 minutes. These were replaced by explosive charges set from the top of the tower on an extending arm. Finally, a compressed air horn (hooter) blasted every 45 seconds during fog.

The monks left the tower and were replaced by the first lighthouse keepers in the mid-17th century. In 1671, a new, but still coal-burning lantern was installed on top of the tower to replace the old beacon light. The coal fire was finally abandoned in 1791 when a whale oil-lantern 12 ft. in diameter with 12 lamps was installed. This continued until new gas lights were installed in 1871, lit by gas manufactured in the enclosure known as ‘the gas yard’. In the 1860s, three dwellings were built for the lighthouse keepers. Paraffin oil became the source of power in 1911, and a clockwork mechanism changed the light from fixed to flashing. This mechanism had to be wound up every 25 minutes by the keeper on duty. Finally, in 1972 electricity became the power source, and light-sensitive switches were installed to control the lantern. In March 1996, Hook Lighthouse was converted to automatic operation, and the last light-keepers who had climbed the stairs and tended the light were permanently withdrawn from the station. The lighthouse is now remotely controlled from Dún Laoghaire by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

In 2001 the lighthouse was opened to the public as a tourist attraction year-round after the old keepers’ houses were turned into a visitor centre (comprising a retail gift shop, café and bakery) and offers guided tours of the Medieval lighthouse tower which is still a fully operational Aid to Navigation today. Hook Lighthouse truly is one of a kind where visitors get a fascinating insight into the workings of the lighthouse combined with stories and facts of this unique building, past, present and future and topped off with spectacular views from the balcony.

In January 2011 the fog horn was heard for the last time as all the fog horns were turned off. It was felt that the technology on modern ships was so advanced that the fog horn was no longer required. In June 2011 the structure was placed first in a Lonely Planet piece listing the “Top 10 Flashiest Lighthouses”; the author described Hook Lighthouse as “The great granddaddy of lighthouses”.


In recent years the lighthouse has been upgraded to provide a modern 21st century Aid to Navigation. A low power LED light source has been fitted and the mercury on which the lens rotated has been replaced with a bearing mechanism. A Radar Beacon has been installed and all systems are remotely monitored by AIS. Power to the station comes from  AC mains, with  24V battery backup.

Apart from its primary purpose as an Aid to Navigation, the lighthouse now also includes a thriving visitor centre and restaurant, and hosts number of third-party communications operators.

An ongoing maintenance program is in place, including yearly maintenance routines, full painting every 5 years, and ongoing sympathetic repair or replacement of items such as windows and other fixtures.

Various interventions and innovations are being implemented to improve ventilation and conditioning, while year round guided tours ensure that the tower opened daily, which also improves ventilation.

Public Access and Education

Social Enterprise exemplar site

Prior to the automation of Hook Lighthouse in 1996, Hook Heritage Community enterprise was established in 1995 to operate Hook Lighthouse as tourism Visitor Attraction. It was officially opened in 2000 by the then President of Ireland Mary McAleese and is one of Irish Light’s Great Lighthouses of Ireland. Since opening it has become an International Tourist attraction, with over 250,000 visitors in 2019.

It operates as a social enterprise, employing over 30 local people during peak season whilst using as many local suppliers as possible and is part of the Wexford Food Family. The site is open all year round and hosts a series of events during year, starting with a special sunrise tour on New Years Day.

Sustainability Focus

The Hook Lighthouse Visitor Experience is committed to the ethos of sustainable tourism and strive to reduce any negative impact on the environment or local culture. In 2012, Hook Lighthouse implemented an environmental strategy that focuses on waste and energy reduction. All paper, cardboard, cans (tin and aluminium) plastic, glass, electrical waste and cloths, is recycled. As part of the recycling efforts onsite, glass is crushed into small particles that are then used by the resident artist.

Engaging Education

Eco Education on Climate Change

This is an additional visitor experience related to climate change, themed ‘save our seas’ which aims to raise awareness and promote clean living along Ireland’s spectacular coast. Located in the former machine plant room, the exhibition is a mix of digital and hands-on activities to illustrate the cycle of water: how it is affected by global warming (sea levels, tides, currents, wind, temperature, plastics) along with human interaction and individual responsibility. Visitors are invited to take a pledge to help reduce sea pollution by using less plastic and disposing of it properly.

School Tours

Hook Heritage operate school tours during term times, that incorporates arts workshop, maritime museum and information centre on sustainability and recycling. Art workshops using local slate as the canvas, a talk with the Eco Sheriff are available also. There is ample grounds to play, including a pirate ship for the younger visitors. Games and treasure hunts can be organised upon request.

Hook Heritage work very closely with the Commissioners of Irish Lights via their membership of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland to ensure that the visitor has the very best experience at Hook Lighthouse.

Photos and Diagrams