Today in Transportation History – 1838: A Rotten Lighthouse

A new lighthouse was first lit in northwestern Ireland just before being completed. Rotten Island lighthouse remains in operation today as a key navigational aid for vessels making their way from St. John’s Point to Killybegs Harbour in Donegal Bay.

The origins of the lighthouse can be traced to the spring of 1832, when the inspecting commander of the British Coastguard (this part of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom at the time) wrote a letter to the Dublin Ballast Board – predecessor to the present-day Commissioners of Irish Lights – recommending that a lighthouse be built on Drumanoo Point in that region of the Emerald Isle. George Halpin, Sr., who had been appointed inspector of lighthouses for the Dublin Ballast Board in 1810, reviewed the recommendation. While agreeing that a lighthouse was necessary for the area, Halpin advised that it should be set up on Rotten Island instead.

Halpin designed the lighthouse as well as the keepers’ houses, and he also supervised their construction. The 47-foot-tall Rotten Island lighthouse was one of 53 lighthouses built in Ireland during Halpin’s longtime tenure as inspector. Halpin did more than just significantly increase the number of Irish lighthouses, however. He also established a comprehensive set of procedures for the management of the lighthouses and the employment of their keepers. After he died in 1854, his son George, Jr., took over as inspector of lighthouses.

For more information on Rotten Island lighthouse and other lighthouses in western Ireland, please check out

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