This story was taken from an article published by BEAM- The Journal of the Irish Lighthouse Service (Volume 34  2005-2006)

Two lighthouses with fixed white lights forming leading lights were established at Dunagree Point, Inishowen, in 1837. These lights guided vessels into Lough Foyle and kept them clear of the Tuns Bank. Two dwellings were built for the two keepers. An auxiliary light, exhibited through the east-facing window on the floor below the lantern, was established in the front tower (Inishowen East) in 1851, to distinguish the front tower from the rear tower (Inishowen West). In 1870-71 the height of the rear light was raised by 7.6 metres (25 feet) by means of a cast iron tower extension, and a red sector light over the Tuns Bank was shown from an opening in the bottom part of the cast iron tower extension just above the granite blocking of the original tower.

In 1900 a siren fog signal was established and a third dwelling with two storeys was built to accommodate two additional Assistant Keepers required for fog signal duties.

Following a fire in the fog signal engine room the siren fog signal was replaced with a diaphone in 1942.

In 1932 the lights in the rear tower were converted to unwatched; the character of both the white main light and the red auxiliary light was changed from fixed to two flashes every six seconds. The unwatched lights were fuelled by acetylene which was made in a carbide-to-water generator which was refilled every week or so. The front tower continued to have a fixed white light which remained watched. As a result of these changes the staff at the station was reduced to a Principal Keeper with two Assistant Keepers.

By the late 1950s mains electricity became available. In 1961 the leading lights were discontinued and in 1962 a new electric white, red and green sectored light with a character of two flashes every 10 seconds was established in the rear tower. The lantern on the front tower was subsequently removed.

The station was automated and converted to unwatched in 1979. The diaphone fog signal was replaced by an electric horn located on the front tower, controlled by a fog detector. The Keepers were withdrawn and an Attendant was appointed in charge of the station.


During the years before the station was automated the Keepers lived at the station with their families all the year round. Each Keeper was allowed 24 hours relaxation leave every week, from noon until noon the following day. The three Keepers took their relaxation leave on successive days and a local Temporary Keeper was employed to replace them for the three days each week. The Temporary Keeper was also employed when one of the Keepers was on his three weeks annual leave, or was off sick, though sometimes a Supernumerary Keeper was sent from Baily Lighthouse if the absent Keeper was likely to be away for some time.

Michael O’Donnell of Shroove, Inishowen, has written to Beam about his father Willie O’Donnell who was the Temporary Keeper at Inishowen Lighthouse. Willie took over from his uncle James O’Donnell who had been doing the job for around 60 years and, at the age of 85, was getting a bit stiff for going up the west tower to put on the light. “No early retirement in those days!” Michael comments.

Willie was 17 years of age when he took over from his uncle and he continued as Temporary Keeper until retiring at the age of 75. He got on well with nearly all of the Principal Keepers stationed at Inishowen during that time.

Oil for the station was landed in barrels from the lighthouse tenders by ship’s boat at Portsallagh and brought to the station by contractor’s horse and cart. In a notebook Willie recorded that he was paid £4: 2s: 10d for drawing 53 barrels of oil, and helping with racking off the oil into the tanks at the station. For drawing 1fi tons of carbide for the west light he was paid 17s: 6d. “That was good money in those days” says Michael, “A pound went a long way then.”

There was no waste in those days either. When the carbide was spent the Keepers put it in barrels and used it to whitewash the walls.


The Keepers at Inishowen kept hens, as did Keepers at many other stations. Willie used to tell a story that when Tommy Lawlor was Principal Keeper at Inishowen, in addition to his hens, he had two geese to fatten for Christmas. He kept them all in the big garden beside the west light. About a month before Christmas Tommy and his family went away on holidays. Willie and the two Assistant Keepers took it in turn to feed the hens. One of them forgot to close the gate. Next morning the hens and the two geese were all over to station. In the panic to round them up the geese rushed down the steps onto the boat landing where they were washed into the Lough and up the river with the flood tide, never to be seen again.


When Tommy came back and was told his Christmas dinner was gone he was a cross man but after a couple of days he saw the funny side of it. Years later it was found out that the geese had landed in Greencastle. A man with a big family caught them and had a good Christmas; so, as Michael says, it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow good.

The Commissioners’ annual inspection was always a big day. When it was over and the Commissioners had gone the Keepers went to the pub – some of the locals used to say it was to calm their nerves but, according to Michael, no matter about that, they kept the station very clean, and tidy and kept a sharp lookout. “They missed nothing.”


The old people told a story that the first fog signal at Inishowen was responsible for a miracle. A retired man lived in one of the big old houses around Greencastle. He had been injured working for a big company in England, and was in a wheelchair. As there were no cars at that time he had a man with a horse and carriage to drive him around. One day he was down at the White Bay beside the lighthouse when a thick fog came in.

The foghorn started up. There was a ship out in the bay coming in.

When the fog signal is sounding and there is a ship in the bay the echo of the fog signal comes back off the ship. The man in the wheelchair asked the driver of the carriage what the sound was coming in over the water.

The driver didn’t know, so he called a local man over to ask him. The local man realised they knew nothing about the sea, so he decided to take a rise out of the two of them. He told them it was a sea monster. As the ship came closer the echo got louder – as there was no radar in those days the ship came in so far and let go the anchor. When he heard the sound of the anchor cable going out over the windlass the man in the wheelchair asked what that sound was.’That is the sea monster grinding its teeth. It smells human flesh’ the local man said, making believe that he was afraid. ‘The last time it came in it swallowed two people alive on the beach.’

The driver took fright and ran for the carriage. The next thing, the retired man jumped out of his wheelchair and ran up the beach into the carriage. Horse and carriage took off at a top gallop. A week later after dark they came back for the chair. The old boy was not half as bad as he was making out. He would have lost his big pension if he had not been found out.