Two Witnesses to Irish Emigration

Loop Head Lighthouse, the Shannon Estuary, County Clare. Image: Clare County Council

Loop Head Lighthouse, the Shannon Estuary, County Clare. Image: Clare County Council

While the majority of the ten million Irish people who emigrated from the island of Ireland since 1800  went through major ports such as Belfast, Dublin and Cobh (Queenstown) a smaller percentage also departed through western ports such as Limerick and Galway.

Those leaving by Limerick would have passed by the lighthouse at Loop Head, located where the Shannon river meets the Atlantic as did the three OLoghlin brothers, Bryan Fergus, Dennis and Terence on board their ship, The Montreal , which departed the port of Limerick for New York on 15th September 1849 and who later settled at Fond du Lac county, Wisconsin, USA.

The lighthouse at Black Head, while less busy than the Shannon estuary lighthouse, also witnessed emigration scenes, with views of inner Galway Bay, Aran Islands and the Connemara coast.

One boat in particular, the brig St. John was less lucky than The Montreal and it foundered off the coast of Massachusetts, losing many emigrants from both Counties Galway and Clare during the October 1849 storm, through which The Montreal survived, arriving in New York 10th October 1849. An account of the loss of the St. John, held in the Clare Library website, is reproduced here >.

There has been a lighthouse at Loop Head since 1670, originally a signal fire on the roof of a single-storey cottage (which can still be seen on the grounds), where the light-keeper lived.


Black Head Lighthouse, Burren, Galway Bay. Image: W. Wesley, Dublin

The present tower, which stands 23 metres high, was built in 1854. The range of the light is 23 nautical miles and its ‘character’ is a white light flashing four times in 20 seconds. The operation was converted to electricity in 1871, and automated in 1991.

For the 2015 season the lighthouse is open to the public every day from April 3rd  through to October 2nd, from 10am to 6pm. Please check opening times with Clare County Council,operate the facility, on this link>>.

An exhibition on the history of Irish Lighthouses is located in the Light Keeper’s Cottage. Visitors can take a guided tour up the tower and go out onto the balcony, from where, weather permitting, you can see south as far as the Blasket Islands and north to the Twelve Pins in Connemara, along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Be prepared to queue at weekends during high season.

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