St John's Point, Lighthouse
St John's Point, Lighthouse

St John’s Point Lighthouse (and Brendan Behan)


St. John’s Point Lighthouse, first shone its light in 1844, and was designed by George Halpin Senior – famous for his expansion of Dublin port. It is the tallest onshore lighthouse on the Irish coast (Fastnet is the tallest offshore lighthouse)

St John's Point, Lighthouse
St John’s Point, Lighthouse

The lighthouse was painted white but in 1902 three black bands were added, and the current black with two yellow bands have been in place since 1954. The tower was originally only 14m and was extended to its current height of 40m in the 1880s . The lighthouse was automated in 1981. It is one of 70 lighthouses operated by the Commissioners of Irish Lights around the coast of Ireland.

Killough Community Association have been fighting to ensure that the existing lense is not replaced with a new LED lens. The commission’s director of operations and navigation services, Capt Robert McCabe, said the planned LED replacement would improve safety and reduce maintenance costs at the site. He added that it was important to remove mercury from the lighthouse, because of the risk that exposure to the element poses to human health. The existing lamp has a Fresnel lens – an early 19th century invention that projects a long-distance beam using a modest light source.

St John's Point, Lighthouse
St John’s Point, Lighthouse

The huge lens is the height of two average living rooms and weighs six tonnes. It rotates inside a mercury bath. Capt McCabe said the existing lens at St John’s Point was “big enough to walk around inside” and would stay in place despite the changes.

The commissioner said the exiting light at St John’s Point has a nominal visibility range of 24 miles, while the LED light has a shorter range of 18 miles, but said this was still well within safety limits. He said the new light would be brighter and during power failures it could be backed up by a battery supply rather than a generator, cutting down on cost.

However, he campaigners said there has never been an incident of mercury poisoning at the site and argue that many lighthouses in parts of England have safely maintained their traditional lamps.

Absent all day: Brendan Behan didn’t live up to the job spec for a lighthouse painter

The father of Brendan Behan had a contract to paint light houses, and his son ended up painting St Johns Point. Retired local lighthouse keeper Henry Henvey, who was a teenager at the time, befriended Behan and has pleasant memories of swimming together in the open sea and enjoying long conversations in the family kitchen.

He recalls Behan spending a lot of time with a neighbour, later he received postcards from Behan when he moved to Paris, urging Henry to consider relocating due to the French capital. However the lighthouse keeper at the time, Mr. D. Blakely called for the dismissal of Behan.Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 23.47.46

Mr. Blakely describes Behan as “the worst specimen” he has met in 30 years of service and accuses him of showing “careless indifference” and no respect for property. Rather than being dismissed, Behan was retained for a second summer stint as a lighthouse painter, before moving to Paris where he settled into his career as a writer.

It is also possible that St John’s Point is referred to by the famous map of Ptolemy and named as: Isamnium Prom. 


St John’s Point –

Storms brew over planned changes –

St Johns Point –

Review: History: Lord Of The Files edited by Michael Mulreaney and Denis O’Brien –

Ptolemy’s map of Ireland: a modern decoding:

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