Eagle Island, off the north end of the Mullet Peninsula in Erris, Co Mayo, was once home to the families of the island’s two lighthouse keepers.
The two lighthouses on Eagle Island were switched on in September 1835. One of the lighthouses stopped functioning after it was damaged beyond repair by a storm in 1894, but the powerful beacon of the second lighthouse continues to this day to warn and guide ships navigating the waters off the treacherous North Mayo coastline.
The lighthouses were built by the Ballast Board, also known as the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin, which was established in 1786 and was responsible for the construction of lighthouses around the coast of Ireland.
The Eagle Island Lighthouses were designed by George Halpin Senior, (1776-1854), Inspector of Works and Lighthouses, and built at a cost of £30,000. The stone used to build the lighthouses was brought from Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) and partly quarried on the island.
Halpin’s design is described as a tapering tower with a lantern encircled by serpentine railings on a corbelled walkway.
The lighthouses were located in the east and in the west of Eagle Island (Oileán san Tuaidh) with 132 yards between them. The lights were aligned at a height of 220 feet above sea level and could be seen to the east as far as Broadhaven Bay and to the south as far as Blacksod Bay.
However, the small island which takes the full brunt of the North Atlantic winter gales was never well suited to human habitation.
The lighthouse keepers’ families lived on the island for decades before they were rehoused near to Corclough on the mainland at the end of the 19th century. The keepers’ families lived in the pretty dwellings in Corclough until the houses were sold in 1956.
The lighthouse keepers were ferried to Eagle Island from Scotchport where the boats that also brought supplies to the lighthouse were kept in a lovely old boathouse that is still in use to this day.
Over the course of the 20th century’s two world wars, many Allied ships were sunk by German U-Boats within sight of Eagle Island.
World War 1 came close to Eagle Island in 1915 when the SS Cherbourg, a collier, out of Glasgow was attacked and sunk by gunfire from German U-Boat 13 miles off the island. The crew of 25 were saved and taken to Belmullet, according to a report published on May 4th 1915 in the Tralee-based newspaper, The Liberator.
The lighthouse keepers remained on the Eagle Island until the 31st March 1988 when Eagle Island lighthouse was made automatic and there has been no lighthouse keeper resident on the island since as is the case with Blackrock Lighthouse, at the southern end of the Mullet.
Eagle Island station is now in the care of an attendant and the aids to navigation are also monitored via a telemetry link from the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) Lighthouse Depot in Dun Laoghaire.