Five lighthouses in Northern Ireland and Donegal are to open their doors to visitors as part of a £2.2 million tourism initiative.
The cross border ‘Lighthouse Trail’ is being funded by the European Union and will see disused light keepers’ cottages transformed into luxury accommodation with learning zones and tours also developed at key sites.
It is hoped the new initiative will help re-invigorate appreciation for lighthouses as well as boost the local economy.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: “Many of our local lighthouses are historic and beautiful buildings that play an important role in coastal navigation. Not only do they stand tall as reminders of our proud maritime history but they also offer significant tourism potential.”
The lighthouses earmarked for the project include Rathlin West on Rathlin Island, Blackhead, Co Antrim and St John’s Point in Co Down as well as Fanad Head and St John’s Point in Co Donegal.
It is estimated that up to 60 jobs would be created during the construction period with a further 10 new positions created when the facilities are up and running.
From Whitehead, on the Antrim coast, Mrs Foster added: “Blackhead Lighthouse guided many great ships on their journey, none more famous than the Titanic. The self catering cottages have been fully restored to their former glory and they offer visitors a magical windswept retreat with a difference.
“The lighthouse keeper’s house is attached to the lighthouse by a short walkway and there are also a variety of coastal walks for visitors to enjoy. Whitehead is an ideal place for visitors to start a trip along the Antrim coast and it is also within easy access of Carrickfergus and Belfast.”
Pat Colgan, chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body which funds projects that enhance cross-border co-operation and promote reconciliation said the Lighthouse Trail had the potential to create long-term economic benefits.
“The initiative represents a niche form of rural tourism that will help broaden out the tourism season of the entire region. In helping to preserve an important part of our cultural heritage, the project will also create a lasting legacy that will attract both domestic and overseas visitors for many years to come,” he said.
Yvonne Shields, from the Commissioners for Irish Lights (CIL) which is leading the ambitious project, said capitalising on the spectacular locations of lighthouses could deliver huge benefits.
She said: “This project has huge potential because in addition to maritime safety services it allows CIL to capitalise on the spectacular locations of our lighthouses, harness their huge heritage value and work with local communities in an exciting and innovative way to deliver economic and tourism benefits north and south.”