NI’s Rathlin Island lighthouses and shipwreck get listed status

Three lighthouses on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland (NI) have been designated as listed buildings while a famous WWI shipwreck has been named as an historic monument.

The Belfast Telegraph writes:

The earliest of the three lighthouses, the East Light, dates back to 1856 and was designed by George Halpin Senior. It is unique having two lamps to improve its visibility in foggy conditions. The West Lighthouse. designed by Charles William Scott and dating from 1912, is also unique. It is Ireland’s only ‘upside-down’ lighthouse, with the light at the base rather than the top of the structure.

South Light at Rue Point, which dates from 1921 and was also designed by Charles William Scott, it is unusual in its small size and octagonal shape. The painted horizontal banding accentuates its distinctive appearance. Its setting, at sea level on exposed wave-swept rocks, underscores its purpose in warning passing ships of the presence of Rue Point. Until the recent introduction of GPS navigation, the lighthouses safeguarded the movement of passenger and cargo ships passing between Rathlin and Fair Head en route to and from Britain and they continue to play an important role in maritime shipping.

In addition to the lighthouses themselves, associated buildings such as rocket houses, engine rooms and a complete set of lightkeepers’ houses have also been designated as lisrathlin ted structures, because of their importance in demonstrating how lightkeepers and their families lived on the island.

The Department for Communities has also designated the shipwreck of HMS Drake, which lies in Church Bay at Rathlin, as a scheduled historic monument. A heavy armoured cruiser built between 1899 and 1902, the HMS Drake she was designed for scouting and commerce warfare. The Drake was sunk by a torpedo strike from a German U-boat in October 1917.  Despite being later damaged by a fishing trawler that now lies wrecked across her and subsequent clearance operations, the vessel remains are considerable, with elements such as anchors, guns and steering gear clearly visible to divers.

Liam McQuillan, Senior Archaeologist, Department for Communities, commented: ‘We work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in the development of appropriate protection measures for marine historic sites of established significance. The designation of HMS Drake affords it recognition as a site of national importance and is key towards preserving an important marine heritage asset for present and future generations. The move to protect this shipwreck also accords with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which deems WWI military remains to be of cultural, historical or archaeological interest; and shows that Northern Ireland is committed to ensuring that significant marine cultural heritage assets are given the protection deserved.’

Recognising that the Drake is a popular diving site, he said that the new designation ‘will not mean the imposition of an exclusion zone and/or licensed diving which might otherwise hinder responsible public access’.

Rory McNeary, Senior Marine Archaeologist, DAERA also emphasised this point. ‘We fully recognise that the wreck is a popular dive site which draws divers from all over the UK, Ireland and beyond and makes a valuable contribution to the local marine economy. We would actively encourage divers to visit the site, but to take photos rather than souvenirs, so that what remains of the wreck will be there for future divers to enjoy. By affording the wreck protection we hope it will become a focus for understanding, exploring and appreciating the world of 1914-18 and the often overlooked war at sea as well as broaden public participation with underwater heritage.’

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