Check the recent feature by Katharina Baum, editor of Fairkehr Publishing House and Agency. Katharina sat down with Brendan Conway, the housekeeper of Wicklow Lighthouse. Keep reading to find out more about Brendan’s experience and the history of the lighthouse.
Mr. Conway, what is the history of Wicklow Head Old Lighthouse?
The lighthouse dates back to 1781, but it was only in operation until 1818 because it was built in the
wrong place. When there is fog, the lighthouse cannot be seen from land or sea. Therefore, a
working lighthouse was built further down the headland, the Wicklow Head Front Lighthouse. The
old lighthouse then stood empty until the heritage organization Irish Landmark Trust acquired it in
1996 and turned it into a vacation home. My mother was the first House Manager. She retired two
years ago, and I took over as manager, with the support of my brother.
How did the renovation of the lighthouse go?
As far as we know, no one ever lived in the lighthouse. Therefore, when the renovation began, there
were no floors inside the tower, no stairs, nothing. It was a complete shell. In just eleven months, the
Irish Landmark Trust completely renovated the tower on the inside and the outside. The construction
workers assembled all the interior parts, for example the stairs, offsite and then brought them inside
What challenges did the conversion of such an old building present?
It is a balancing act to make the tower habitable and at the same time keep it the way it looked all
these years ago. There are no records of what the tower used to look like, so we had to find out.
Amongst other things, we hired a specialist company to find a plaster could be used today to keep
out rain and wind while remaining true to the monument. We also face challenges in maintenance.
Our windows are single-glazed and get a lot of wear and tear in the winter. However, we are not
allowed to install double glazing for historic preservation reasons. Therefore, we often have to
replace the windows. This process is costly, but necessary.
How do guests spend their time on site?
Our guests come to us looking for seclusion and peace. Many take day trips and explore the area. But
some stay in the lighthouse all day and enjoy the view. Most of them are extremely interested in the
history of the lighthouse, and I am happy to chat with them about it. I come from a lighthouse keeper
family, my grandfather, my father, and I were lighthouse keepers. It is a nice connection that guests
feel as well.
Did you also work in Wicklow Head as a lighthouse keeper?
No, but I lived at Wicklow Head Front Lighthouse with my parents in the 1960s. My father was a
keeper there until he was transferred to another station. In the 1980s, I was a lighthouse keeper
myself and worked in various Irish lighthouses, for example on the island of Skellig Michael. That was
an extraordinary experience.
What do you like most about your job as House Manager?
I love getting the tower ready after the old guests have left and before the new ones come. I also like
the interactions with the guests, welcoming them and talking to them. And I like the stories that are
created in the tower. A couple of years ago, a couple from California got married in our building.
They contacted a priest who then came to the tower and married them there. Just the two of them
and the priest.
When I am in the process of fixing up the tower and get a moment for myself, I sometimes sit at the
window and just look out at the sea. Wicklow, where I live, is a beautiful place.
Further information: In his memoir, "The Boy Who Built Lighthouses," Brendan Conway recounts his
childhood at Wicklow Head Lighthouse and his time as a temporary lighthouse keeper. It is available