Hook Head Lighthouse in County Wexford - one of Ireland's most iconic coastal attractions, and a historic one too. But it is a bit out of the way, though you may explore it on a "historic" day trip from Wexford Town, also taking in Tintern Abbey, the famine ship Dunbrody and the Irish Agricultural Museum at Johnstown Castle.
But ... this is not a trip for those prone to holler "Are we there yet?" every few seconds - to reach Hook Head Lighthouse, you have to go down right to the southern tip of the sizable Hook Peninsula. A long and winding road. Which takes time and some patience. But the journey is rewarding, if only for the magnificent views, and the clean, fresh air alone.
Views that can get even better when you climb to the top of the Hook Head Lighthouse. Because this is an extremely rare opportunity to see a working lighthouse in Ireland - most lighthouses are virtually inaccessible due to their remote location (or private golf courses sternly forbidding trespassers), and they won't let you in either.
Hook Head Lighthouse in a Nutshell
Is the trip worth it? It certainly is - as I said above, Hook Head is one of the few lighthouses in Ireland you can experience, up close and personal, inside and out. And it also is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. And then there are the stunning walks you can have along the craggy southern tip of the Hook Peninsula.
The only thing that really should be taken into consideration as a potentially negative aspect is that it takes some time to get there - if you are running on a tight schedule, you may have to forsake this diversion from the main tourist route.
But what will you miss then? A medieval lighthouse built in the 13th century, still working as a lighthouse guarding the coast and the entrance to both Waterford and New Ross harbors. Though the Hook Head Lighthouse was made fully automatic in 1996, the extensive outbuildings, once used by the lighthouse keepers, were retained. Opened as a tourist attraction a few years ago, it now draws a crowd of visitors throughout the year.
Hook Head Lighthouse Reviewed
First things first ... if you can, avoid the weekends or any special events (especially the Tall Ships Races, should they be in the vicinity), because a. the site at and around Hook Head Lighthouse can get crowded, and b. the driving can be a challenge too. I may add c., you won't find a seat in the very decent café and restaurant, which I'd recommend for a snack.
But why is there a lighthouse here anyway? The southern tip of the Hook Peninsula marks the entrance to sheltered waters and safe harbors - busy ever since the Vikings settled down in nearby Waterford and a busy shipping town grew from their little colony. On the other hand, the rocky shore stopped lots of vessels seriously short of safety in low-visibility conditions. Which is not exactly a rare occurrence here. So in the early 13th century the "Tower of Hook" was built as a navigation aid by order of William Marshal.
Monks from a nearby monastery looked after the signal fire at night.
The idea for such an erection might actually have been imported from the Holy Land, via the crusades. And Marshal certainly had a thing for cylindrical buildings - five of his castles, including Kilkenny Castle, had circular towers.
In service ever since, the lighthouse has seen structural and technical improvements to keep up to date. In 1911 it became a flashing beacon courtesy of a clockwork mechanism, in 1972 it was electrified and the fog gun was replaced by fog horn only in 1972. In March 1996 the lighthouse became fully automatic - and the complex was converted into a visitor centre, opened in 2000.
The medieval tower is now accessible to visitors while a café and craft shop in the old lightkeepers' cottages make for a good stop before hitting the road again. One should, however, take some time to explore the vicinity, especially the rocks just in front of the lighthouse. On a sunny day they make an ideal perch from which to watch the world go by. And with a lot of luck you might even see a tall ship sailing past, though the Dunbrody no longer leaves its home port of nearby New Ross.
Hook Head Lighthouse - the Essentials
Address - N184.108.40.206, W6.93.06.15, Loc8 Code: Y5M-77-RK8
Hook Lighthouse can be found at the very end of the R734, around 50 km from Wexford, 29 km from Waterford (via the Passage East Car Ferry), or 38km from New Ross.
Website - Hook Lighthouse & Heritage Centre
Guided Tours of Hook Lighthouse Tower - daily, from June to August every half hour, all other months every hour
Entry Fee - Visitor Centre and grounds free, Guided Tour 6 €.