Inishtrahull - Atlas Obscura

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Ireland's most northerly island is hauntingly beautiful. Its lighthouse was the last glimpse of home for many Irish emigrants bound for the U.S. 


Nothing washes ashore here but seaweed and bones. The island is Inishtrahull, or Inis Trá Tholl in Irish, which roughly translates as “island of the hollow beach,” Ireland’s most northerly island. Though uninhabited now, it once had a small resident community for many years. As rural a life you could live was the islanders who once called Inishtrahull home.

A low plateau sits in the middle of the island, bookended by two rocky pinnacles. The southern of those high points is home to the Inishtrahull Lighthouse, first built in 1813. For a time, lighthouse keepers, fishermen, and their families made up a small community that mostly occupied the plateau in the central part of the island. At its peak in 1911, there were 80 residents living on the remote island.

Over time, fishing by large trawlers depleted the stock in the waters around Inishtrahull. People started leaving the island, and the remaining residents evacuated in 1929. In the following decades, only a lighthouse keeper called the small island home. A new lighthouse was built in the 1950s, and when it was automated a few decades later the island was left without any residents at all.

There are no trees or hedges. But its abundance of nature flowers and fauna make it the perfect location for seabirds, and the tidal sound makes it an attractive stopping point for grey seals. The island has been designated as an area of special conservation interest.

Today, the center of the island is scattered with ruins of old stone cottages and the school masters house and school. There is also a small graveyard. And the shell of the old lighthouse 1812 watches over its sister lighthouse, which claims the title of Ireland’s most northernmost lighthouse. For many emigrating from Ireland, it was the last bit of home they saw on their journey to the United States. “Inishtrahull lighthouse off the coast of Donegal was the last glimpse emigrants would have of Ireland,” according to the account of one of those emigrants. “Everyone stayed on deck until it disappeared.”

Know Before You Go

There is no ferry to Inishthrull. Boat trips can be organized, but this is very much weather-dependent.

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