The Great Light
Titanic Foundation are working with the Commissioners of Irish Lights to secure a permanent home for the Great Light
Mew Island Lighthouse optic is one of the largest optic of its kind ever built in the world, and is around 130 years old. Weighing 10 tonnes and measuring 7 metres tall, the optic is a unique heritage object with significance to Belfast’s economic, maritime and industrial past.
Mew Island lighthouse, on the outermost of the Copeland Islands, is one of the tallest lighthouses in Ireland. The island was an important Aid to Navigation at the southern entrance to Belfast Lough, built at a time when Belfast was the world-centre of linen, ship-building and rope-making, and one of the most important ports in the world. The optic was removed when the lighthouse was updated and automated in 2014. Titanic Foundation and the Commissioner of Irish Lights are working together to bring the optic to Titanic Quarter, the home of maritime heritage in Belfast.
Titanic Foundation has been awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Ulster Garden Villages, and Belfast City Council’s Local Investment Fund for saving, restoring and displaying the optic.
The optic will be restored and housed in a new interpretive structure, designed to last for 100 years and made to resemble a lighthouse lantern room where it will add a remarkable element to the Titanic Quarter public realm. It is estimated that at least 100,000 visitors per annum will view the optic. With free public access it will tell the story of lighthouses, their technological development, their light keepers, and their role in the proud maritime & industrial heritage of Belfast and Ulster.
In May 2016 Titanic Foundation, in partnership with the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, ran a Design Competition for an iconic structure to protect and preserve the Mew Island Lighthouse Optic. Twelve firms submitted proposals with Hall McKnight, a Belfast & London based Architectural Practice, named as the winners of the competition. Hall McKnight’s design was selected as the judging panel felt it clearly caught the vision of the project, and allowed the craftsmanship and beauty of this unique object to be clearly presented to a new audience.
The optic will be displayed in a landmark curved glass structure in its new location on the Titanic Walkway, which is currently being developed by Titanic Quarter Limited and funded by Tourism Northern Ireland. The 500 metres of maritime walkway will connect the Titanic and Olympic Slipways and the Alexandra Dock, linking Titanic Belfast, HMS Caroline and the Thompson Dock. The optic building will be completed during the winter of 2017 and open to the public in January 2018.
Titanic foundation have been working with the former lighthouse keepers from across Ireland who cared for this optic and its light. The Great Light’s story could not have been told without their personal accounts and we are all delighted that they are championing the Great Light project coming to Titanic Quarter.
Do you have any Mew Lighthouse stories?
We are learning about the history of the Lighthouse Optic, which was originally on Tory Island in Donegal before moving to Mew Island, so if you have any stories or images to share relating to the Optic, please contact us.
We appeared on Northern Visions TV (NVTV) to discuss the project.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) are an all-island body, providing an aids to navigation service.