Prior to the present harbour being constructed, a small 17th century quay existed mainly for local fishermen of Howth village and was also used to off-load "coal, fuel and other necessaries and conveniences" for conveyance up to the original lighthouse on Howth Head.
At the beginning of the last century it was decided to supersede the Pigeonhouse as a Packet Station and build a harbour at Howth. The first stone of the new harbour was laid in 1807. The granite stone for the harbour was quarried nearby at Kilrock above Balscadden Bay. The usefulness of Howth Harbour was however short lived, sand and mud filled the harbour rapidly and it was with considerable difficulty that sufficient depth could be maintained for the Holyhead packets. Consequently construction of the harbour at Dun Laoghaire went ahead from 1817 to the design of John Rennie who was also responsible for Howth Harbour.
(Journal/page/date) 2/179 (18.4.1816) A letter was received by the Corporation from Mr. H. Yeo, Secretary to the Commissioners of Howth Harbour, requesting the Corporation to consider Mr. John Rennie's plan of the proposed lighthouse to be erected at the end of the East Pier to direct vessels into the entrance of the harbour. The Board acknowledged the letter and plan and referred the subject to Inspector George Halpin.
2/187 (25.4.1816) So that Trinity House could be informed, a copy of Mr. Halpin's report was sent to the Howth Harbour Commissioners which included a request as to what character and colour the light would be.
2/193 (30.5.1816) Their reply was that Mr. Rennie stated that the light intended was to be a steady red and consequently a distinguishing light. The Corporation informed Mr. Yeo that Trinity House would immediately be contacted.
2/397 (15.1.1818) Letter from Mr. Yeo informing the Corporation that the Lighthouse on the East Pier had been completed and requested that the Corporation will take necessary steps for lighting on or about the 1st May next. The Board ordered that the letter be acknowledged stating that the necessary steps for lighting would be taken. Also the Lord Lieutenant be informed.
2/401 (22.1.1818) Both the Lord Lieutenant and Vice Treasurer were written to with a copy of the letter from the Commissioners of Howth Harbour.
2/403 (29.1.1818) Approval from the Lord Lieutenant was received with instructions to issue a Notice to Mariners, but the Vice Treasurer reminded the Corporation that in 1816 they had written to Trinity House and if no reply had been received from the Elder Brethren within six months of the date of the letter the Ballast Board is authorised to proceed to act.
2/419 (5.3.1818) A letter was received from the Howth Harbour Commissioners requesting the Corporation to postpone the publication of the lighting until they hear from them again.
2/452 (28.5.1818) A letter from Mr. Yeo informed the Corporation that the Post Masters General of England have decided H.M. Packets are to be prepared to receive mails at Howth on 1st July next. The Howth Harbour Commissioners requested that the Corporation take steps for lighting. The Board ordered that the letter be acknowledged and the lighthouse will be lit on 1st July. Also, as it will be necessary to make arrangements for lightkeepers apartment it was required that Commissioners of Howth Harbour will give possession of same to the Inspector of Lighthouses as soon as possible. Notice of Mariners to be published.
2/458 (4.6.1818) Letter from Mr. Yeo stating that the Commissioners of Howth Harbour will give possession of the light to the Inspector as soon as possible. Necessary instruction had been given to deliver up possession forthwith as required by the Inspector. The Board ordered that the Inspector, Mr. George Halpin, take possession of the light and report on its state by next Thursday, 11th June.
2/461 (11.6.1818) Inspector Halpin reported that he had taken possession of the new pier head lighthouse at Howth but found that it was neither ready for a lightkeeper nor suitably constructed for lighting the harbour. Halpin submitted that the apartment be made as comfortable as possible for the keeper and that the sheet iron be replaced by plate glass so that the light can be seen from inside the harbour and on entering or leaving it. Extra lamps and reflectors would be required. The Board ordered that Mr. Halpin's suggestions be complied with immediately.
3/1 (18.6.1818) The following week the Corporation received a letter from the Howth Harbour Commissioners stating that their Engineer, Mr. Aird and the Harbour Master, Lieutenant Browne, had pointed out the necessity of three additional reflectors in the lantern to cover the entrance of the harbour. In their reply the Corporation mentioned that this defect had been perceived by their Inspector and alterations were going ahead.
The fixed red light was established on 1st July 1818, it compromised twelve Argand lamps with red lamp glasses and silvered copper catoptric reflectors. The cut stone tower is very similar to the tower designed by John Rennie and established about the same time at Salt Island, Holyhead Harbour. The overall height of tower lantern and dome is approximately 14.5m.
3/340 (17.5.1821) The Corporation ordered a letter to be addressed to the Commissioners of Howth Harbour informing them that it was found necessary to provide a residence for the keeper also and oil store. It was proposed to erect such adjoining the house (lighthouse) if it does not interfere with any present arrangements of the Commissioners. A plan was enclosed for their information.
3/346 (31.5.1821) The Howth Harbour Commissioners fully agreed with the additions.
One can only deduce that the keeper must have lived in the tower until the adjoining single story dwelling was built. A second story was added some years later.
7/283 (4.2.1836) The Lords Commissioners of H. M. Treasury questioned whether Howth Harbour light was necessary. Inspector Halpin reported that the light was maintained out of lighthouse funds and although the harbour is no longer a Packet Station it is a very useful harbour of refuge.
A white sector over the harbour and Baldoyle was established in 1902.
Converting the light from fixed catoptric with its thirteen single wick oil lamps in 21" diameter parabolic reflectors to unwatched acetylene was looked into in 1944 and again in 1946 but the Ministry of Transport in 1947 withheld its sanction.
By 1950 electricity was considered as the light source and in 1951 sanction was obtained to convert the light to unwatched electric.
The 250W 100V lamps, one in use, one standby, run off a battery charged from the mains and replaced the oil lamps on 1st February 1955. The character of the light was two, one second flashes, white and red, every eight seconds, showing a 58º sector of white in an easterly direction with red elsewhere.
With the modernisation of Howth Harbour the 1981 light was replaced by a new tower and light at the end of the East Pier Extension and was established on 19th May 1982 with a character of two, one second flashes white and red every 7.5 seconds, the white sector was reduced to 48º.
The old tower and lantern have been retained as a day mark.
M. P. L. Costeloe February, 1984.