Titanic Foundation and the Commissioners of Irish Lights have been awarded a first-round pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund for saving, restoring and displaying the old optic from Mew Island Lighthouse, a very rare hyper radial Fresnel lens, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter. This award, along with early support from Ulster Garden Villages, will allow the project to progress to the second stage of the HLF application process. If successful, the optic will be restored and housed in a new interpretive structure, made to resemble a lighthouse lantern room where it would add an iconic element to the Titanic Quarter public realm. 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.
Mew Island lighthouse, on the outermost of the Copeland Islands, is one of the tallest lighthouses in Ireland. It is 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 is the internal apparatus which gave Mew Island Lighthouse its traditional revolving light. Made in Paris in 1887, it is possibly the largest ever constructed, at a staggering 7 metres high, 2.6 metres wide and weighing up to 10 tonnes. The optic is one of 29 of the largest optics ever made, with only 18 still in existence across the world. It’s one of only 3 similar optics in Ireland, none of which are now operational.
Over its life, and as technology has developed, Mew Island optic was lit with town-gas (derived manually on the island from coal), vaporised paraffin, and electricity. Kerrie Sweeney, Chief Executive of Titanic Foundation commented, ‘This remarkable object is an amazing piece of industrial and scientific heritage and our proposal has really captured the public’s interest. We’ve received letters of support from the World Lighthouse Society as well as the UK Committee of the International Year of Light 2015. We are delighted to have secured support from Heritage Lottery and Ulster Garden Villages; this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to save and restore an artefact of national and international significance and create a legacy Belfast landmark which will inspire future generations’
Paul Mullan, Head of HLF Northern Ireland, said: “The Mew Island optic is of great scientific and heritage value so we were delighted to receive these ambitious plans to restore and put it on public display. The project has the potential to create a truly unique and wonderful heritage attraction in the heart of Belfast’s maritime quarter and we look forward to receiving the full proposals in due course.”
Irish Lights, recognising the importance of the optic within Belfast’s maritime heritage, have been working for over 3 years to find a suitable home for the optic. Through the partnership with Titanic Foundation, the charity that owns Titanic Belfast, they are delighted that Mew Island Optic will be located in Belfast. Barry Phelan; Irish Lights Project Engineer said; “ This project will ultimately develop a brand new tourist attraction in Belfast, and will provide a permanent home for the magnificent Mew Island Lighthouse Optic beside a very worthy neighbour – Titanic Belfast. The project will also shine a light on the wonderful Great Lighthouses of Ireland nearby, which offers you a chance to stay in, visit, or learn about lighthouses and the Irish Lights at; Blackhead Antrim, St. John’s Point Down, Rathlin Island, or further afield.”
The optic, which was recently replaced by a modern solar-powered, flashing LED in March 2015, has already been transferred from Mew Island to the Irish Lights’ offices in Dun Laoghaire where they are carrying out initial restoration works.