EIRE sign at St. John's Point Lighthouse in Donegal and D-Day

June 06, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

As today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Normandy Landings on D-Day in 1944, I remembered some of my recent shots of the lighthouse at St. John’s Point in Co. Donegal and the nearby EIRE sign – number 70 of a series of 83 that were marked out around the coast of the Republic of Ireland at the start of World War II to proclaim its neutrality to British, American and German air forces.

St.Johns-Point-mapSt.Johns-Point-map Last February, I took my lads to west Donegal for a few days during mid-term and I hope to post some shots from that trip in the future. On the way home, we detoured during a winter afternoon’s fading light for a quick run to St John’s Point on the south Donegal coast - not to be mixed up with another St. John’s Point lighthouse on the south coast of Co. Down in Northern Ireland. There’s fairly typical Irish low-lying farmland along most of this little-known peninsula but it opens out to an area of exposed bare grassland at the tip – where there are magnificent views of the whole of Donegal Bay from Slieve League in the west to Mullaghmore and Ben Bulben in the south.

The light wasn’t great, and I only had time for a quick walk around, so I just took my phone. It was also cold, breezy and exposed so it would have been hard to keep the big camera steady on the tripod .  .  . and OK, OK, I was feeling just a bit lazy as well! But of course, my camera phone is not just any camera phone, it’s the Huawei P20 Pro – then the world’s best camera phone until it was overtaken by the recently launched P30 Pro. I was pretty pleased with the quality of most of these shots – all the more so since I didn’t use the phone’s RAW shooting capabilities, just JPEGs, albeit improved a little afterwards in Lightroom.

Here’s my first image, a Panorama that I stitched in Lightroom from a series of phone shots. As the lighthouse had not come on at that stage, I used Photoshop to composite in the flash from one of my later shots. On the knoll in the background is the World War II watch station were two crews, of two men each, did twelve-hour coast watches from 1939 until the war’s end in 1945.  

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Next is a view of the lighthouse compound with Slieve League to the west in in the background. This is followed by a view of Ben Bulben to the south. If you look closely you can see just the castle at Mullaghmore underneath and to the left of Ben Bulben’s nose. The quality of the Slieve League shot is not as good as the others, but I’ve included it to tell the story of the Point's views.

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Next are two closer views of the lighthouse.

002-St.Johns-Point-©-2019-John-Coveney002-St.Johns-Point-©-2019-John-Coveney 005-St.Johns-Point-©-2019-John-Coveney005-St.Johns-Point-©-2019-John-Coveney

Finally, as I walked back around the outer wall of the compound to the car, I came on this view of the lighthouse through a closed gateway. The relatively sheltered ground between the wall and the Lighthouse would probably have been used by the lightkeepers to grow potatoes and vegetables before all Irish lighthouses were automated since the 1990’s.

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You can get more information on this hidden corner of Donegal at these links from Great Lighthouses of Ireland,  the Wild Atlantic Way and the Commissioners of Irish Lights. There’s much more information on the EIRE signs and the associated watch stations at these links from Eire Markings, Coast Monkey, an RTE video and an Irish Times report on the restoration of a similar sign in Co. Dublin, and a list of all the signs and watch stations on Wikipedia.

In my view, the St John’s Point sign is one of the most interesting because it’s directly underneath the route that was taken by wartime British aircrews using the Donegal Corridor. This was a shortcut to the Battle of the Atlantic, across the Republic of Ireland from Belleek to Ballyshannon. It was used by RAF flying boats based at Castle Archdale on Lower Lough Erne in Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. These flying boats located and sank, or helped sink, hundreds of German U-boats and warships – most notably the Bismarck. If they had not, the German Navy would probably have strangled the Allied war effort and its marine supply lines from the USA - and D-Day may never have happened.

Despite our neutral status, Ireland’s wartime Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera, agreed to the Donegal Corridor when he was under intense pressure from Britain and the USA to join the Allied war effort. As the war progressed, our neutrality leaned increasingly towards the Allies. However, in January 1941, before the USA entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December, the war’s outcome was far from clear.

Irish neutrality during World War II was and is controversial because we did not join in the fight against the brutal fascist dictatorships of Europe. On the other hand, we would have been allying ourselves with the British Empire against which we fought a bitter War of Independence only twenty years earlier – as well as with the brutal communist dictatorship in the USSR! Ironically, as I write this, there’s a discussion on the radio on whether the use of Shannon Airport by US forces on their way to the Middle East and Afghanistan compromises our neutrality in 2019!

 


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