The Great Light – Belfast, Northern Ireland - Atlas Obscura

The Great Light

One of the largest lenses of its kind ever created, this former ship beacon has been brought down to Earth. 


Shining like a beacon over the lough at night, the Great Light is a tribute to the maritime history of Belfast. At its center is the hyper-radial Fresnel lighthouse lens, which was originally installed in the Tory Island Lighthouse in 1887.

It’s one of the largest lenses of its kind ever made (three layers of six lenses covering 60 degrees), and it stood sentinel there, guiding ships through the Belfast Lough, which was then the world’s apex of linen, shipbuilding, and ropemaking. This new optic creation was christened the “Great Light.”

The lens was eventually reconfigured and removed to Mew Island off the Copeland Islands, and when it was switched on in September of 1928, it had eight of the Tory Island lenses (eight and two blank panels having been left in place there). It was in place there until 2014, when it was replaced by a solar power LED light. The impressive optic was once again moved, reimagined as a structure resembling a lighthouse lantern room standing at eye-level so visitors can get up-close.

Now part of the interesting if occasionally breezy Maritime Mile walk, the French-constructed lenses and optic, and the plaques underneath, tell the story of Irish lighthouses, their technological developments, their keepers, and their role in the history of Belfast.

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Free and accessible all year-round, it shines different colors on notable days.

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