Donaghadee Lighthouse

County Down, Northern Ireland | C.1836

Photo Credit: Mark D

Just 20 nautical miles separate Donaghadee Harbor in Northern Ireland and the village of Portpatrick in Scotland. Since the 17th century, ships have navigated the waters between these two towns, separated by the North Channel, carrying passengers, goods, and even couples looking to marry. The Donaghadee Lighthouse has kept watch over these many departures and arrivals.

Known locally as the “Dee”, the town of Donaghadee and its beloved harbor have been a haven for ships since the Short Sea Route was first established in 1662. It was around this time that many ports in North Ireland’s Ulster province, including Donaghadee, began to rise to prominence.

For almost a century starting in 1759, Northern Irish couples flocked from Donaghadee to Portpatrick to join in holy matrimony. The Scottish village became known as the “Gretna Green for Ireland” – a nod to the popular Scottish wedding destination. This practice was spurred by the 1754 Marriage Act, a UK law that prevented couples under the age of 21 to marry without parental consent. These marriages, however, were still legal in Scotland, so couples often escaped to Portpatrick to make it official.

With the invention of steam-driven boats, the Donaghadee Harbor underwent structural improvements and by 1834, the Donaghadee Harbour Commissioners decided it was time to construct a light. A letter was written to the Ballast Board informing them of their intention and two years later, the Donaghadee Lighthouse was built.

The trade route to Donaghadee eventually died down and was redrawn between Larne in Northern Ireland and Stranraer in Scotland. Now serving a much more serene setting, the Lighthouse continues to keep watch over the harbor, which remains one of the most sought after destinations in Donaghadee.

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