Banba’s Crown, Malin Head, Co Donegal

Enter Malin Head along the west side of the Wild Atlantic Way’s Inishowen Peninsula and continue to the tip called Banba’s Crown. “The Tower”, as it’s known locally, was built by the British in 1805 as part of a string of buildings right around the Irish coast to guard against a possible French invasion.

Banba’s Crown, named after the mythological patron goddess of Ireland, at the tip of Malin Head marks the most northerly point on the Irish mainland. The rugged coast is rich in wildlife, has an intriguing maritime history and offers some of the most dramatic panoramas along the epic Wild Atlantic Way.

This northernmost point of the Inishowen peninsula and the island off Ireland is named after Banba, the goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the mythological tribe who lived in Ireland in ancient times. Banba and her sisters Ériu and Fódla became the patron goddesses representing the sovereignty and the spirit of Ireland.

With some of the most hazardous waters along Ireland’s coast, Malin Head has a rich history of naval communication. In 1804 the first naval signal station was put in place consisting of a signal mast and a small dwelling hut. Back then a signalling system with balls and flags was used.

To help defend against a possible French invasion during the Napoleonic wars, the British Admirality built signal towers all along their coastlines. In Ireland, a chain of 81 towers was built as part of this defence system. These towers were meant to be ‘defencible guardhouses’ as well as lookout posts and signal stations, transmitting messages from one tower to the next.

The tower at Malin Head was built in 1805 and was one of 12 defensive structures along the Donegal coast, all of them about 5 to 15 miles apart from one another. The towers were usually two stories high and were built without a door on ground level, instead the entrance was on the first floor, only accessible by ladder. In addition each of the towers was equipped with projective machicolations and musket loops.

After Napoleon’s defeat at Trafalgar half of the defensive towers along the Irish coast were abandoned. The tower at Malin Head was converted into a guard-house and a signal port station.
In 1870 the marine insurance company Lloyds of London acquired the station and built a semaphore flag signalling mast and building next to the tower. They collected weather reports and transmitted them to their ships. The small building next to the tower still stands.

With the onset of wireless radio communication a 36.5 metres high Marconi telegraph mast was erected at Malin Head in 1901. For the next few years both systems – the Marconi wireless and the semaphore signals – were used, until gradually all ships were equipped with the new radio system. The old Napoleonic tower was converted into the Marconi wireless station and a new entrance door was built on ground level.

In 1909 the post office officially took over the wireless station.

After Ireland gained its Independence, the British abandoned the station.

During World War II the Irish Defence Forces built 82 lookout-posts along the Irish shore from Co Louth to Co Donegal, many of them next to the remains of the old Napoleonic signal towers. Those LOP’s as they became to be known, were all identical, because they were all built using pre-cast concrete blocks.

The soldiers serving at these coastal observation posts had to report every activity on sea and air to Irish Military Intelligence. Many of these LOP’s still stand today, and although they’re not particularly pretty to look at, they serve as a stark reminder of times of war.

Another remainder of war times is the large inscription on the bare rock underneath the tower at Malin Head: the letters laid out in stones and white paint spell out ‘ÈIRE’ and ‘DONEGAL’. They served as a navigational marker during WWII to alert pilots that they are entering Irish airspace. The Irish State was neutral during the war, but Northern Ireland as part of the UK, was not. Despite its neutrality, the Irish State was hit in several German air raids. These ‘Éire neutrality markers’ were laid out at all strategic LOP’s to make pilots aware that they are in fact flying over Ireland. To make navigation easier for allied pilots the relevant number of the LOP was added to some of the signs.

Today only a few of these markers survive, most of them succumbed to the elements. In places like Malin Head where the marker is still in good condition and easily legible it has become a tradition for visitors to add their names in stones next to the sign.

Photo: Banba’s Crown, The Tower at Malin Head

Photo: Éire neutrality markers, Source: Picturing Ireland

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