At the end of the 500 metre Titanic Walkway which connects the Titanic and Olympic Slipways to the Alexandra Dock in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, proudly sits The Great Light, a curved glass interpretive structure designed to resemble a lighthouse lantern room. The lens inside began life atop the lighthouse on Tory Island and in the 1920s replaced the Mew Island light on one of the three Copeland Islands off the North Down Coast. It’s journey to the Walkway was by helicopter, the ILV Granuaile and a store in Dun Laoghaire.
The Copelands lie on the south side of the North Channel, and posed a great danger to shipping, especially when trade in and out of Belfast Harbour increased. Over three hundred years ago the first Lighthouse was built on Lighthouse Island but as Mew Island was more difficult to see, especially at night, a new one was built there in 1884.
In the 1920s the Mew Island light was reported to be flashing irregularly so in 1928 it was replaced with eight of the lens panels from the Hyper - Radial Optic on Tory and it is this light which has earned a place in the world-famous Titanic Quarter.
The Great Light, at seven feet tall, is one of the largest optics of its kind in the world and weighs 10 tonnes. This irreplaceable heritage object is hugely significant to Belfast’s economic, maritime and industrial past.
By the 21st century, advanced light technology meant the lighthouse’s huge lens was no longer needed and in 2014 they were replaced by solar panels, a LED light, a radar beacon and AIS.
Recognising the Light’s historical importance, the Titanic Foundation charity was awarded funding for saving, restoring and displaying the optic, and with the help of many organisations including the Commissioners of Irish Lights who contributed and restored the optics, Belfast Harbour who donated the site and the Titanic Quarter who provided the Walkway, the Great Light can now be viewed by the public.
During sixteen weeks work in 2015, many parts were helicoptered to the Granuaile, the heaviest parts were towed under a buoy to the ship and the Irish Lights vessel took all the optic’s parts to Dun Laoghaire. Finally, the site was opened in November 2018 and with free public access, it tells the story of lighthouses, their technological development, the keeper and their role in the maritime and industrial history of Belfast and Ulster.