Thanks Mary for following article. The lookout post at Cahore Point, Wexford, mentioned in the article, has actually been restored and is part of a coastal walk now.
“Éire” Lookout Post signs.
Article by Maurice Curran
Éire LOP signs around Ireland’s coastline – the GPS’s of the past.
As I travel along the coast of Ireland giving Tours, I frequently come across the white painted “ ÉIRE” sIgns along our coastline, in the last week alone, I have come across two of these LOP signs.
One was on Slieve League, “Éire 71” and the other on Downpatrick Head, “Éire 64”. I have been asked to explain what they are and why they are here.
So what are these signs and why were they out here?
Many years ago, in a piece about the lighthouses on the coast of Ireland, I saw a comment that the lighthouses were to tell the mariner where he was, and not just to warn him against rocks.
Today, we take high technology navigational aids for granted. In the 1940s, GPS did not exist. In 1942-43, close to the locations of the coastal watch huts, signs were placed on the Irish coast to identify the land below as “Eire”, and not, for example, Great Britain or Northern Ireland.
Back in 1939 the “Coast Watching Service” was set up to monitor and record aggressive activity around our coast. Eighty-three Lookout posts (LOPs) were set up at strategic locations from Ballagan Head in Louth (no. 1) to Inishowen Head in Donegal (no. 82) and the final one no. 83 was then added in Foileye Head, near Kells Lough, Co. Kerry. They were placed at strategic points (every 5–15 miles) along the Irish coastline.
From 1939 to 1945 these locations were monitored 24 hours a day by two men teams. At first accommodation was pretty poor, just a tent, but then a number of permanent standard pill box structures were built to house the watchers. These LOPs became vital sites for intelligence gathering. All marine and aircraft activity was noted with incredible detail in logbooks and any major activity was transmitted to Defence Forces headquarters for analysis.
As the war raged on the number of aircraft flying over Ireland began to increase and a growing number of these planes were crashing down on Irish soil or being forced to land due to the pilot losing their bearings or running low on fuel. In 1943 the Coast Watching Service began to construct these giant stone EIRE markers close by to the LOPs, mainly along the west coast. These signs were 12m by 6m and were built with up to 150 tons of white washed stones embed in concrete.
According to Michael Kennedy’s book on the coastwatching service, Guarding Neutral Ireland, it was “a way to reduce the number of aircraft landing because their crews had lost their bearings”. Kennedy’s research indicates that these signs were constructed at the behest of the American authorities.
A number of signs such as the one at Cahore Point in Wexford were built too small initially and so larger signs were built over them at a later stage. A number of the signs still exist in varying states of repair, mostly along the west of the country and in addition some of have been renovated such as the one in Loop Head, Co. Clare.
Shortly after the EIRE signs were constructed, mostly by the volunteers of the local Look Out Post (known in the documentation as LOPs), the identifying number of the relevant LOP was added, enhancing the signs’ value as a navigational aid. A list of LOPs, their locations and numbers were given to allied pilots thus allowing themselves to reduce the risk of crashing in the Republic of Ireland, and also, giving them greater detail on where they were.
Currently available information suggests the signs were really only of use during the day, although according to Michael Kennedy’s work on the Coastal Watch (Guarding Neutral Ireland, 2009), fires may have been lit near some of the signs during winter nights.
Approximately 85 of these signs were built. I don’t have an exact number. There were 83 coastal watch stations and I believe that at least two sites constructed two signs, namely Achill Island and Slieve League. In 2012, realising there was no list of the still existing signs, I decided to locate as many of them as could still be seen from commercially available satellite imagery. I have been fortunate to locate more than 30, all on the western coastline. The largest number of them are still to be seen on headlands in Donegal, where the greatest number of them have survived. Mayo has a significant number also.
The LOPS were designed by Howard Cooke RIBA of the Irish Office of Public Works in 1939.
After the hostilities ended most of these buildings were abandoned and some were removed. Traces of a significant number remain in place and some are in relatively good repair. In general, structures in more isolated locations have tended to remain in place
The stone EIRE signs are now certainly a unique part of our landscape and tell an important part of the story of our World War 2 neutrality. After the war had ended, however, many of these signs were removed. Farmers used the stones for wall building, they became defaced or just faded into obscurity. But their story is one worth remembering and their physical structures, along with the affiliated Lookout posts, are worth preserving.
In 2015 a sign at Malin Head was restored by the Malin Head Community Association in Donegal carried out by the Malin FAS Scheme.
Early in 2018 , a huge gorse fire in Bray Head in Co. Wicklow caused untold damage to the landscape of the area and led to the evacuation of several homes. A joint operation between firefighters and the Air Corps eventually quenched the blaze, but the aftermath of the fire revealed a long forgotten feature, etched into the landscape.
Having been hidden from view by the overgrown vegetation for over half a century, the words Éire could now be clearly seen from the air. The words were marked into the hill using stone in the early 1940s.
A number of initiatives around the country are now restoring the white washed stone markers with the help of the local community. There are also hopes to restore Lookout Posts (LOP) as well.
📘Courtesy to: coastmonkey.ie
📸Courtesy to: Jack Walsh, drone photography.