EIRE for the Airmen: Guiding the Allies around the Irish coast

Found around most parts of the Irish coast, these huge stone EIRE signs were a declaration of our neutrality and also a somewhat less neutral navigational aid for overflying Allied airmen to whom the numbered locations were useful guide points during their World War 2 missions.

Now an effort to restore some of them is underway and they’re looking for volunteers up in Donegal.

Malin Head Eire sign

Malin Head Eire sign, Donegal Before restoration

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.

Guarding the coast

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, County Kerry.

Downpatrick Head, County Mayo. Eire

Downpatrick Head, County Mayo. Image Thomas Mulchi

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.

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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.

These acted as a declaration of our neutrality so pilots knew they were now flying over neutral territory. Shortly after they added the number of the huts as to aid navigation, however, a list of the locations and corresponding numbers were given to Allied pilots.

After the war ended, the signs no longer had a function; many were dismantled or left to fall into disrepair. Now some are being restored with help from local communities who see their historic importance and wish to preserve them for future generations.

restored sign

Malin Head Eire sign, Donegal After restoration by the Malin Head Community Association

Last year a sign at Malin Head was restored by the Malin Head Community Association in Donegal carried out by the Malin FAS Scheme. And this September the Dunkineely Community Ltd (DCL) are spearheading a campaign to restore the sign at St John’s Point Co Donegal. The initiative aims to restore the white washed stone markers with the help of the local community. They then hope to turn their attention to the Lookout Post (LOP) and restore this at a later date.

Restoration work on the site will begin on Thursday the 1st of September and the DCL is looking for volunteers to help restore this unique piece of Irish history. If you’re in the area and have a few hours to spare get in contact with Michael Cunningham at the DCL on 087 2770408, at dunkineelycl3@gmail.com or through their Facebook page.

About the Author

Ann Robinson
Has a passion for coastal heritage and maritime history. Loves sharing the best of the Irish coast online. Contact me ann@coastmonkey.ie or follow me on Twitter @AnnRobinson22