Napoleonic Signal Tower


British Admiralty

The British Admiralty constructed the Napoleonic Signal Tower at Malin Head in 1805 during the Napoleonic wars to report all ships passing this route. The Tower was manned by regular soldiers because of its importance. The tower was 2 stories high. Access into the tower was by ladder into the first floor.


There were 4 towers under construction on the Donegal coast between 1804-06; the contract for building four of the towers, described as 'defensible guardhouses' including that at St. John's Point, Carrigan Head, Glen Head and most probably Malin Beg, was dated July 1804, Major General Sir Charles Ross being the military officer concerned, the cost for the four towers to total £2,404 (£601 each).


Major General G. V. Hart was responsible for supervising the construction of 5 towers including the one at Malin Head; these towers appear to have been manned by the Lough Swilly sea fencibles commanded by Captain Hill of the Royal Navy. Hart reported to Lt. General Campbell at Armagh in October 1806 that these towers with their signal apparatus were completed.


They worked on a signalling system using ball and flag methods, where various messages could be transmitted from station to station using these signals. A 15m mast was positioned on the seaward side of the signal tower where the flags and balls would be hoisted so that the next signal tower could see the message and pass it on to the adjacent signal tower.

A total of 81 signal towers were built as an integrated defence system in the face of Ireland’s vulnerability to invasion


Signal towers generally follow the same design as the towers on the south and west coasts, being two stories high and square in plan, with the wall opposite the entrance being slightly thicker to accommodate a fireplace and chimney.

Local stone from the area was used in the construction of the tower. The height of the tower is about 30 feet (9m). At the bottom of the construction the walls are at their thickest measuring over 2 feet (0.6m) deep. The interior is about 14 ½ feet (4.5m) by 14 ½ feet (4.5m).

Local Stone was used to build the tower

Picture Caption reads: View of the Naval Signal Port Station at Malin Head with the guardhouse and barrack drawn by Sir Wm Smith in 1808

A later sketch of 1808 includes the signal tower, showing the ladder leading up to the entrance door, and the signal mast with the flagstaff lowered. This is shown in the sketch below. The tower at Fanad Head is depicted in several sketches by Smith in 1812, noted as the 'naval signal station and defensible guardhouse while an earlier drawing of 1804 shows only the signal mast and a small hut of the same type as that at Malin Head.


In September 1809 many of the signal stations were abandoned, but those 'leading into Lough Swilly' were to be retained, presumably Fanad and Malin Head.

Picture Caption reads: View of the Naval Signal Port Station at Malin Head with the guardhouse and barrack drawn by Sir Wm Smith in 1808.

With the defeat of the French fleet by Nelson at Trafalgar in October 1805, the risk of invasion declined. Despite this the Malin Head tower remained operational after1809, although 48 others were closed. During the American War (1812–1815), the Tower again became important.


Following the end of the Napoleonic War most of the signal stations were abandoned including Malin Head. Some were used as admiralty signal stations during the First World War.


At the onset of the Second World War, coastal watching posts were erected close to the signal towers. Most of these were small prefabricated concrete buildings, the remains of which can still be seen on many headlands like the one at Malin Head.

Lloyds Signalling Tower Built 1805

The Lloyds signalling building as its know now still stands, though now in a ruined condition as shown in the photograph above. Today there is a viewing area and visitors car park next to this historic site.

Malin Head is one of the important times in history in regards to communications; from the simple semaphore to radio communications were used at Malin Head.


A Machicolation is a projecting gallery at the top of a castle wall, supported by arches and having openings in the floor through which stones and boiling liquids would have been dropped on attackers in the early castles that were built with them. At the tower at Malin Head these features were built into the tower with musket loops allowed for defence of the entrance on the first floor and the sides of the tower from parapet level.