The Signalling System


The British government in reaction to the various French invasion attempts in the 1790s, and in particular, the 1798 French landing at Killala in Co. Mayo. They decided that a method of watch and signalling station would be built.

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 49 foot (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 one.

12 Signal Stations around Donegal coast


The line of signal stations along the west coast continued around the Donegal coast up to Malin Head.

  1. The first station was at St. John’s Point.

  2. Ten miles westwards from here was the signal tower at Carrigan Head.

  3. The next at Malin Beg five miles north-west.

  4. Some four miles north was the tower at Glen Head.

  5. The next signal station being Dawros Head ten miles to the north-east.

  6. Crohy Head tower, seven miles north.

  7. Linked to the next station at Mullaghderg Hill near Kincasslagh.

  8. Nine miles further north is the signal tower on Bloody Foreland.

  9. The next tower on Horn Head some thirteen miles north-east.

  10. The tower on Melmore Head eight miles to the east links to the following signal station at Fanad Head

  11. Fanad Head, at the west side of the entrance to Lough Swilly.

  12. The last station in the chain being at Malin Head.


The signalling system involved the use of a rectangular flag, a blue pendant or narrow rectangular flag and four black balls made of hoops covered in canvas. To convey signals, these were hoisted in various arrangements on a signal post. This consisted of an old topmast 59 feet (15m) long with a cap, cross-trees and a fid (conical wooden pin) to secure the 9m flagstaff. The pendant and canvas-covered balls were hoisted by means of a graff or spar (30 feet (9m)) set at an angle to the mast. Naval vessels offshore used flags to communicate with the signal stations.


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Malin Head