Skerryvore (from the Gaelic An Sgeir Mhòr meaning "The Great Skerry") is the name of the island that lies off the west coast of Scotland, 12 miles south-west of the Tiree.
The Lighthouse built upon it is Scotland’s tallest and marks a very extensive and treacherous reef of rocks lying off the Hebrides.
It was built of granite quarried on the Island of Mull during the six years from 1838 to 1844, to the design of engineer Alan Stevenson. The beautiful symmetry of the outline of the tower, the proportions of which are a height of 156ft with diameter of 42ft at the base tapering to 16ft at the top, ranks it amongst the most graceful of all lighthouse towers.
Building the Lighthouse
Alan Stevenson and his workmen eventually landed on the rock in June 1838 to undertake the first task which was to erect a wooden barrack for housing the men during their stay throughout the coming summers which were to be regarded as the working seasons.
When possible, Stevenson and his men landed on the rock at 4am each morning and worked until 8pm each night with two half-hour breaks, a 17 hour day. Landing on the rock was often impossible and it was soon obvious that the barrack would not be completed the first season. On 11 September the season finished until the following Spring and the uncompleted barrack stood for two months before it was totally destroyed during a severe gale on 3 November.
Although this represented a severe setback to plans, Alan Stevenson refused to be moved from his belief that it was still possible to erect a Lighthouse on the Skerryvore reef.
Work started again on 6 May 1839 on the erection of a new barrack and also on the excavation of the foundations. It was little surprise nevertheless that progress was at the time minimal as on several occasions cranes, tools and materials were swept into the sea. Despite these frustrations however the barrack was finally completed on 3 September and that year’s season came to an end.
On 30 April 1840 the workmen landed on the rock for the start of the season’s operations and found to their relief that the barrack had withstood the winter’s gales. After the disappointment of the previous year they now seemed to be making headway and on 4 July work on the actual tower was embarked upon.
Three days later the Duke of Argyll, accompanied by the Duchess, were landed on the rock and with due ceremony, laid the foundation stone of the tower. Work pressed on now and the precise work done at Hynish by the masons bore fruit and enabled the rock workmen to set as many as 85 blocks in a day. By the end of the season the tower had risen to a height of 8 feet 2 inches.
The new season began again on 20 May 1841 and by 8 July, the solid base of the tower was completed. Work ended for that year on 17 August when 37 of the 97 courses of stone had been laid.
The 19th May saw the start of operations in 1842 and on 25 July the last stone of the top was laid. The masonry of the tower was now 137 feet 11 inches in height and it contained 58,580 cubic feet of material of about 4,308 tons. The lantern arrived in sections and was assembled during August and September of that year.
In January 1843 Alan Stevenson was appointed Engineer to the Lighthouse Commissioners and the final stages of the tower were left to his younger brother Thomas, who succeeded him as resident engineer and was later to become Engineer to the Board. Thomas Stevenson visited the rock on 29 March 1843 and found the whole structure watertight. The rest of that season was spent in repointing the tower and fitting the interior which comprised 11 rooms in all.
The tower was now ready for manning and on 1 February 1844, Skerryvore beamed out for the first time. Two large fog bells were sounded 1 stroke every ½ minute. The larger of these bells in now in St Connan’s Kirk, Loch Awe.
From February 1844, when it was first exhibited, the white light flashed out each night without fail until the night of 16 March 1954 when a disastrous fire broke out and badly damaged the structure. As a temporary measure an unmanned lightvessel was laid in position 4 miles 235° from Skerryvore on 24 March 1954.
Reconstruction work on the lighthouse commenced in 1956 and was completed in 1959 when the light was made electric. It is now a self-generating station, power being produced by 3 diesel generators, any one of which is able to carry the full station load.