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CULTURE Lighthouse to be illuminated again for guests

The spectacular and historic lighthouse on Clare Island, which was built in 1808.
The spectacular and historic lighthouse on Clare Island, which was built in 1808.

Lighthouse to be illuminated again for guests

Iconic Clare Island landmark to open its doors next May

Áine Ryan

FOR decades it provided a comforting beacon for sailors battling with the whims of the Atlantic, now it is set to be an oasis for visitors who desperately crave a break from the grim monotony of the daily grind. Where better to escape, then, than a lighthouse teetering on magnificent cliffs on the edge of an island in County Mayo.
Welcome, Fáilte, Wilkommen to the Clare Island Lighthouse, which will be opened in the coming months as an atmospheric and unique Bed and Breakfast. And all courtesy of some serious brain-storming by owner Goesta Fischer and his business partner, Roie McCann. But what do a German pathologist and an experienced interior designer have in common? Well, for one thing, a real love for the magnificent coastline of west Mayo.
Hamburg native, Goesta Fischer runs a busy medical institute in the east German town of Wilhelmshaver. The institute specialises in cancer research and provides diagnostic pathologies for about 15 hospitals. However, whenever he has some spare time he returns to the west of Ireland where he has had a family home since 1985.
“I had been coming to Ireland since the mid-70s with my wife and eventually bought the ‘Haunted House’ between Westport and Newport in 1985. We had already travelled extensively in Ireland but I always said if we were buying a house it would be near Westport because of its lovely heritage and its proximity to the bay and coast,” Goesta Fischer says.
Goesta assures The Mayo News that rumours of ghosts in the ‘Haunted House’, the landmark green house on a bad bend between Westport and Newport, have been greatly exaggerated. Although he concedes that local visitors are more circumspect and always ensure they leave before midnight.
We are drinking coffee at Roie McCann’s home, which nestles near Croagh Patrick and overlooks spectacular Clew Bay. Donegal-born and Dublin reared, Roie moved to Mayo full-time in 2000 and worked for several years for Irwin’s Interiors in Castlebar before working freelance. She puts her eclectic flair for design and interiors down to the fact that she has travelled widely and at various stages lived in London, The Hague and San Francisco.
The launch-pad for Roie’s interest in design has its genesis in her interest in antique furniture which led her to manage a shop in Dublin’s Liberties, where there are several antique outlets. 
But back to Clare Island lighthouse and an advertisement for its sale that caught Goesta’s eye four years ago.
“I clearly remember I had just two days left of my holidays and since it was winter time there was no boat to the island that day so I hired one. I went to the lighthouse and jumped over the wall and simply fell in love with the building and its unique location.”
He says he immediately saw its potential.
“I didn’t see it as a private house, or, as was initially reported, a birthday present for my wife. I just wanted to make it liveable in again. So myself and my solicitor went to the auction in Dublin. There were many bidders but I came away having purchased it.”
Goesta bought the lighthouse from Lady Georgina Forbes who had dropped her original asking price of €2.1 million by a staggering 75 per cent to €500,000. Keen interest at the auction, however, brought the purchase price back up to a reported €1.05 million.

Foggy history
BUILT in 1806, Clare Island Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1965 because its beams were sometimes occluded by foggy conditions. An unmanned lighthouse on Achillbeg replaced it. It has had two other private owners in the past, an Irish-American family, the Conlons, and Belgians, Robert and Monica Timmermanns. The Timmermanns spent substantial money on its renovation to an up-market guesthouse, which attracted Jean Kennedy-Smith during her ambassadorship to Ireland, and television celebrity, Ray D’Arcy. They sold the lighthouse to Lady Forbes in the early noughties but her visits became increasingly infrequent and, unfortunately, the historic building became rundown and in need of repair once again.
Soon after Mr Fischer bought the lighthouse he employed an island contractor to carry out extensive refurbishment works on the main house and its many outbuildings. Naturally, the next phase involved his designer friend, Roie McCann.
“Recently Goesta and I started talking about the lighthouse and how terrible it was that we had nothing done. So we began to come up with all sorts of ideas and I suggested that first of all we open a B and B since it had been tried-and-tested and worked there before,” says Roie.
She continues: “We are both very excited since the possibilities for it are endless. When we are established we will consider cookery courses and hosting meetings for international artists who normally work in an urban environment. There is lots of meeting space but our accommodation is limited so we are really looking forward to working with the other tourism providers on the island.”
She confirms the plan is to be open by next May and to then stay open year-round. Before all that though they need to check the weather forecast and don their oilskins for a quick visit to the island the following day.