Copinsay Lighthouse is situated on the Orkney island of Copinsay. The light was first exhibited on 8 November 1915. The first Principal Lightkeeper was Charles J McNeish.


The island’s name is from Old Norse, from Kolbeinsey meaning “Kolbein’s Island“.

The light
The apparatus was a Stevenson equiangular refractor showing a group flashing white light, five flashes every thirty seconds, the lamp was a petroleum vapour burner using paraffin on the tilley light principle made by Chance Brothers. The lantern and parapet were made by the Edinburgh firm James Milne & Son costing £1,263. They also made the revolving machine, carriage and mercury trough at a cost of £465.

The old foghorn was operated by compressed air powered by three Kelvin Diesel Engines. The character was 4 blasts, each of 2½ seconds duration every 60 seconds. This character was achieved by means of a clock which opened and shut the valves as required. These were made by A C Westwood at a cost of £2,299. The total cost of the lighthouse and buildings was £13,400.

Two different contractors were responsible for the building work. The first was Mr McDougall who built 30ft of the tower. This was then was taken over by Mr Harry Ramsey Taylor, an Edinburgh architect, who finished the remaining 23 feet.

The island of Copinsay is an important bird sanctuary, but in the 1930’s it was farmed by a Mr Groat who had 13 children. Between the farmer’s children and the Lighthouse Keepers’ children, there was a resident teacher on the island. One of the rooms in the farmhouse was the classroom.

There is a group of three islands off the west side of Copinsay which are accessible at low water – Ward Holm, Corn Holm, and Black Holm. The bow of the trawler “Prince Deluge”, which ran around and sank on the Black a number of years ago was washed up and is now lying high and dry on the Corn Holm.

During the Second World War, a British aircraft crash landed on Copinsay just below the lighthouse. The aircraft was dismantled and removed from the area.

The Light was automated in 1991 and is remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s headquarters in Edinburgh.


Year Established



David A Stevenson


Latitude   58° 53.792'N
Longitude 002° 40.349' W


Group Flashing (5) every 30 seconds


79 metres


14 nautical miles


White tower 16 metres high

Public Access


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