The Tower of Refuge, also known as St. Mary’s Isle, is a small structure erected upon a partially submerged reef, originally for the purpose of offering shelter to shipwreck victims until help could arrive.
Situated in Douglas Bay, the tower came into being after RNLI founder William Hillary petitioned for a sanctuary to be built on St Mary's Isle. A public subscription plus £78 of Sir William's own money met the building costs of £250.
The reef on which it is built was previously often responsible for the damage and sinking of ships and so the tower provided both a visible warning for incoming ships and a refuge for those in distress.
Completed in 1832 the structure, modelled on a 13th century castle, gained its name from a poem by William Wordsworth in which he wrote: 'A Tower of Refuge built for the else forlorn...'
In more recent years Douglas Town Centre Management has organised an annual escorted walk out to the tower - The Tower Insurance Tower of Refuge Walk - which regularly attracts more than 3000 people. (See news item)
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I visit the Tower of Refuge?
Yes, the tower is open to the public however access is difficult due to its location. When the tide is low enough, it is a popular activity to venture out in the bay to the tower. Visitors do so at their own risk and must be aware of the tide to avoid becoming stranded. Although it is possible to wade out to the tower at low tide, you cannot enter the premises.
What if I do become stranded?
In this situation, do not attempt to swim back to shore. Call 999 or the lifeboat service. See 'Contact Details' opposite.
Who is responsible for maintenance of the tower?
The Tower is maintained by the Department of Infrastructure.
Does it cost to visit?
No, it is free to visit.