Saturday, June 22, 2024

Alphonsus O'Leary, Straw Island and the Lusitania


The Old Head of Kinsale (photo from Afloat)

On 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was nearing the end of her 202nd transatlantic voyage and was passing the Old Head of Kinsale  en route from New York to Liverpool. It is said that many people picknicking on the grassy slopes next to the lighthouse watched her pass (this was long before the golf club restricted access) although why there should be picknickers there on a Friday afternoon is unclear.
Suddenly the air was rent by an explosion from a torpedo fired by a German U-Boat, followed by a second explosion within the ship. It is said the ship sank in 18 minutes, watched by the crowd on the Old Head. Of the 1,960 people on board, 1,197 lost their lives, primarily because all but a few lifeboats had been disabled in the two explosions.
Very shortly thereafter, the bodies began to wash up on the south coast of Ireland. Mass graves were dug, the victims photographed and buried. After a time, some more bodies drifted around to the west coast. Five weeks after the tragedy, Assistant Keeper Alphonsus O'Leary, stationed at Straw Island lighthouse off Inis Mór in Galway Bay found the body of a woman washed up on his shoreline. He immediately contacted his superiors in Irish Lights: -

Alphonsus O'Leary had been born in Sligo (Irish Lights records) or Cork (1911 Census) in 1881 and joined Irish Lights in 1902 with the Service number 193. He was on the Tuskar on the 1911 Census and, as seen, on Straw Island in 1915. Presumably he had a sister or a mother with him, as Straw Island was a single family station. He was transferred to Sligo Lights in August 1916, was made PK in 1929 and appointed to Blackrock Mayo. Stints at Fanad, Wicklow, Sligo (again), Rotten Island, and Duncannon followed until his retirement in 1941, when he was made attendant at the latter station. He retired to Wicklow where he died in 1954 aged 73, still unmarried.

The unfortunate lady was apparently not the only Lusitania victim to have washed up in the vicinity.

(Incidentally, the registrar recorded the date of the finding of the body incorrectly. It should have been the 11th June)

Further examination at Kilronan, revealed further details about the body: -

1. #4. Female. 45 years. Recovered at Straw Island. Very decomposed. Wore blue
linen dress, black boots and stockings. Hair short, turning grey.
Property.- 1 ring, apparently gold with three stones: 2 blue, 1 supposed
diamond; 1 expanding bracelet and watch (latter damaged) apparently
gold, initials 
Buried Kilronan Graveyard, June 11, 1915.

Irish Lights inspectors walking the beach to the lighthouse in 1903 (photo National Library of Ireland)

109 years after the sinking, the lady, like over fifty others, remains unidentified.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Fanad Farmhouse Beer


Idly waiting in the off-licence in Lidl yesterday for my wife to make up her mind between the Riesling and the Sauvignon Blanc, my bored eye suddenly fell on a picture of a familiar lighthouse. Sure enough, on closer inspection, it turned out to be Fanad lighthouse on the label with a bottle of Kinnegar beer sitting on the Limeburner Buoy off the coast.
Fair play to Kinnegar for featuring this and other local landmarks on their advertising and fair play to them for getting into Lidl. Probably won't be long now before they're taken over by Diageo or Carlsberg, which seems to be the fate of many small, local breweries.
It did strike me as rather odd that a lighthouse, which was always strictly dry, with no alcohol permitted, should be used to promote an alcoholic beverage. Not that they were ever completely dry, of course. Just officially so.
Did I buy one? No, I am a boring old fart and only drink draught Guinness. At home, sitting out in nice weather, with my legs in traction, I would go for cheap bottles of lager. Never cans. Never craft beer. And not at €3 a can.
And the wife went for the Riesling. Eventually.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

A late-blossoming lighthouse from the Beara peninsula

Another of Ireland's under-the-radar lighthouses, Ardnakinna lighthouse on Bere Island

Joy Tubby's recent fascinating journal of her lighthouse odyssey of the south and southwest coasts of Ireland (published in Lamp 138-140) mentioned Ardnakinna lighthouse on the western tip of Bere Island in Bantry Bay.
I last wrote about this largely unknown light eleven years ago, when I craftily managed to include it in a hike with my brother-in-law. The reason for this lapse was probably because it didn't appear to have had much of a history. It only acquired its light in 1965 and never had a keeper and so, what was there to write about? Joy's article made me take a second look.

According to the Irish Lights websitea beacon to mark the western entrance to Castletownbere was first recommended in 1847 by the Admiralty. It was agreed to build a beacon tower on the west point of Bere Island (Ardnakinna). Construction took place in 1850 and the beacon was left in the care of a local man. The caretaker remained until 1863 when the tower was capped and his services were dispensed with.
This, of course, was not unprecedented. Only ten years previously, the fledging lighthouse on Capel Island had been capped in case it was ever needed again. So far, it hasn't but Ardnakinna has.
The Cork Constitution of 28th December 1852 raises the possibility that this was not the first tower on the site: -

Certainly, there is no 'disused fort' at Ardnakinna Point on the 1st edition OS map, nor indeed anywhere in the vicinity but it is noteworthy that the current grounds at the lighthouse are surrounded by the remains of a wall, for which the beacon itself had no use. However, these bits of rectangular wall certainly seem newer than the early 1800s, so perhaps I am wrong on this. 
What is interesting is the 'old watchman,' who could well have been the caretaker alluded to in the Irish Lights snippet.

The following article from the Kerry Evening Post 16th June 1860 makes it clear that, ten years after the tower was built, it was still in the Ballast Board's mind to make this tower a proper, card-carrying lighthouse.

However, the plan seems to have been scuppered by the end of 1861, as reported in the Cork Examiner of 23rd December of that year. A Captain Greenway, an old seaman, 38 years at sea, speaking at a Famine Meeting in Castletown, put forward a resolution that was passed.

However, Lord Palmerstown, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, refused to sanction these famine works on the grounds that the work would be completed by skilled specialists from outside the area and thus would not help alleviate the famine in the area. The Ballast Board, according to an 1894 report also made the decision not to proceed with the light as it would have been unsafe for sailing vessels to access Berehaven via the narrow strait at Ardnakinna and should circumnavigate the island via the far (eastern) end of Bere Island, where a beautiful lighthouse (Roancarrig) proudly sat.

Ardnakinna from the mainland, the Sheeps Head peninsula behind 

Ridiculously, I have been unable to find a sketch, photo or oil painting of the unlit beacon, which, although a bit of a trek to reach via land, is in plain view from the mainland. Maybe the fact that Bere Island was for many years a large British naval port explains the secrecy. 
During the First World War, the British coastguards built a lookout dwelling in the corner of the lighthouse compound, clearly visible in the top two photographs to the left of the tower. A submarine net was also established from Ardnakinna to the mainland to stop German U-boats attcking the British fleet in Berehaven harbour as they did at Scapa Flow.
The above-mentioned lookout dwelling was inadvertently responsible for the death of 'a British military caretaker,' one Thomas McClure in 1934. Obviously satisfied that there was no further need of a lookout station on the west end of Bere Island, Thomas and a man called James Sullivan, were told to pull the building down. Unfortunately, while doing the job, an eight foot square section of wall fell on top of Thomas and he died of shock from his injuries. He left a widow and a young baby girl.

A much better view of Ardnakinna from the mainland (photo by Pat Tubby)

Eventually, during the 1960s, over 100 years after it was first constructed, Ardnakinna achieved its light. On the 23rd November 1965, the Evening Echo wrote

The article also said that a road had been built to the lighthouse from the landing place in 1860 but this had been totally reclaimed by nature and a new road had to be built. A new landing place also had to be constructed 'opposite,' which I'm taking to mean on the mainland. Hopefully they removed the submarine net.
In conclusion, the Echo said, the lights would be exhibited that evening at a special ceremony attended by the bigwigs of Irish Lights. But, it seems, it was not to be, as T.G. Wilson explains, in his 1968 book, The Lighthouse Service: -

The new light, now nearly 60 years old

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Lost Lighthouse of Sackville Street


Nelson's Pillar looking out over a strangely deserted Sackville Street in 1811 (Wikicommons)

From its inception in Dublin's main thoroughfare in 1809, Nelson's Pillar received criticism from the city's inhabitants, criticism that slowly increased as the mood of nationalism and anti-empiricism grew over the next 150 years. To be fair, much of the displeasure centred on the top and bottom of the edifice. The top was decorated by the 13ft (4m) figure of an admiral of the British Navy, sculptured by Alexander Kirk, and the bottom commemorated four naval battles he won - Trafalgar, Copenhagen, St. Helena and the Nile. Tourists could climb the 166 steps for a small fee and gaze from the figure on top to gaze upon the symbol of anti-British resistance - the GPO - a few yards away. And other buildings, of course.
Generally, though, the bit between the top and the bottom, received little criticism. Built of black limestone and Wicklow granite, the 120 ft (37m) doric column, largely escaped the ire of the population, except maybe for an anonymous versifier (it could well have been John Swan Sloane!) writing in the Irish Builder of 15th June 1876: -

It is well-known in Irish history that a combination of the IRA and the Irish Army blew up the offending monument in 1966. It has since been replaced by a the decidedly non-pharological Millennium Spire.

Of course, Nelson's Pillar was never a lighthouse, nor indeed any kind of navigational marker. I mean, the mere idea of placing a British naval officer on top of a large column as a way of warning ships from a rocky coast, is quite ridiculous.

The Metal Man, Tramore, county Waterford, featuring a petty officer of the Royal Navy, sculpted by Alexander Kirk. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Ashfield Cross Roundabout Lighthouse

The Tuskar Rock. One of the first Irish lighthouses to be built by the Ballast Board and its inspector, George Halpin, way back in 1815. Its been standing guard on its treacherous rock for over 200 years and is as much a national monument as an aid to navigation.
The only problem with it, is that its not a great photographic subject. Just that little bit too far off the coast of Rosslare unless you have a camera that costs as much as a month's rent in Ballsbridge. And there are no boat tours out to the Tuskar, even though I imagine they'd be very popular.
However, although Mohammed can't get to the mountain, thanks to Wexford resident, Damian Mcaleenan, the mountain has obligingly swum up to Rosslare and waltzed up the Dublin road in search of that esteemed gentleman.
I wrote last year about plans by the Rosslare Municipal District to install a replica of the Tuskar on the Ashfield Cross Roundabout on the otherwise uninteresting main road out of the port. In that article, I said it was expected to be complete by the year's end.
Well, it wasn't and as time dragged on, I started thinking it was going to be one of those projects that never saw the light of day. But again, I was wrong for a couple of days ago, artist Damian Mcaleenan got in touch to say the replica light was going to be up and running on Monday 20th May.
Damian was fortunate enough to be given a VIP tour of the Tuskar when he was drawing up plans for the replica. Other than that, he's a very likable chap and he's done an excellent job of reproducing the distinctive outbuildings and tower. The structure had been ready to move into position for quite a while but the wheels of local authority run slowly.
But finally its up and its a great addition to the port hinterland! Damian very kindly sent me a video of its establishment

together with some shots in the warehouse previously

Incidentally, my apologies for my absence from the blog. Too much on my plate at the moment and something had to give. Sorry.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Trying to untangle the Boyles

The Newry River front light (tended by Tom Boyle?)

There have been a lack of posts here recently as I try to put some manners on the Eagle Island book so, just to give myself a break from it, I decided to try and sort out the Boyles and O'Boyles, prompted by a Facebook post from Phil Boyle.
The earliest Boyle I have is Charles Boyle, (Keeper 20) who was born in county Donegal around 1840. His father was a farmer and he joined the Ballast Board (the precursor of Irish Lights) in May 1866. He was in Mine Head in 1871, where he met his wife, Mary Power. They married in 1875 when he was stationed at Poolbeg in Dublin. He was at Drogheda East and West in 1881, on Straw Island  on the Aran Islands from at least 1882 to 1885 (with Mary as his Female Assistant) and Rotten Island in 1901. He retired to Killybegs and died in 1929.
One of his sons, Mick Boyle (144) became a keeper. Born in Mine Head in 1876, he joined the firm in 1897. One of his first stations was Eagle Island. He married Julia Kennedy from Sligo in 1903 and served at Mew Island, Fanad and the Maidens amongst others. He died in Donaghadee, three years short of retirement in 1933.

Mick Boyle and Julia

Mick and Julia had two sons who became lightkeepers. Michael Patrick Boyle (327) was born in 1908 and joined Irish Lights in 1926, serving at Sligo, Tory, Fanad and Inishtrahull, amongst others. He was known as 'Biff.' 
And Martin Anthony Boyle (351) who also seemed to end up in the northern part of the country, serving at Inisheer, Rathlin, Tory, Fanad and Inishowen. Michael joined Irish Lights in 1926 and Martin five years later.
Martin, incidentally is the only keeper I can recall off the top of my head who was ever shot. Himself and William James were duck shooting on Rathlin and, crawling through a hedge, William's gun accidentally went off, the bullet passing through Martin's wrist and into his thigh. Thankfully, he survived.
There was another keeper called Charles Boyle (314) who, based purely on his first name, may have belonged to this branch of the family. He was cerrtainly a contemporary of Michael and Martin. And Patrick James Boyle (204)  might fit in here somewhere as well.
We then travel to Malinmore near Glencolumbkille in south-west Donegal for another branch of Boyle lightkeepers. John James Boyle (261) and Patrick Francis Boyle (297) Both were musicians who played in the St. Columba's Fife and Drum Band. Their father was a carpenter and JJ was renowned for playing Irish and Scottish airs on a fiddle made by him. Both sons added the O' to their names at various times in their lives. It seems to have been optional. One joined just before WW1, one just after. The story for Patrick was that, after waiting five years to get into the service, he ended up breaking his back due to a fall during painting and retired back to Malinmore.

John James Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

There was also a Thomas N. O'Boyle (510) who is possibly related to the two lads as there is a newspaper clipping of him getting married in 1959. The text says that he was an AK on Inishtearaght and that his father  was Sergeant John O'Boyle of Glencolumkille. It is interesting to note that Charles Boyle (20) above was born in Donegal and retired back to Killybegs, so it may well be that they are one big happy family.

Patrick Francis Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

Peter John (PJ) O'Boyle (569) was possibly a Galway man who was 31 years a keeper before retiring from the Baily in 1996. He was a dream capture for Irish Lights, being highly-skilled in carpentry, mechanics and engineering. And also a true gentleman, by all accounts. 

PJ O'Boyle c. 1970 (photo courtesy Alex Hamilton)

A nineteen year old youth called Phil Boyle has been described as assistant keeper at Arranmore lighthouse  in the mid-1920s. As his parents lived on the island, it was more likely that he was a temporary keeper, drafted in whenever one of the two keepers was indisposed.
The story goes that, in January 1925, he was winding up the weights in the lighthouse and the chain slipped, cutting off his fingers. He was rushed to Letterkenny hospital where theuy patched him up as best they could. His mother and father collected him from the hospital and travelled back to the island aboard the Burtonport extension railway. Only it was a wild night and, crossing the Owencarrow viaduct near Creeslough, two of the carriages were blown off the track and over the edge of the viaduct. The carriages ended up hanging there but one of the roofs got ripped off and four people fell to their deaths, including Phil's parents.

The Owencarrow viaduct disaster

It may be coincidence, as there are a lot of Boyles on Arranmore, but Neil Boyle served as attendant at both  Ballagh Rocks lighthouse and Arranmore lighthouse in the first decade of the 21st century.
And Andy Newman tells me that Charlie Boyle was the attendant at Arranmore prior to that. Father of Neil?
Which only leaves us with Thomas Boyle, a 64 year old county Down native, who appears on the 1911 census as a 'Lightkeeper Under Harbour Authority' in Drummullagh, county Louth. This is interesting because Drummullagh is the townland just opposite Warrenpoint harbour and the only lights I know of 'under harbour authority' are the unique round towers in Narrow Water, just upstream from the harbour. They are more on the county Louth side than county Down. I have never heard of a keeper for these two lights. I'd like to think it was old Tom.
As per the comments below I am delighted to add that Thomas Boyle, Drummullagh, Omeath was a seaman and later a pilot for Newry. He was a son of Owen Boyle, a farmer and married Margaret O'Hagan from the same townland (whose father was also a seaman) in 1874. He died on the 16th Oct 1921 age 72.

The Newry River rear light

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Eagle Island - a final call to arms

Eagle Island 1970s (photo by Alex Hamilton) Note the pre-circumcised lantern. And paint on the walls.

As some of you may be aware, I've been banging on about writing a book on Eagle Island for a couple of years now. I was hoping that the long-promised Irish Lights archives might have come out online, or even the establishment of a reading room to access them but, at this stage, I suspect we'll be celebrating Ireland winning the World Cup sooner.
Anyway, the book is largely complete now. Over 120,000 words about fourteen acres of land. I still have a couple of people I need to talk to and a lot of proof-reading to do but its more or less in its final shape.

The Queen of Scotchport arriving at the south landing 1932 (photo courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

However, I am still happy to talk / correspond with anybody who might have any knowledge of the island, however small or quirky or seemingly insignificant. Topics include, but are not limited to: former keepers, tradesmen, technicians, boatmen, helicopter pilots (or anybody who may have Eagle Island anecdotes about any of them); flora (is there anything except grass, seapinks and mushrooms?) and fauna (birds, animals, insects, fish, sea mammals); WW1 and WW2; the Stientje Mensinga; the generators, fog signals, lantern, lighting, radio direction beam etc; storms of 1836, 1850, 1861, 1886, 1894, 1921, 1935, 1986, 1988 and others; boats damaged or sunk in the vicinity of the island.

Photographs and / or anecdotes relating to any of the above would also be very welcome. (I'm particularly short of photos of any of the Gallaghers, McAndrews, Kilkers, Gaughans, Williams etc who rowed from Scotchport to the island for the lighthouse reliefs.)

If you can help, or know of anyone who can help, with any of the above, please contact me at (As I'll be selling the book on a non-profit basis, I'm afraid I can't offer a free copy in return for a photograph. Sorry!)

Photo by Richard Cummins