Thursday, October 22, 2020

Cataloguing Irish Lights Archives

 


The word 'cataloguing' looks wrong when spelled the proper way, but also looks wrong spelled the US way - 'cataloging.' Oh well, first world problem.
I was recently on to Irish Lights with a query about the lighthouse in Newcastle county Down. In former years, they would put me onto Frank Pelly who was snowed under by the archives in the Baily Lighthouse but always did his best to help as best he could. He used to describe his job as either preserving what archives or trying to catalogue - there was not the time to do both! And so, wisely, he concentrated on the preservation, so as to have records for future generations to catalogue.
Frank has now retired and, ironically, there is now a big project underway to preserve and catalogue the archives. This is the reply I received from the Project Manager - 
The project to catalogue the archive only began last year, 2019. The archive contains over one thousand volumes and two thousand boxes. The archive project is prioritising records of greatest historical significance. When the records were created in the 19th and 20th centuries they were not divided according to each lighthouse but rather, in common with other 19th century registry systems, the records were filed chronologically regardless of subject. Therefore it is only when the project is finished that comprehensive searches of the archive will be possible. Until the records have been catalogued we do not know what information they contain.
An Archive webpage is currently being developed which will provide general information. We hope to publish the catalogues when they are complete, after 2022.
I understand that, in the meantime, as archives are catalogued they will become available to researchers.
And very valuable they will be too!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bangor Pier Head Light


The definition of a lighthouse varies from person to person, from lighthouse authority to lighthouse authority. Is a white box with a light on top a lighthouse? A skeletal tower with a light? Most people, I feel, appreciate the classical tower lighthouse and regard anything else as 'not a proper lighthouse.'
I agree with Russ Rowlett in his Lighthouse Directory that a lighthouse ought to be substantial. He suggests minimum dimensions and I can't really argue. I would add though, that I believe one should be able to enter a lighthouse, as per the 'house' part of the word.
Thus, as can be seen in the wonderful photograph above, the Bangor Pier Head light should be considered a true lighthouse. I believe the guy inside is Peter Scott, who is, or at least was, Duty Berthing Master at Bangor Marina and also the man responsible for servicing the light.
I use this post as an excuse to show some more photographs of one of Ireland's two truly red lighthouses!







 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

(My) Great Lighthouses of Ireland

Depending on what part of the country you live in, this post will delight you or annoy you, so I will stress beforehand that the following list is entirely my own subjective opinion. It is neither incorrect nor correct. You will doubtless disagree on many of my choices and your view is every bit as valid as mine. 
The premise of this list is CIL's 12 Great Lighthouses of Ireland, which, as I have mentioned before, should really be 12 Lighthouses of Ireland that have Tourist Potential. They are not the twelve greatest lighthouses of Ireland, as anyone outside CIL will agree. One of them isn't even a lighthouse. Others - Cromwell Point and Blackhead come to mind - are very picturesquely situated but most of our lighthouses, by their very nature, are anyway. And of course, lighthouses in Ireland are not limited to those under the auspices of the Commissioner of Irish Lights.
So, in no order of merit, but starting at Fair Head and circumnavigating the country clockwise, this is my list of Ireland's twelve greatest lighthouses, with a brief reasoning for its inclusion.

1) Chaine Tower (county Antrim)


A relatively new building (1888) in lighthouse terms but I love the way the designers tapped into the Irish DNA when drawing up the plans. Not originally designed as a lighthouse - a memorial and a daymark for boats entering Larne Harbour - but it beautifully links back to our ancient Irish past.

2) South Rock (county Down) 


Thomas Rogers may have his detractors, and rightly so, but his pride and joy must surely have been this magnificent lighthouse, dating back to 1797 and probably the oldest wave-swept lighthouses in the world. (Bell Rock in Scotland lays claim to being the oldest working wave-swept lighthouse.) Despite the fact that it has been inactive since 1877, it is apparently in excellent shape and could easily be pressed into service if technology fails us.

3) Drogheda Lights (East, West and North)


Three lights for the price of one and demonstrating that lighthouses need not be stone or iron monoliths. Dating from the 1840s, these three lights (there were originally four, but one was never lit) resemble three giant sand-hoppers waiting in the dunes. They are full of character and quite unique in Ireland. They light the entrance to the River Boyne.

4) Poolbeg Lighthouse


Somewhat squat and dumpy, this iconic red lighthouse, sitting at the end of an incredibly long breakwater out in the middle of Dublin Bay has seen off and welcomed home millions of people since it was first built in the 1760s. An aerial view gives a true sense of its spectacular location. A brisk stroll out to it will blow away any cobwebs you might have and you can see at least six other lighthouses along the way.

5) Wicklow Head


Once again, three lighthouses for the price of one but in this instance, all three are very different. It's great fun working out the angles between the high lights and the low light and even more so trying to find the foundations of the missing low light! And all, I say with complete bias, located in the best county in Ireland.

6) Hook Head


The vast amount of history of this place is truly remarkable and a guided tour here is a tour of the last 1500 years. Okay, some of the claims are slightly exaggerated but you cannot fail to sense the shadows of our ancestors in every nook and niche of this invincible stone tower.

7) Dunmore East


I was hesitant to include Dunmore East (1825) because of its proximity to Hook Head but in the end, I chose it for its beauty. Architecturally, it is the jewel in Ireland's lighthouse crown, with its fluted Doric exterior shown off by the natural stone. There is nothing like it on our coasts. Alexander Nimmo, take a bow.

8) The Fastnet


As Poolbeg is to Dublin, so the Fastnet is to Ireland. Probably the most iconic lighthouse in these islands (with Bell Rock and Eddystone) and one of the greatest in the world, the story of its construction will leave you speechless. A boat tour from Schull or Clear Island is well worth getting seasick for.

9) Inishtearaght


The one lighthouse on the list I have not been to, or even seen, Ireland's most westerly lighthouse sits, perched like a puffin on a tiny bit of cliff on the far side of the furthest of the Blasket Islands. It is Europe's westernmost lighthouse, outside of Iceland. One can only wonder how safe the keepers felt when a great Atlantic storm was raging. It took six years to build in the 1860s and it isn't hard to see why.

10) Beeves Rock


I love this most underrated of lighthouses. When the tide is high, it looks like a duck sitting on the water, a house seemingly built in the middle of the Shannon estuary. Only at low tide does the rock appear. Must have been a short working day building it. How many nearby houses dating from 1855 are in such good condition, I wonder? 

11) Slyne Head


Difficult to view, except from a distance, there are two lighthouses on Slyne Head, one unpainted and abandoned, the other painted jet black. Black seems to be a rare enough colour in marine navigation globally, but in Ireland, we love it. Slyne Head, Ballycotton, Poolbeg (once), our lightships - all painted black. I imagine Alcock and Brown saw it clearly enough when they flew in from Newfoundland though. The journey to and from it for relief keepers was an odyssey in itself.

12) Moville


Okay, I had to include one spider light and I plumped for Moville rather than Dundalk or Spit only because the north coast would not have been represented otherwise. Spider lights - or screw-pile lights - probably had the smallest keeper accommodation of all our lights and were once quite plentiful around our coasts, particular on the Foyle and in Belfast and Cork harbours. Now only four remain and Passage Point doesn't appear to be long for this world.

And that is my list and I'm fully aware of the many great lighthouses I have left out. No place for Fanad or Tuskar, the Upside Down light on Rathlin, Calf Rock (get there if you can), Ballycotton, Balbriggan, Clare Island, the Maidens. The list goes on. All showing what a rich diversity of maritime heritage we enjoy around our shores.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) Temporary light(s)


Kingstown Harbour 1830s - the dark blob at the end of the east pier is presumably the temporary lighthouse. Poolbeg can be seen to the left of the top of the mast of the left-most sailing ship. An exaggerated Bailey lighthouse is silhouetted against the sky to the right of the picture.

Temporary lighthouses are not an unknown phenomenon on Irish coasts. Rue Point on Rathlin Island had one for a couple of years before the first light was established. Ardglass had a ‘temporary’ light for nearly fifty years, housed in a private residence. Calf Rock’s temporary light was in operation for ten years on the end of Dursey Island. And so on.
Unlike the lights mentioned, the temporary light at Kingstown, as it was then known, was not a stationery light. When the East pier was being constructed – from the shore outward – the light was installed at the end of the constructed pier. As building progressed, the light kept moving, so it was always on the end of the pier, which made sense as there was no point having a light in the middle of a pier, where it would have done more harm than good.
The first stone of the new harbour was laid on 31st May 1817. The two main players involved in its construction were John Rennie and Richard Toutcher, who managed, somehow, to get unlimited quantities of free stone from the Dalkey quarries. The original plan was for two piers but, at first, funding was only secured for one – the east pier.
Dunleary became Kingstown in 1821 after a visit to the harbour by George IV and the following year, on 6th June the first Notice to Mariners went up. Despite it having a a light “of a bright Colour” – the best sort of lights, I always say – it’s visibility only amounted to nine miles. Not that it needed a large degree of brightness – the lights at the Baily, Poolbeg and the Kish Floating Light were already well established.


The light was actually smashed in a storm later that year, although it was repaired the following day. The new Harbour master, William Hutchinson, had to send to Dublin for the glass and thereafter, some spare glass was always kept on site for such emergencies. 
Aside from the fact that the temporary lighthouse was ‘brown’ and ‘wooden,’ we know very little of the construction of the light. A sketch from the Dublin Penny Journal of 1834 seems to show a reasonably sized construction with what is probably a lantern on top. Presumably the lamp would be tended from inside, as its position at the end of the pier would have rendered tending the light impossible in stormy weather. One suggestion has been that it was actually floating though, given the limited sketches we have, that seems unlikely. Also, the 1843 plan of the harbor depicts the two temporary lights at, not off, the end of their respective piers.


In 1841, a Notice to Mariners was issued announcing that the hitherto revolving white light would become a revolving white and red light, attaining their maximum brilliancy after thirty seconds, rather than one minute. The lighthouse itself was of timber and coloured brown and was elevated 34 feet and 40 feet above high water and mean water respectively.


Another view of the harbour. This time the temporary light looks like a large mooring bollard or whatever the technical term is

It was eventually decided to go ahead with building the West Pier and a second temporary light was installed at the end of the ever-moving pier head. This was fitted with a fixed red light. By this time, George Halpin of the Ballast Board had been drafted in to design proper lighthouses for the ends of the respective piers.
A great storm in 1844 failed to dislodge either temporary lighthouse although there were fears for their safety as large portions of unfinished wall got washed away.
Worse was to follow in 1849, when on October 17th of that year, the Athlone Sentinel reported on a large storm that caused much wreckage. The article concludes, "It blew with such force on Saturday night at Kingstown that the Friendship, of Halifax, coal-laden, was driven on shore near the old harbour and now lies a total wreck. Wm. Capel, the keeper of the wooden lighthouse on the west pier was drowned in trying to effect his escape." 
The Morning Post reported the tragedy thus - "The keeper of the lighthouse on the western pier at Kingstown was drowned on Sunday night by the sea washing over the wall. He was very feeble,"
Lloyds Weekly Newspaper elaborates slightly - "He was a feeble old man and it is supposed that in trying to escape from the lighthouse, he was struck by a sea, stunned and drowned in the pool of water which remained around him."
I suspect poor old William may well have been the only keeper to have been killed tending a temporary Irish lighthouse.


On 1st October 1847, the new lighthouse on the east pier was lit for the first time and 'the light, hitherto shown from the timber building' was discontinued. The 'small fixed red light in the temporary timber shed on the west pier' would continue as before until the erection of the new lighthouse there. Interestingly, an illustration from 1845 shows the East Pier lighthouse well advanced but no sign of the timber building housing the temporary light. Of course, this may simply due to artistic licence.


1845 drawing (Newman) East Pier lighthouse would not be lit for two more years, yet there is no temporary light in sight

On Tuesday 5th October 1852, the Liverpool Standard reported that "the temporary wooden pier-light, on Kingstown west pier, was blown down last night." Strangely, the Liverpool Mail had reported the same sentence word for word three days earlier. Somehow, I doubt it was blown down twice. The following month it was reported that "the harbour wall on the end of the west pier, where the old lighthouse stood, has been washed away," possibly bringing a temporary temporary light with it. The new lighthouse first exhibited in 1852, so maybe the destruction of the temporary light brought forward the introduction of the actual lighthouse.

My sincere thanks to Simon Coate, Dun Laoghaire Harbour Master, for his kindness and help in researching this post.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Belfast Harbour light vessels

When I was researching the many, completely disappeared lighthouses that once adorned Belfast harbour, I was struck by the repeated references to light-vessels operated by the Belfast Harbour Board. We have come to view light-vessels as purpose-built 'floating lighthouses' towed into position to mark the existence of dangerous rocks and sandbanks, those in the UK painted vivid red, those here on the mainland painted black, with the name of the station painted brightly in white letters across the sides.
But, it seems, there were other, more adhoc light-vessels, pressed into service too. The Belfast Harbour Board, whenever a vessel sunk in the harbour, had a habit of leasing a fishing smack from a local boat-owner until the vessel could be raised from the surface and disposed of. In this post, which sadly contains no photographs at all, I detail the various impromptu light-vessels that I came across in the latter part of the nineteenth century.


Fishing smack

Unnamed vessel 1858
Thus we have, on 3rd February 1858, a fishing smack of 37 tons, leased from Richard Hull for £3 10s weekly specifically to mark the wreck of the Eyry (also spelled Eyrie) off Cultra. The Eyry was a coal-bearing schooner and had been sunk on 1st January that year. The Harbour Board provided the lamps and oil and the smack was put in place, though it had to run from its moorings in early March due to a broken windlass. "When the weather improved" the Eyry was destroyed where it lay and the smack was removed.

The smack Prosperity 1875
On 5th November 1875, it was reported that "the smack Prosperity" had been seconded into action. She had belonged to a Mr. John Cochrane and was engaged "as a light-vessel."


From the Freeman's Journal

The schooner Active 1876
On 16th February 1876, the Belfast Harbour Board removed the Prosperity from the rig of the St. Mungo and replaced her with the schooner Active, which they had leased from a Mr. J. McVeagh. There is no indication if the owner of the Prosperity simply wanted his boat back or if the Board were cutting costs by leasing a cheaper boat. Or maybe they needed the Prosperity elsewhere. 
On 25th September 1876, the Harbour master reported that "the lightkeeper on board the Active" had told him that the St. Mungo had been blown up by divers. A wreck buoy had been moved to her stern but the Active was still, erm, active at the site. Two months later, the schooner was withdrawn.

The Lightship Trial 1891
After the massive dredging and straightening of the channel into Belfast harbour in 1891, the old lighthouses were made redundant. On 9th July 1891, it was announced that the Lightship Trial had been moored on the site of the Old Seal Channel which, in dense weather and with a dense crew, could be mistaken as the correct approach to the docks. The spot had been previously marked by one of the pile lights. However, it was announced one week later that the Lightship was to be removed.
This is the first example I can find of a boat bearing the title 'Lightship' being employed by the Belfast Harbour Board in the inner harbour. This would seem to indicate that the vessel had been bought, rather than leased, by the Harbour Board.
An inquest on 21st July that year heard testimony from a William Sweeney of 16, Burke Street, regarding a man being found dead on board a yacht in the vicinity. He said that he was one of two men employed by the Harbour Board on the lightship, which was moored about 500 yards beyond the north end of the Twin Islands. His shift finished at sunrise at 4am and he took his boat and went to investigate. When asked why he had not gone sooner, he replied that he had no indication there was anything wrong and, anyway, "It is not my duty to leave the light-ship. I am placed there by the Harbour Commissioners to attend to the light from sunset to sunrise, and I could not leave the ship." He also declared that there were no rockets or signals on board the light-ship, even if he had suspected something was amiss. He added that, had he known there was an emergency, he would have left the ship to save a life.
The following year, Trial was employed as a wreck marker.


Wreck-marking vessel 1894
In February 1894, the Brig Xanthus went down in the harbour and a notice to mariners was issued .


Of course, this vessel could have been the Lightship Trial painted green. Or it might not. If it was leased for the purpose, presumably it would have to be ungreened at the end of service. So it would make more sense if this boat were owned by the Harbour Board.
On the 4th September, the smack was withdrawn when the Xanthus was removed. Sadly, I do not know my smacks from my luggers and so cannot tell if this was the same boat that was stationed at the wreck in February.

Lightship Bertha 1894
Around the time that the Manx Lugger was cosying up to the Xanthus, a Fleetwood ketch, named the Betsy and Sarah, was being refitted as "an auxiliary pilot tender and wreck light vessel." and was being re-named Bertha. Originally built in Hull in 1867, she had moved to Fleetwood in 1888 (proprietor one Lawrence Fish!) before being shunted onto the Belfast Harbour Board.
Unfortunately, I could find no details of any service rendered to her new owners but she was kept in their employ until July 1911, when she was sold to Mr. J.C.W. Rea on behalf of the Bangor (county Down) Committee for Commemorating the Coronation (of George V) for the princely (ha!) sum of £25. Her full history is on the fleetwood-trawlers.info site
Anyhow, the Bertha, or the Betsey and Sarah, went out in a blaze of glory. The Belfast Newsletter of Friday 23rd June 1911, describing the celebrations in Bangor, said, "In the evening, there were illuminations and bonfires. Public interest centred in the burning of a ship in the bay and the prospect of such a rare spectacle brought great crowds. The committee had purchased from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the lightship Bertha, formerly the Betsy and Sarah of Fleetwood. This vessel was 67 feet in length, 18 feet beam and 12 feet in depth. Her net registered tonnage was 52 with a cargo-carrying capacity of 150 tons. She was fully loaded with materials of a highly-inflammable character. Huge bonfires were also built on Connor's Point and the projecting rocks at Clifton bathing place and Ballyholme were illuminated by a chain of fires round the sweep of the bay. All these were ignited at the same time as the Bertha and the whole formed a magnificent and impressive display. Houses were illuminated at ten o'clock and this added fresh effect to the scene of rejoicing."
You would think that there would be a photo or a drawing of this event but I haven't come across one yet. My enquiries remain unanswered.
Way to go, Betsey...

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Inishbarna and Doonee


My only photograph of the beacons of Inisbarna (left) and Doonee (right) from the seaward side, thanks to eOceanic.com. This is the only direction from which you will see the white tiled face.

One of the Seven Wonders of Ireland (okay, I made that up), Killary Fjord lies on Ireland's western shore, the boundary between Galway and Mayo dissecting it lengthways. The village of Leenane, where The Field was shot, lies roughly seven miles from its entrance and the fjord is bounded on both shores by towering green mountains. The rocks, islands and islands at its mouth have meant that it was never a very large harbour, though the King and Queen of Great Britain visited here in the early 1900s, the King reportedly graciously patting some local children on the head.

Inishbarna from the fjord, looking west

There is one relatively large island at the mouth of the fjord, which keeps the worst of the Atlantic waves at bay. Inishbarna, or Inishbearna (the island of the gap) plugs the neck of the fjord so well that there is only one real route for boats to enter the fjord - around it's northern side. The smaller gap on its southern side is known, for some inexplicable reason, as 'Smugglers' Gap.' 
Inishbarna is also known locally as Fox Rock. The story goes that once upon a time, a hungry fox scuttled over to the island at low tide to feast on the mussels and barnacles thereon. However, an even smarter mussel (you see, this isn't even plausible) grabbed his tongue and clamped down firmly upon it. As the tide came in, the imprisoned fox was drowned.
In 1948, the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, rented a house adjacent to Inishbarna and applied to build a house on the island. He was unsuccessful but the stone beacon on top of the island led to a very clever 2018 headline in the Irish Examiner. (see bottom of page)


Two views of the Inishbarna beacon from the east

The other, much smaller island, or islet, really, is called Doonee. It is situated on the ocean side of Inishbarna about 350 yards from its larger neighbour. I have been unable to find out any information about the intelligence, or lack of, of the shellfish that doubtless thrive on its craggy rocks.


Early twentieth century photograph showing the towered islands of Doonee (centre, left) and Inishbarna (centre right) from the serenity of the fjord. The fox, if he existed, must have skipped across the narrowest part of the Smugglers' Gap to reach the island, doubtless keeping out of sight of the mysterious nli-shaped objects that hovered above.


2020 photograph from the fjord




Three views of the Doonee Islet beacon

Okay, enough of mussels and philosophers (sounds like a Bob Dylan song). We visited here for a week at the start of September (our only break this year) and took the very informative Killary Harbour Boat Tour to the end of the fjord and back.
The beacons were established not by the British Admiralty, as has been claimed, but by the Congested Districts Board some time between 1891 and 1898. (It may seem odd to have a Congested Districts Board in one of the most uncongested parts of the country but I believe they operated in places where the proportion of poor people was at its highest, helping locals to set up industries, improve communications and the such.) Their erection was primarily to help the local fishermen safely plot the correct course to enter the fjord, though of course, it also helped the head-patting King to get his yacht in some years later.
The story goes that before the beacons were erected, two piles of white-washed turf were erected on the respective islands and then moved slightly in order to produce the exact line required. This is at least more plausible than quick-witted molluscs. The beacon on Inishbarna presumably remained static, on the 159 foot pinnacle of that island, while they fiddled about with the Doonee position. As the latter was only 42 feet high at its highest point, they probably had more latitude here (no pun intended, but it is quite an apt turn of phrase, so I'll pretend I meant it)
On another day, we visited the stunning Glassilaun beach nearby and I was delighted to find I could get another view of both beacons, this time from the south-east and south. It was only when I loaded the photos onto the computer back in Dublin that I noticed the variance in shape from the different angles. From the west, they look rectangular, from the south, they seem aeroplane-tail shaped. From the east it seems that a great inverted triangle has been sliced off one face. Its all very avant-garde and very pleasing to the eye, the more so because the beacons have been faced with green Connemara marble, apart of course from the white tiling on the seaward side. How much more organic are these beauties than your average white box or skeletal steel contraption?


I read somewhere that these beacons are roughly six feet tall but I feel this must be an under-estimation. If we allow that the solar panel on the beacon above has to be a foot tall, then the beacon must be at least ten feet tall and I'm probably still underestimating. Incidentally, the beacons were unlit until 2009.


A 1903 report by the Commissioner of Irish Lights, on one of their tours of inspection of local harbours, declared that "the beacons built by the Congested Districts Board to lead vessels into Killary Harbour are in good order." And it appears that 117 years on, they still are.







Irish Examiner, Monday 3rd September 2018
 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

When Dublin Bay speaks

I recently came across a lovely, informative and well-written article from the Freeman's Journal 6th December 1924, written by one A.A. Bestic, who should probably get a chapter to himself when the story of Ireland's 20th Century maritime history comes to be written (see bottom of article.) So taken was I with the story, I decided to transcribe all of it, rather than copying and pasting, in the hope that some of the author's writing skills might rub off on myself. (I have added the photographs, which didn't appear in the original article)

When Dublin Bay speaks

The menace of winter fogs at sea
Dublin Bay has more to say for herself during this season than at any other time of the year, for it is usually during this period that fog, baffling and impenetrable, descends on our coasts, and increases the dangers of navigation by about a hundred per cent.
To a landsman dressing on a foggy morning, the medley of mysterious noises which come floating inshore convey very little, but to the ship who is feeling her way into the Bay, every sound is of the deepest significance, for it may mean the difference between safety and destruction.
The boom of the Kish light-vessel is the most easily recognised sentinel of all. Directly the dreaded enemy appears, the light-ship men have to get busy. Every two and a half minutes, the report has to be made, and each charge has to be fixed in position by hand, when it is then fired by pressing an electric button.
 

The Kish Light-vessel. I'm thinking this is not the one taken out of service in 1965 which showed the words 'Kish Bank' rather than 'Kish,' but I may be wrong! (Pic the brilliant Coast Monkey)

Sleeplessness and monotony
An automatic clock rings a bell at the specified time to ensure regularity and to avoid the worker having to keep his eyes continually fixed on the time. Four charges are always in position, so that if one should misfire there are three others to fall back upon. One prefers to imagine rather than realise the difficulties of getting to sleep in a fog lasting two days, to say nothing of the monotony of keeping the signal in action. But thousands of pounds are dependent upon it, leaving invaluable human lives out of the question.
The high and low wail of the Poolbeg lighthouse and the screech of the Bailey are two other fog warnings which are easily distinguished. Sirens, such as are used on these stations, are worked by compressed air which is pumped up by engine power.


The Bailey Lighthouse

In some cases, the mouth-piece, which is shaped something like the horn of a gramophone, has proved an irresistible nesting-place for sea-birds. But this was far from being an ideal site, as the birds eventually found to their cost.
Apart from the visitors being blown into the air to the accompaniment of a deafening wail at the first sign of fog, there was a grave danger of the nester losing his legs. Many a seagull has had his leg amputated by the rotator sitting near the base of the horn, which is revolved rapidly by the compressed air, thus making the sound. At one particular station, the foghorn was found to be out of order, solely through being choked with the legs of birds. Birds with only one leg may often be observed flying round the harbour at Dun Laoghaire, and there is little doubt that the missing leg has been lost in this manner.

 
Automatic signals
Apart from these leading fog devices, there are others which work automatically, yet perform equally good work in a minor way.
The sad hoot of the North Burford buoy may often be picked up on a still morning. The hooter is blown by air, which is pumped through by the rise and fall of the buoy on the ocean swell. The water rising and falling in a funnel underneath the buoy alternately sucks and forces the air through the hooter. Even if the sea is as smooth as glass, a slight bow wave from a passing steamer will at once make the vicinity f the buoy known to those on board.
The South Burford buoy is also worked by the action of the sea, only in this case it is fitted with a bell. Three balls are fitted in such a position that no matter in what direction the buoy swings, a ball will roll down a tube and strike the bell with a warning clang.
The bell situated at the end of the East Pier at Dun Laoghaire, which is worked by machinery, plays an important part for vessels wishing to enter the harbour when the weather is thick. Assuming she has negotiated her way safely inside the Burford Banks, the tides would render it difficult for her to judge her distance by dead reckoning to a position for turning in between the piers, had she not the bell to guide her.


Fog bell, Dun Laoghaire East Pier

Strangers, however, are diffident about proceeding to their destination in thick weather, and often come to an anchor in the Bay. Here lies the chief danger for ships such as the mail boat, who must get alongside at all costs, for she has to thread her way through these anchored vessels and revert back to her original course. The anchored ships are required by regulations to ring their bells rapidly every minute.
But there are other contributors to all these sea noises. A steamer under way has to blow one long blast every two minutes. If he is stopped, he blows two. Sometimes one may hear three short blasts tooting out of the mist, and this is a significant sign, for it means the vessel is going astern in all probability to prevent collision.
 
The Submarine Bell
The submarine fog bell is a signal which deserves mention, although it takes no place in the discordant medley of sound which arises from Dublin Bay.
In spite of the revolution which wireless has made in matters appertaining to the sea, this fog signal, now of some years’ standing, still continues to hold its own and the apparatus is fitted to many ships.
The principle of the system is simply a bell which is lowered under a light-ship, the notes of which can be heard at a distance of five to ten miles, or even more, should the receiving vessel be of deep draft, as water is an excellent sound conductor. The sound is received through microphones fitted on each side of the vessel, and the microphone, through which the bell can be heard the louder, indicates on which side of the steamer the light-ship is situated. Should the sound of the bell be of equal strength in both microphones, the light-vessel may safely be assumed to be right ahead. In spite of all these devices for assisting the navigator, the writhing fog is still regarded as the greatest enemy of the sailor at sea.


The Captain’s Vigil
Every captain makes a rule of always being on the bridge for such time as the fog lasts, whether it be for hours or days. His meals are carried up to him, and sleep he has none. The strain is tremendous, specially for a commander of, say, a 52,000 ton liner with 4,000 odd passengers who sleep through the night with the same feeling of security as though they were in their own homes, having implicit confidence in the man in charge.
Yet for him, every nerve is taut as he stands by the engine telegraphs, listening intently for a reply to the whistle of his own ship which splits the white nothingness with hoarse and scarifying cries. He knows what to do, should an emergency arise, but his one anxiety is, “Does the other fellow know?” That is the problem, and shipowners never give their officers a chance of making a serious mistake a second time. There is no room for imagination on the bridge.
                                                                                          A. A. Bestic

Footnote - Albert Arthur Bestic was born in Donnybrook, Dublin on August 26th 1890. He joined the sailing ship, The Denbigh Castle, as an apprentice, his first voyage, to Lima, via Fremantle, taking a year, an experience he later wrote about in his well-received book Kicking Canvas. Later he became Junior Third Officer of some liner called The Lusitania, which sank when torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale in May 1915. 1,198 passengers and crew were drowned but Bestic survived, rescuing many from the water. He later joined the Commissioner of Irish Lights and was in charge of the Light Tender Isolda in 1940 when it was bombed and sunk by German aircraft. Six members of the crew were killed. After that, I'd probably have refused to sail with the man. Towards the end of his life he retired to Bray and was regarded as an expert on maritime affairs. He died in December 1962.