Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lighthouses of Ireland by Roger O'Reilly

For some reason, there has been a lot of lighthouse stuff in the media recently and consequently a lot of people who know of my fascination with the subject, coming up to me and asking if I heard the radio series on the Lightkeepers or watched the recent Great Lighthouses of Ireland television series. (The answer to both was yes!!)
Now comes an absolutely sumptuous book "Lighthouses of Ireland" written and illustrated by Roger O'Reilly, a 200 page hardback volume with over 280 illustrations that show the great diversity of lighthouses in Ireland, whether in their location, size or colouring. However, this is no mere text book - though each of the lighthouses is described in an informative yet easy-to-read style - but more of a work of art. For the illustrations are not photographs but hand drawn illustrations that capture mood as well as detail. It is a beautiful book, personally signed and quite a bargain at €27.99 on Roger's website. This price approximates to the cost of a bottle of Jameson's, so I will be asking one of my children if they will buy me this book rather than another whiskey for Christmas!!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Great news from Balbriggan

Despite the fact that I live in the same county, it is five years now since I last visited the beautiful and historic Balbriggan lighthouse on the northern shores of county Dublin. The lighthouse is one of the earliest original structures in the country that is still operating - with an inauguration date stretching back to the 1700s - and I have always been fortunate to visit in brilliant sunshine.
Sadly, over the years, the lighthouse fell into neglect and looked very dirty and dishevelled. The dome had been removed in the 1960s due to corrosion and it looked very much as though the lighthouse was destined to fall into complete disrepair.

However, towards the end of August, I got a mail from Russ Rowlett of the lighthouse directory in America, asking how work on replacing the dome was progressing. To my shame, I had heard nothing about this project but, scouring the net, discovered that plans had been afoot towards the end of 2017 to install a replacement dome and restore the historic light to its former glory in time for its 250 year anniversary in 2019.
But, nothing seemed to happen after that. I sent off a few mails and got little in reply until Eoghan Brady contacted me to say the dome had been installed that very day! And, doesn't it look well!!! Fair play to all the local citizens and councillors who invested so much energy into preserving an important part of our maritime heritage. I hope to visit soon.

Further reports on the installation of the dome can be found on and also on

Lightkeepers on the radio

This blog is mainly about lighthouses, their physical structure, history and location. The role of the lightkeeper, whereas it has been a secondary area of interest, has been neglected by me, probably for the extremely selfish reason that my family, as far back as I can remember, consisted primarily of agricultural labourers (or 'ag labs' as they are commonly known in genealogical circles) with a few fishermen thrown in for good measure.
Recent correspondence with a lovely lady named Heather Walker has focussed my attention on the role of the lightkeeper. She is descended from an Irish lightkeeping dynasty - the Redmonds - that scanned Irish waters in the nineteenth century. Trying to help to unravel the various branches of the family has been akin to a murder mystery puzzle and great fun.
I sometimes wish for the solitary life of the keeper but this may well be pure romanticism on my part. The Sheeps Head peninsula in West Cork is heaven on earth when seen on a sunny summer's day but you would want to live there during a wet and cold February to see if you would live there permanently. The same applies to lightkeeping. All very well to imagine yourself setting the light at regular hours and writing poetry or putting ships in bottles, but the reality of the roaring of the weather when you're trying to sleep or maybe being stationed with someone you didn't really like for years on end maybe another kettle of paraffin oil.
Anyway, I recently caught the end of RTE's short series of radio podcasts on lightkeepers and their stories on Sunday nights. Anyone with an interest can catch up with them on

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Dingle lighthouse

Its been quite a while since I bagged what my wife would term a real, Irish lighthouse. The lighthouse at the eastern entrance to Dingle Bay is certainly that, though it is not operated by the Commissioner of Irish Lights. Actually, we got photos of it in two ways - firstly from the water and secondly from the land.

We tried our hand at rowing a naomhog (little saint), similar to a currach, except long and slender. There is a place on Dingle marina where you can try your hand at it. The boats are easily rowed, fly through the water and the day we did it was as calm as sea as you're likely to get. Anyway, we rowed almost to the mouth of the harbour near the lighthouse and I managed to get the first two photographs here.

The second set of photographs from land can be reached by a path all the way from Dingle, if you have the time, or from a quarter of a mile away, if you haven't. A beautiful spot and even Fungi, the dolphin, put in an appearance for us.

The lighthouse and the keepers' cottage were erected in 1885 to provide safe entrance into Dingle harbour. They appear to be in great condition and have benefitted from a relatively recent lick of paint. The tower itself is quite small, only 24 feet high. The whole site is surrounded by a low stone wall

We took the road out of Dingle heading for Annascaul. Passing the Dingle Skellig Hotel on the right hand side, about 1.3 kms further on there is a very small turn to the right, on a right hand bend, that almost doubles back on itself. This will bring you to the shore, where there's parking for about 5 cars. From there it is but a 10 minute walk past Hussey's Folly to the lighthouse. Alternatively, if you miss this turn, take the next right turn a few hundred yards further on. This will also bring you to the coast but you'll approach the lighthouse from the opposite direction.

Ballydavid Pier

Okay, not the most visually stimulating of navigational lights but I include it here as a blatant plug for Ballydavid on the eastern side of Smerwick Bay, on the northern side of the Dinle peninsula. Ballydavid is quite off the beaten track and is very small but has a lot going for it, including a lovely safe sandy beach, a very picturesque pier and harbour, great community spirit and a couple of beachfront pubs serving creamy pints of Guinness.

Mount Brandon, its top almost permanently shrouded in mist, in the background.

Dingle daymarks

A few days walking holiday down on the Dingle peninsula in early June and I managed to inveigle my travelling companions, Aiden and Brenda, to climb Carhoo Hill near the western entrance of Dingle harbour to reach Eask Tower. We had been able to see the edifice on top of the hill from back at the Conor Pass but my attempts to describe the structure met with puzzlement. "Its built of solid stone and its rounded at the top kind of like a silo and it has an arm sticking out...." "So its a statue" "No, its a beacon." When we finally got there, Brenda described it much more eloquently as "a big stone Dalek."

It can be reached by branching left from the Ventry Road at Ballymore, 4km west of Dingle. Unfortunately it isn't signposted, so you have to hope you have the right road. You don't see the tower for at least a kilometer but when you do, you should be heading for the left of it. The path to the top is well signposted and there are spaces for four or five cars. The path up is over private property and costs €2 per person. A very nice and chatty lady came out to meet us. I have read that if she doesn't come out and you don't put money in the honesty box, she'll be out after you!

The path up is easily followed and through fields of sheep. Takes about an hour up and down, including time for photos and view-admiring.  Its a bit windy up on top. Dingle is a blind harbour, meaning the entrance, which is quite small, was not readily visible to ships and boats arriving from the Atlantic. The wooden hand pointing from the Tower, guides the boats to their destination. Actually the arm itself looks a lot smaller than it did in some of the photographs I have seen, leading me to wonder if it was a casualty of one of the storms of the last few years.

The Tower is of solid stone. The building of it on Carhoo (Ceathru) hill, 600 feet above sea level, provided work during the Great Famine of the late 1840s at the instigation of Reverend Charles Gayer, Leader of the Protestants, in an attempt to win converts. Twenty-seven feet was its original height, but at the turn of the century, the old hand was removed and an extra thirteen feet of stone was added to its height. A new hand was placed, roughly at the beginning of the extension. A World War Two lookout station stands beside it and the views from the top on a sunny day are stunning.

The Towereen Bán, at Reenbeg Point on the western side of the entrance to Dingle harbour, has been crumbling for some years and is in danger of total collapse. Like Eask Tower, this stone tower was built as a famine relief work in 1847, under the supervision of the local Protestant curate, the Rev Charles Gayer. 

A natural stone arch formed a bridge between the tower and the cliffs at Reenbeg but that collapsed during a storm in January,1981. In recent years the tower has been painted white, by the local sailing club, as one of the markers at the finishing point of the Dunlaoire/Dingle yacht race.

I found this old postcard on my computer. I have no idea whence it came. It purports to show 'The Old Lighthouse,' Dingle but it looks as though it is the Towereen Ban in its heyday. The arch, clearly visible has now gone. Of course, this 'lighthouse' never had a light.

On the eastern headland that marks the entrance to Dingle harbour, Beenbawn Head, stands a pile of stones that once was another Dalek. It has long since been reduced to a pile of stones, many of which have been removed and doubtless feature in local walls and houses! This rather long distance shot was as near as we got.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Blue Light, county Dublin

I have started rounding up all the research I did on my wife's Behan and Kane ancestry with a view to bringing out a small book for the family. One of her antecedents, a lady with the infuriatingly common name of Catherine Byrne, hailed from a place called Barnacullia, which is situated, as per the Dublin tradition of giving directions by pubs, in between Lamb Doyles and Johnny Fox's.

To get there, probably by the M50, its a bit of a rigmarole. Come off the motorway and at the end of the slip take the first exit at the roundabout down the R133  towards Marlay Park. You're kind of doubling back on yourself here. After about 2kms, you take a left at a set of lights, signposted for Stepaside and Glencullen on the R822. Shortly after, at another set of lights, you need to turn left on the R113. Follow this road back over the M50 until you come to Lamb Doyle's pub, after about 1.6 kms. Take a right and keep going up. The road is narrow and you may need to stop occasionally to allow oncoming traffic to pass. The Blue Light is on your right hand side, with car parks both to left and the right.

The pub itself dates from the late nineteenth century. Doesn't serve food but gas a cracking pint and a great atmosphere. Totally overlooked by its more famous neighbours at the top and bottom of the hill, its a great spot for a quiet pint and the views over Dublin Bay are stunning. But where's the lighthouse?
Well, apparently, in the mid-nineteenth century, smuggling into Dublin harbour was rife, so there was a healthy Customs force in operation to stop the scallywags from landing their booty. Problem was, like many of today's Gardai, they all clocked off in the evening time. From the vantage point up on Three Rock Mountain, the occupant of the pub - though I think it was a private house back then - would watch to see the Customs men returning to harbour and, when safely gone, would pull down the blue blind and shine a light through it to advise Johnny Smuggler and his pals that the coast was clear. literally speaking. Hence the Blue Light.
Is this a lighthouse? Well, its a light to warn maritime folk of danger.....