Saturday, September 13, 2014

The First Light


Here's an interesting question (or perhaps it isn't) Where was Ireland's first lighthouse? 

Well, according to tradition, St. Dubhan, a Welsh monk, and contemporary of the much more famous Patrick, came to this lonely peninsula and established a monastery here in 452ad (about tea-time, as Monty Python would say) Here he established a lighted beacon for ships to warn them of the treacherous coastline hereabouts, a beacon that was tended for 700 years until the Tower was built in the early 13th Century.


But where was it, this beacon? It was probably a chauffer on top of a mound of stones. Adjoining Hook Lighthouse itself is an old wall and a small plaque on a wall saying 'Site of Monks' Chapel' To my eyes the wall in the top picture looks younger than 5th century but I'm no expert. If they had the chauffer right on the point, then it would probably have been around the site of the present tower.


Of course, they could have had it about a mile further north, where the ruins of the original monastery still stand, surrounded by a small graveyard. To be honest, I wouldn't build a monastery and then have to maintain a beacon a mile away but hey, those ancient monks were quare fellers altogether.


Anyhow, to cut to the chase, Ireland's first lighthouse lay between the ruins of the monastery and the tip of Hook Point. Can't narrow it down further than that, unless anybody else has further information.


Hook Head Lighthouse


We'd visited Hook about ten years previously, in our pre-digital camera days, but had somehow come away with very little in the way of photographic evidence. We decided to right that particular wrong this time! The last time, we did the tour, so we decided against it as we had a lot of stuff planned.



If the Fastnet Light is the most iconic of the Irish lighthouses, then Hook Head is the grand-daddy of them all. The blurb reads that it is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, though I'm not so sure about that. Okay, the original tower was built in the early 13th Century but it has been built and rebuilt many times since then and it wasn't operational for all those years either. 


But it is a beauty of a lighthouse. The original tower was built by the Normans to guide ships up the River Suir to the town of Ross. The nearby monks had been installed as custodians of the light, which was a coal fire burning on the tower's top. With the dissolution of the monasteries in the 17th century, the light flared no more but it was one of six tendered for by Robert Reading in 1665.


Reading was keen to take the money from passing ships but not so interested in maintaining the light. The keepers were obliged to supplement their income through various nefarious activities and the light sometimes suffered as a result. The coal fire was only replaced in 1791.


Originally this lighthouse had three red bands instead of two black ones. I always have the impression that this is a rather dumpy tower, not slim and elegant like some. At 152 feet, it is tall enough, but it must have the largest girth of all Irish lights (says he with not a shred of evidence to back this up)

The Watchtower (presumably not what Dylan and Hendrix had in mind)


Somewhere here, between the tower and the sea, there was the foghorn (according to the map)


Buoy at Hook


Another buoy at Hook


Lightkeepers Cottages (now Visitors Centre)

Passage Point, co. Waterford


A few days down in Waterford and boy, were we blessed with the weather. After a rubbish August, we got endless September sunshine. Best country in the world when the sun shines!
We decided to take the Passage East to Ballyhack ferry, joining Waterford to Wexford, and visit the lighthouse at Hook Head. On the way, we stopped off at Arthurstown to view this screwpile lighthouse in the middle of the Suir. I thought it was the only Leinster lighthouse I hadn't got, but seeing as it's joined to the Waterford side of the river by a sandbank, presumably it's a Munster lighthouse instead.

 We might have got a bit better picture on the short hop down from Ballyhack to Arthurstown if there had been any stopping places but the pier at Arthurstown offered as good a vantage point as any. As you might have guessed this a screwpile light approximately 23 feet above the River Suir. It has a fixed light and was constructed in 1867. The other three screwpile lights in Ireland are at Moville (county Donegal), Dundalk Bay and Cobh.


The Lighthouse Directory, God bless it,  mentions the light being mounted on a brick column, as evidenced from the picture below, but there was no sign of the brick on our visit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Baily, Howth

The last time I photographed the Baily was on a trip by ferry to Holyhead and the weather didn't help me to get a good view
This time, my intrepid brother-in-law Aido managed to get a much better photo from the same ferry! The original light here was a brazier atop a cottage on the top of the hill (where the bungalow below the Summit car park now stands) The second light was a proper tower built on the same site but proved to be too high. Finally they got it right in 1814! This iconic light is actually difficult to photograph from the mainland, as the compound gate and the contour of the land conspire against you

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tuskar Rock


Tuskar Rock lighthouses is one of the great Irish lighthouses. The oldest Rock lighthouse on our coasts that is still in active service (South Rock off the coast of county Down is older but is long derelict) Tuskar has guarded the treacherous shoals and submerged rocks off the south east coast of Ireland since 1815. The area itself is where the Atlantic Ocean sweeps up the Irish Sea and can be subject to ferocious seas, such as the one that swept away the workmen's huts when the light was under construction, killing ten of them instantly. The remaining fourteen clung grimly to the rocks for 48 hours until rescued.

 But how to photograph it? Well there are distant views from the coast - probably St Helens or Carne are your best bets, though you'll need good magnification. I looked around for boat tours - as they do for the Fastmet or Rockabill, but the only company who do them appear to be Harbour Thrills, a Wexford based company. They mention the Tuskar in their introductory blurb but don't specifically go there on their regular trips. Presumably you need to arrange with the captain and bring the numbers yourself.
 So I caught the Stena ferry day trip from Rosslare to Fishguard, hoping it would go close enough to get goosd views. I was quite disappointed with my recent photos of The Kish from the Dublin Holyhead ferry (very blurred and hazy) and was hoping the same wouldn't be the same here. Apprehensively I watched the Pembroke ferry ahead of us pass quite close and hoped we'd follow suit. Thankfully we did.

It must have been the morning sun though because the photos again were quite hazy. The sea was light gey, the sky was light grey and the lighthouse is white, so they didn't come out great. Fortunately on the return, the contrast appeared a bit sharper! Sun would have been nice but it only poked its head out of the blanket of cloud when we were practically docked.


The light was first exhibited on 4th June 1815 and in foggy weather a bell was tolled every half minute. The tower was and still is painted white. The two keepers committed the ultimate lighthouse sin in 1821 when they failed to light the optic one night. With bad luck (or possibly good luck, whichever way you look it) the King of England happened to be sailing past and complained to the lighthouse board that the light wasn't showing. A subsequent investigation showed that the two men on duty had promised to guard a consignment of smuggled brandy for a local boatman and had helped themselves too liberally to their charge! Both men were downgraded as a result!

 Tuskar was the third lighthouse on the coast to the converted to electric, the previous two were Donaghadee in 1934 and Chain Tower (Larne) in 1935. It was the first Irish off-shore lighthouse to be electrified. During wartime small rocks like Tuskar were very vulnerable to drifting mines which had parted from their moorings. One of these mines exploded when it struck the rock on 2nd December 1941 injuring two assistant keepers, W. J. Cahill and P. Scanlan. Both were brought ashore by the Rosslare lifeboat but unfortunately Patrick Scalan died in hospital the next day.

Rosslare Sea Buoys

The shallows and barely submerged rocks are quite treacherous off Rosslare. Coming out of Rosslare, two parallel rows of red and green buoys mark the route past the Tuskar Light that the large ferries need to follow, whether heading east across to Wales or south to France.


The one marker I was hoping to find was Splaugh ATON (Aid to Navigation) which is a new addition to the CIL charts. I quote -
The Splaugh Buoy (@IrishLightsBuoy) is a Type 2 Port Laternal Marker (the second buoy type in the Commissioners of Irish Lights inventory) which has been deployed off the coast near Rosslare. The buoy is fitted with a variety of meteorological and oceanographic sensors which will be tweeting data automatically via the automatic identification system (AIS) , giving a unique insight into weather conditions in the area
 Now, I'm not sure what Mr. Splaugh looks like. Judging by the icon on the CIL chart, it could be the laddo above, or maybe the buoyo in the bottom picture. Both the buoys have birds on them, so that might be where the tweeting is coming from. The point is, all the people who might have known were up front in the luxury control room. I tried asking the girl who was filling up the chip pan in the cafeteria but she looked at me blankly.
 Not sure what this fellow marks - rocks, shoals, a wreck?


Rosslare Pier Light


 The last time I was here in 2008, I had to content myself with a couple of long range shots of this very pretty lighthouse from the hill leading down to the port due to time constraints. This time around, I discovered that the pier is unwalkable - well, it's possible to walk it but Stena Line has it blocked off. I hate it when ferry companies do that - it's the same with the North Pier in Fishguard and the North Bank lighthouse in Dublin.


Apparently the first light on the pier here was established in 1886 but I have been able to find no mention of it. More to the point, nor has Leo Coy, who is very much the Rosslare Harbour expert. Maybe it was just a lantern on a pole?


This lighthouse was constructed when the new pier was built around 1906 ish to facilitate the larger ferries crossing to the South Wales coast and later to France. Unfortunately, the only way to get close up shots of this lighthouse is to take one of the ferries. I chose the Rosslore to Fishguard (Wales) day trip - which costs €5 on a Tuesday!

 The light shows white from the harbour itself, green from a more northerly direction and red when approaching from the south east.
 The lighthouse with the Tuskar Rock Relief Cottages framed on the hill above the port.