Thursday, September 24, 2020

Cultra Quay (lost lighthouse)

Another lost lighthouse and this time I can find nothing out about it at all. This is simply a tale of two Ordnance Survey maps, the first edition from 1834 and the second edition from 1858. Basically, the lighthouse is there in 1834 and in ruins in 1858. It also seems that Kennedy's Quay has disappeared by that time

OS 1st edition 1834

OS 2nd edition 1858

The whole area was private land owned by the Kennedy family. They used to open up the demesne on Regatta Day to the general public, though probably not the plebs. However in the 1840s, they started parcelling off parts of the land, particularly along the foreshore and this might have something to do with the disappearance of Kennedy's Quay and the ruination of the mystery lighthouse.
Another occupant of "Cultra Quay" (I'm sure he didn't doss on the quay himself) was one Robert Pattenson who was secretary of the newly-formed Railway Board and also a bigwig on the Belfast Harbour Board.
Any further information gratefully received!!!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Roonagh Pier, co. Mayo

Will you meet me on Clare Island?
Summer stars are in the sky
We'll get the ferry out from Roonagh
And wave all our cares goodbye.

Front and rear lights at Roonagh

The above lines are, of course, from the Saw Doctors' wonderful song, Clare Island, and were on my lips the whole time that we visited the eponymous island earlier this month. And yes, we got the ferry out from Roonagh, a small pier at the end of a long road from Louisburgh.
Roonagh harbour is lit by the usual triangle and inverted triangle, forming the lights to lead you safe into the small harbour, lit by very pretty blue lights. But it was not always so.
Roonagh has always been the departure and arrival point for the islanders of Clare and Inishturk Islands, though nineteenth century sailing directions speak of it as a place to be avoided in a westerly wind and a bit of an oul' harbour that nearly dries at low tide. Nevertheless, when the Brits were in charge, a 'heavy boat' plied a regular line to both islands, big enough to carry cattle. However, from the time they left in 1922 to 1958, no motor boats were able to use the 'dark pier' between November and April. It was curraghs only. What have the Brits ever done for us, eh? 
In 1955, when the ESB were laying electrical lines in Roonagh, they even installed a pole with a light on top but the Council didn't bother to apply for the current to be connected for nearly three years. Eventually in November 1958, two lights were installed on the pier at a cost of £154.
By 1976, these lights had deteriorated so badly that they were worse than useless and had to be replaced.

Roonagh Pier at low tide. I wouldn't like to be the ferry boat pilot.

The new century saw the very short old pier extended by another 30 meters, meaning that boats wouldn't have to queue two or three abreast to gain a place at the quay, a situation exacerbated by two rival ferries competing for prime spots at the steps. However, the lighting was still causing problems and things came to a head on the evening of December 20th 2011 when the 'Pirate Queen,' owned by Clare Island Ferries struck a rock on entering the harbour. A subsequent investigation determined that the front leading lights were not working and nine of the twelve lights on the pier were burnt out. The accident happened two and a half hours after sunset.
As in all things, it takes an incident to get things done. A few months later, the new lighting system was installed at a cost of £56,250.

Roonagh pier nicely lighting up a storm January 2014

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Lightships Kittiwake (Update)

Lightship Kittiwake outside the O2 in 2012

It would be fair to say that lightships, having served Irish and foreign sailors so well for over 200 years, have had a raw deal when it comes to preservation. Of the thirty-five purpose-built vessels that once protected our east and south coasts, only seven still survive. Of these seven - and I'm relying on Russ Rowlett's invaluable lighthouse directory on this - five are to be found abroad. The Osprey is a nightclub on the Seine in Paris, Gannet is in Basel of all places, Penguin is in England being converted to a yacht, and Cormorant (the original 1878 version that was at one stage the Lady Dixon in Belfast) and Albatross are on the Medway in Kent both in private hands and not doing very well.

Which leaves only two left on this island. One is the Petrel (1915) which appears safe as the club house of the County Down Sailing Club in Ballydorn on Strangford Lough.

The other is the Kittiwake (1959) which has disappeared from view in recent years and was feared by many to have met the same fate in the scrapyard as many of its contemporaries. It was removed from service in 2005 and put up for sale in Dun Laoghaire harbour. It was bought by Harry Crosbie around 2008 and towed to the Pigeon House Harbour and later to a spot outside the Point. Harry intended to install it as a cafe / restaurant on dry land on the North Wall Quay. The Dublin Docklands Development Association refused the planning application as they felt it belonged in the water. The Dublin Port Authority then acquired the vessel and it disappeared from outside the Point. There were various sightings over the years in the Alexandra Basin but, in the absence of any further news, many assumed it was simply going to be left to rust away until it had to be scrapped. The feeling of doom was not helped by the fact that I could not see the Kittiwake either on Google Satellite, nor on Google Earth.

However, hope has been restored by a single line in the March 2020 Failte Ireland Docklands Visitor Experience Development Plan, basically a proposal to revamp the Docklands area as a tourism centre. The Diving Bell on Sir Rogerson Quay is the first in a series of installations that include a replica of the old Alexandra Breakwater Lighthouse and the opening of the North Wall Quay lighthouse to the public.

Anyway, on page 26 of the brochure is the line, "Restoration of the Irish Lightship Kittiwake" under the heading, "Desired Outcomes" Of course, this is purely aspirational and might never happen but at least it shows that the boat hasn't yet been scrapped. But where is it?

Well, shortly afterwards, a mail arrived from Russ Rowlett to say that one Jim Smith, a valued contributor to his site, had spotted what he believed was the vessel, yes, in the Alexandra Basin. He spotted it, not on Google, but on Bing. 

Possible Lightship Kittiwake, Alexandra Basin 2020 on Bing. Below, close-up of above. There is no corresponding vessel there on Google!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Spillane's Tower, Limerick


The small Gothic tower on the southern shore of the Shannon heading south out of the city of Limerick, was originally erected at the end of 1870 to commemorate William Spillane's year in the office of Mayor. It was designed as a finishing touch to the embankment whereon the gentle folk of Limerick could walk on a fine evening, which had been completed that year. Dublin had its Phoenix Park and Belfast had its Queen's Island - the embankment was a place for the citizens and their families to escape the industrialisation of the city and breathe some fresh air. Ironic it is now subsumed by an industrial estate!

The tower originally had seats inside (no idea whether it still does) where the citizenry could cough their brains out after such healthy exercise. There was also a suggestion at this time that it might have a light for navigation purposes (the Shannon Estuary was in the middle of a mad craze for erecting lights) but this was not adopted. Yet.

View from the Corkanree Business Park

The tower itself has three storeys and stands thirty-six feet tall. According to "The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage," it tapers slightly to the top and is constructed of square-cut limestone blocks. In addition, it boats a battlemented parapet, machicolations and a bartizan in north-west corner which housed the harbour light.
The Spillane family were the largest importers of tobacco in Munster and, with snuff a popular by-product, the tower became known as The Snuff Box. The harbour light, safely ensconced in its bartizan - presumably the sticky-up bit on the top corner - was finally lit in 1885, providing great benefit to the merchants of the city, not least Spillane's. William Spillane died in 1897 but the firm thrived, only selling to Messrs. Murray of Dublin in 1956.

Photo courtesy Bunratty Search and Rescue FB page

I cannot find when the light was transferred from the Spillane family firm to the ownership of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners. Presumably when the firm got sick and tired of maintaining it. In 1938, the tower was guinea-pigged into trialling a new 'automatic change-flasher' type of light, the cost of which was £150 but given free for the trials.

Photo courtesy Bunratty Search and Rescue FB page

In case one believes that rampant vandalism  began in this generation, the poor old tower has a history of abuse by the citizenry of Limerick. In its early days, young bucks used to take pot-shots at the light for fun, probably with a few pints in them. In 1945, one councillor reported that 

In 1961, the Limerick Harbour Commissioners won a claim for malicious damage to the light. Not only was the light extinguished, with its potential consequences for local shipping, but 200 cubic feet of acetylene gas escaped, hopefully making the perpetrators violently sick. 
Despite all this, the light is still active, flashing white every three seconds. Long may she continue to do so.

The light is easy found. Go to the Greenpark Roundabout on the N69 and turn into the Corcanree Business Park. Keep going until you can go no further. You'll see a gate with a sort of lane leading out towards the river. Park up, vault the gate with agility and 'tis but a short walk to the tower.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Newcastle, county Down (lost lighthouse)

Another lost lighthouse and one for which, alas, I have no photographs, oil paintings, daguerreotypes nor sketches but hopefully one might turn up. 
Newcastle is situated in south county Down (ie, south of the entrance to Strangford Lough) at the spot where the long sweep of Dundrum Bay reaches its easternmost point. It lies roughly twenty miles from Ardglass at the top of the bay. It should not be confused - as I did - with the townland of Newcastle in north county Down, where the cottages for the South Rock lightkeepers were built.
I had had no idea that there had ever been a lighthouse at Newcastle until a few weeks ago, when I was idly browsing the Ordnance Survey map Second edition (1846 - 1872) of the area (as you do) and noticed the 'Light Ho.' at the end of the south pier. A quick check showed that the lighthouse was no longer marked on the third edition map, dating from 1906. Nor was it on the First edition map (1819-42)

Detail from O.S. second edition map. The harbour itself is located south of the town. The blue lines indicate the extent of the coastline now, with its extended south pier.

Historical records do not appear to have been collated in any detailed fashion regarding Newcastle, a state of affairs that the "History of Newcastle, county Down" Facebook page is seeking to rectify. The photographs on this blog were, in the main, taken from their site.
It appears that works to build a harbour at Newcastle began in 1808, courtesy of a parliamentary grant. The South pier was begun but, due to one reason or another - probably wrangling over money - was only completed in 1829, thanks to the intervention of Lord Annesley, the local landowner. There was a North pier also - no idea of its date of construction, probably begun in 1808 too. It is showing on the 1829 O.S. map, looking more or less in the same position as today's North pier.
Ten years later in the Big Wind of 1839, the South pier was damaged during strong south-easterly gales (the only wind direction that the harbour here - and at Ardglass - could not handle.) No attempt was made to repair the breach and consequently every winter saw the damage become greater until, by 1845, the complete outer portion of the pier had been washed into the harbour.
By that time, the great fishing tragedy of  January 1843 had occurred. According to the "History of Newcastle county Downon Friday 13th of January 1843 - not an auspicious date, to be sure -  ten fishing boats set sail from Newcastle and six from Annalong; a storm ensued and seventy three fishermen were drowned. Forty six Newcastle fishermen were drowned leaving behind 27 widows, 118 orphans and 21 dependents. An appeal raised enough money to build twelve small cottages at King Street that is still known as Widows' Row. The location of Widow's Row can be seen on the O.S. map above and a picture appears below.
Presumably the lack of a safe harbour was a contributory factor to the tragedy and plans were immediately put in place to rebuild the South pier. The rebuilding, by the Board of Public Works, began in 1846 and was completed around 1849 - 1850.
It appears that Irish lights were requested to supply a light at the end of the South pier and did so.  This was somewhat unusual, for they normally only erected lighthouses for which tolls could be extracted from passing ships or to mark some danger for passing ships. They frequently refused to erect lights that were purely for local use. However, in this case, they may have been mindful of the huge storms that attacked this stretch of coast in 1838, 1839 and 1843, with their huge loss of life. In addition, there was no noticeable harbour of refuge for passing ships between Dublin and Belfast, so they acquiesced. as can be seen in one of their impossibly-long-titled reports of 1859. (Short, snappy titles like "They came at Night" or "Murder in the Orangery" were obviously not in vogue at the time.)

'Small' lighthouse erected in 1849

The accounts of all the lighthouses controlled by the Board are detailed later in the same report. They give the expenditure doled out to maintain the lights, broken down into rent, fuel, wages etc.  for the year ending 1858. Newcastle comes second bottom of the list with a measly £7 19s  3d spent on it, which was for rent only. This would seem to indicate that, whereas Irish lights erected the lighthouse, it was up to the local Harbour Board to maintain it. (Incidentally, the lighthouse on Arranmore Island in county Donegal, was bottom of the expenditure list with only £6 6s coughed up by the Board, again for rent. This may have had something to do with the fact that the lighthouse wasn't lit at this stage!)
It appears that the South pier was breached again within two or three years of its completion in 1850 but it struggled on until December 1868 when, on the 13th of that month, a gale tore two sizable chunks out of it. Newspaper reports that I have been able to find fail to mention the damage to the harbour at the time. It is only through later submissions and reports that it appears this was the date for the end of the South Pier Mark II. The breaches appear to have been at a spot 80 feet inland from the bend of the pier; and, more seriously, a total breach very close to the end of the pier. This latter breach would have left the lighthouse useless and isolated on its own little island and it probably succumbed to the next rough sea. 
It appears that poor construction - lack of cement, poor 'bonding' of the rocks used, timber frames etc - was to blame for this second destruction of the pier, much the same as the first time around, much the same as had happened at Ardglass (though Ardglass had an excuse that the pier was still under construction at the time!)
An 1897 report says that plans were drawn up to repair the inner breach and actually extend the outer arm of the pier for another 130 feet but, again, wrangling and inertia held sway. Nothing was done and, by the late 1870s, the pier was a complete ruin.

Photograph from the 1880s, showing the North pier and the flattened remains of the South pier.

Eventually, by the turn of the century, people got their act together and a new extended, better-built South pier was finally erected in 1905, minus one lighthouse. And it has stood there for the past 115 years. Maybe it has been able to survive because it has no lighthouse weighing down the end of it. Or, more realistically, maybe it was just constructed better.

Newcastle harbour today. I would estimate the lighthouse stood roughly where the outermost  boat is moored along the kink of the pier between the white boat and the steps. The Victorians seemed to use the word 'kant.'  Despite my staid appearance, I have always been more 'kink'-y.

And, what of the lighthouse? Presumably it is long gone, dredged up when the new pier was built. Do we have any further information on it besides the adjective 'small'? Well, no. We don't even have an idea how small 'small' is. Three feet? Twelve feet? In the absence of any visual depiction, I would guess the latter. Anything smaller than that would probably not be listed as a 'Light Ho.' on any map.  
We do have a report from the Downpatrick Recorder of March 1869 detailing the proposed cost of repairing the pier.

So, though it doesn't definitely say it in words, a) the lighthouse appears to have been gone by this date, as otherwise they would simply salvage the old one and b) they would presumably be replacing like for like, implying that the old lighthouse was cast iron. In my head, I am visualising something like the light built at the end of the pier in Bray in the 1890s. Maybe it comes to mind because it also suffered the same fate as the Newcastle light. Of course, the Newcastle light could have been much smaller and green and shaped like Prince Albert.

Bray lighthouse

The rubble of the South pier. Photo pre-1905.

Widows Row cottages, still standing

Today there is no lighthouse on either pier. There is of course one of the unlovely lights on a pole at the end of the North pier, showing red, white or green, depending on your direction of approach.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Mushrooms and centipedes, National Maritime Museum, Dun Laoghaire

Last month, we took our first non-shopping trip of the pandemic era down to the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. Although my primary interest would have been the lighthouses, the stories of the shipwrecks and models of the boats were very enlightening and even I, with the attention-span of a five-year-old in a classroom with a circus passing slowly by outside the window, found it utterly engrossing. One thing I learnt about was mushrooms and centipedes. I will leave the explanation to the bottom picture.

A mushroom

A centipede

I'll post more on this wonderful museum over the coming months.
Incidentally, the new regulations were in place, everybody kept their distance, though it was not very full and lots of space for everyone.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Scarlet Rock, Shannon Estuary

The Scarlet Tower in all her majesty. Photograph courtesy Mick Worland of Bunratty Search and Rescue

I should be used to it by now but there are very few photographs of this wonderful example of our maritime history on the net. This tower has stood in the Shannon estuary for over 200 years, guiding thousands of ships past a dangerous rock. It is not by any means ugly. A cut stone tower, roughly five miles downriver from the city, tapering slightly towards the top and it was only by chance that I managed to pick up a picture of it. If it were to crumble tomorrow, there would be little to mark its passing pictorially.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Corporation of the Chamber of Commerce of Limerick - consisting mainly of shipowners and merchants - were sick to the hind teeth of their ships striking the reef running from Scarlet Rock to the Whelps, which stretched over three-quarters of the width of the Shannon. Indeed, one of those wrecks was still visible there at low tide in 1955. 
And so, in 1817, they advertised for somebody to build a 'beacon or tower' on the Scarlet Rock. The thirty-feet tall round tower was completed the following year. It was built of squared cut limestone blocks and even the top was stone.

For over fifty years, the Scarlet Tower was the only purpose-built navigational beacon in the Shannon Estuary between Beagh Castle and the Port of Limerick, a distance of some eighteen miles. There were other daymarks along the shore which experienced pilots employed to wind in and out of the treacherous shoals and hidden rocks - Tervoe House, Aughinish Point, ruined castles etc - but from 1818 to 1871, when there was an explosion of perches and beacons, Scarlet Tower had this portion of the river to itself.
In 1832, the romantically-named naval officer, Captain Mudge, was commissioned to survey the Narrows - as that part of the estuary was called - and to offer suggestions as to how the navigation of it could be improved. 

Does anybody know what the little square in the tower on Mudge's sketch is? A hole? A window? A door? And is it still there?

The Whelps in the centre, Scarlet Rock at one o'clock. This is a magnified detail of the chart below

There is a small paragraph at the end of a Sunday Independent article in 1955 about the demise of lamplighting that mentions Scarlet Tower as being 'the first lighthouse on the Shannon,' though obviously Loop Head might disagree. The paragraph concludes with the sentence, "At a signal from the city corn merchants, a great beacon fire was lighted from the flat roof of the 20-foot-high tower to guide the corn ships past the danger out to sea." (I believe the 20-foot reference has to be a mistake. Judging by the photo below of Mick Worland shinning up the ladder of the tower below, he is roughly five layers of blocks tall and, though they are hard to count, there seems to be a good 30 layers in the photo at the top of the page.)
This is the first time I have come across a lighthouse 'on tap,' so to speak. I hope it is true but so far I have been unable to corroborate it.

The Scarlet Tower with a more modern beacon adjacent. All photos on this page courtesy Mick Worland and the Bunratty Search and Rescue Facebook page

Position of Scarlet Rock in the Narrows

Back in 2013, some Cork GAA fan decided it would be amusing to raise the Cork flag on the Scarlet Tower. Mick Worland of the Bunratty Search and Rescue, a Clare man, I am assuming, was stung into action and replaced it with a Banner banner, so to speak. The structure atop the tower seems to be some kind of protection for an oil lamp, probably erected in the 1870s. I doubt the Tower still has a light, due to the proximity of the more modern beacon (two photos above)