Sunday, July 21, 2024

Dunree Head, county Donegal

Up until 1876, Fanad Head had marked the entrance to Lough Swilly but there were no lights in the lough itself, unlike in neighbouring Lough Foyle, which had so many lights that mariners all wore sunglasses on their way to and from Derry. In 1871, there were many representations to Irish Lights to light the lough and in 1872, representatives of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House came over in their zimmer frames to assess the merits. They decided that Dunree and Buncrana pier should be lit and the Board of Trade concurred.


It was decided that the Fort was not the proper place for the lighthouse and the edifice should be erected slightly to the north of, and uphill from, it. As it would be at quite a high elevation, a one-storey building was all that would be required, with the light built into the bay-window type structure facing the lough. It was built by a Mr. McClelland from Derry under the supervision of Mr. R. Shakespeare, who arrived in the little hamlet determined to safeguard ships from the tempests that assailed them. At a cost of £2,354, it really is one of a kind, with no other light like it, in Ireland, anyway.

The first keeper, John Kennedy, arrived to take charge at the end of 1875 and the light, together with the one at the end of Buncrana pier, shone forth on the 15th January 1876. It was a fixed white light, with a 3rd order catodioptric lens, visible for eighteen miles in decent weather. It was a one-family station with the wife or sister of the keeper acting as assistant.

Patrick John Carolin was the keeper from 1912 and through the First World War, After a lifetime serving on Tearaght, Slyne Head, Galley Head and Loop Head, Dunree was a nice pre-retirement reward for his service. Irish Lights instructed him at the beginning of the war to carry out any orders issued by the Fort. According to the War and Raid collection in UCD, the army was keen to let everyone know that the port was closed. What port? They didn't say but I'm assuming Buncrana. The signal for this was three red balls during the day or three red lights at night, hung from the flagstaff. The military requested the use of the lighthouse flagstaff for this as they didn't want to draw the enemy's attention to the fort! I'm sure PJ was delira with this. Let's draw the enemy's attention to the lighthouse instead. There were six signalmen camped outside the lighthouse wall trying to keep the lanterns lit in a storm and eventually they converted the lights to electricity.

In 1927, the light was changed to acetylene, with seven burners replacing the oil wick. It also meant that the keeper was made redundant but J. Murphy was pensioned off and became the attendant. In 1969, the light was converted to electricity.

Some of the keepers who served at Dunree (Irish Lights often called it Dunrea) were:

John Kennedy, the first keeper, arrived from Eagle Island Mayo, with his wife Julia nee Gallagher as Female Assistant. 
John Stapleton and his wife Mary were there from at least 1881 to 1885. John used to take part in the bird surveys.
Jervis Brownell was there from 1886 to at least 1899. He also took part in the bird surveys and had children married and died there.
Hugh Keeny and his wife Susannah were there on the 1901 Census
George Gillespie and his wife Bridget were there on the 1911 Census
Patrick Carolin and Mary nee McCurdy were there from 1912 to 1919, though Patrick was a widower by 1918
J. Murphy was the last keeper in 1927 and the first attendant.
There was also a John Watson, possibly in the 1920s
Other attendants were
Hugh Brennan (1929 - 1951), Mr Curry (1951-55), P. Redmond (1955 -  ), Pat Redmond (2006 - )


The new light at Dunree

Friday, July 12, 2024

The Wexford Navy demobbed

I recently came across the following article - headlined The Wexford Navy Demobbed - in the New Ross Standard of 9th April 1982. Like a lot of things these days, it seems like it is only recent history, but when you do the sums, its over 40 years old. The writer is a guy called Mervyn Moore and its a wonderful record of the end of the manned lightships around our coast. I realise it is very long and very few will get to the end but nonetheless I will reproduce it in its entirety for anybody with family who worked on the lightships around our east and south coasts. Unfortunately the photographs accompanying the article are not good enough quality to reproduce here.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Oh my Glosh! Signalling Black Rock Mayo.

I always thought this building looked very angry when viewed from certain angles, as if practising for when Napoleon's army/navy hove around Achill, hoping to make land in the calm waters of Blacksod Bay.
It is of course one of the 82 Napoleonic signal towers erected around the south-east, south, west and north coasts of Ireland after the French landed at Bantry Bay and at Kilcummin near Killala, county Mayo in 1798. The northeast of Ireland obviously didn't really matter much. Or maybe the money ran out. 

The towers were built within sight of each other so that each tower could signal with a flag and ball to the next one. Fires would be lit in case His Emperorship was sighted. Badly paid members of the militia were detailed to man the towers and keep their eagle eyes out to sea. Of course, these places were, as was their nature, completely remote and located at the top of a long steep hill. It is said that, after a week or so, the badly-paid militiamen said, Sod this for a game of soldiers and didn't bother looking out. Napoleon never came. The towers, because of their exposed position, quickly fell into disrepair and they are now in varying stages of ruination.

The tower at Glosh in county Mayo is one of the better ones. It is a highly des res and is fully air-conditioned with views to die for. It is located at the southwestern end of the Mullet peninsula, looking out to Achill and the Inishkeas and the Duvillauns and you're probably guessing that the reason that I'm featuring it in a lighthouse blog is that it once served as a lighthouse.

Sadly, no, though it could easily, with a lantern on top, have marked the northern entrance to Blacksod Bay. However, another of the islands it looks out over is Blackrock, county Mayo, one of Ireland's remotest lighthouses and famed for its record-breaking marooning of keepers, especially in the 1940s and 1950s. The little triangle on the horizon in the photo above is Blackrock (or Black Rock) - Irish Lights varies from one to the other - around eight miles off the coast.

In the days before radio-telephone, which came very late to Irish Lights, semaphore was the only means of communicating messages from remote rock islands. Flares would be lit and fires sometimes burnt to indicate emergencies and certain flags would be hoisted to transmit generic messages such as 'Running short of cigarettes' or 'Where's the bleedin' boat?' but for the ordinary day to day messages ('Tell Jim his wife has run off' or 'Bill's dog got run over,') semaphore was the norm.

At a prearranged time, the lightkeepers would stand in front of the white-painted lighthouse on Blackrock and signal to the keeper ashore who would be in front of the tower at Glosh. You needed a bright background, so I'm presuming the gaping holes in the Glosh tower are relatively recent, or the paddles held by the signaller wouldn't have stood out. Then the man in Glosh would signal, his paddles going like the table-tennis bats of the World number one, 'Did you hear the one about the hoor in the Vatican?' This would be read by one of the keepers on the rock through a telescope and written down by another. Then the reply would come and the keeper (or maybe a temp) at Glosh would read the expectant reply. 'Yes.'

It was of course very useful to the authorities during WW1 where keepers were instructed to take note of any real or imagined German activity and report it immediately to both Head Office in Dublin (via telegram) or to the local Coastguard office or Naval base. One imagines it would have been a bit of a hike from the tower at Glosh to the nearest Post office, wherever that was. Ted and Maureen Sweeney at Blacksod lighthouse operated a Post Office at the lighthouse for a time. There may have been one at Aghleam. They were certainly more plentiful than they are now.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

The very first Beam


Back in December 1969, a new publication hit the streets, or rather, the rocks, with the appearance of Vol 1, Issue 1 of Beam, the journal of the Irish Lighthouse Service. It was B5 in size (182 x 257mms), had 34 pages and, unlike the glossy A4 magazine it morphed into in later years, the only splash of colour was the blue sea on the cover, which featured a generic lightvessel lying offshore from a generic lighthouse, a scene which I'm sure was rare enough in reality.
Prior to Beam, Irish Lights had published an occasional newsletter, most of which have never surfaced again but the new journal marked the start of what would become a great source of research for future pharologists, as well as a cracking read for all branches of the service, from lightkeepers, to office staff and light tenders, coastal tradesmen, depot staff and technical staff. There are doubtless complete sets of Beam lying in attics around the country which could easily be digitised and made available to the public. Several issues are available on line on the Internet Archive Wayback service. Thanks to the generosity of several former keepers, I have many of the forty volumes but the gaps are glaring!

Doubtless there are many, like me, who expected the first issue to be a bit cringe and prehistoric but the editor (not named) did a very good job at filling the pages with varied and interesting content. The Chairman of the Commissioners, Tom Wilson, had died during the year and there was an appreciation of him. He was the author of 'The Irish Lighthouse Service,' precursor of Bright Lights, White Water. There was a two page history of Irish Lights; five pages by Engineer in Chief ADH Martin on Recent Projects and Future Plans, featuring the new Sheeps Head light, racons, bathrooms at Tarbert, Greenore and Galley Head, amongst others;a not very interesting training update; a feature on Clare Island lighthouse by Michael Costeloe, one of the greats of Irish lighthouse research and writer of much of the content of future books and websites; a short story and a poem by DJ O'Sullivan; a quite amusing Notice to Mariners, advising of the Discontinuance of a Leading Light, a novel way of announcing the retirement of Captain William Ball from the service after 35 years 'during which time he was never extinguished;' a piece on the introduction of helicopters by Ken Holden and a piece on the recent census of breeding birds.
There were also the lists of new entrants, promotions and retirements from all branches of the service, though no deaths, which would be a feature of future issues. Obviously 1969 was a healthy year, summer of love and all that. I reproduce these pages from the journal as I'm sure many former Irish Lights employees will recognise some of the names - Stapleton, Whelan, Greenlee, Ryan, McCurdy, Kneafsey, Butler, Roche etc.