Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Lost Lighthouse of Sackville Street


Nelson's Pillar looking out over a strangely deserted Sackville Street in 1811 (Wikicommons)

From its inception in Dublin's main thoroughfare in 1809, Nelson's Pillar received criticism from the city's inhabitants, criticism that slowly increased as the mood of nationalism and anti-empiricism grew over the next 150 years. To be fair, much of the displeasure centred on the top and bottom of the edifice. The top was decorated by the 13ft (4m) figure of an admiral of the British Navy, sculptured by Alexander Kirk, and the bottom commemorated four naval battles he won - Trafalgar, Copenhagen, St. Helena and the Nile. Tourists could climb the 166 steps for a small fee and gaze from the figure on top to gaze upon the symbol of anti-British resistance - the GPO - a few yards away. And other buildings, of course.
Generally, though, the bit between the top and the bottom, received little criticism. Built of black limestone and Wicklow granite, the 120 ft (37m) doric column, largely escaped the ire of the population, except maybe for an anonymous versifier (it could well have been John Swan Sloane!) writing in the Irish Builder of 15th June 1876: -

It is well-known in Irish history that a combination of the IRA and the Irish Army blew up the offending monument in 1966. It has since been replaced by a the decidedly non-pharological Millennium Spire.

Of course, Nelson's Pillar was never a lighthouse, nor indeed any kind of navigational marker. I mean, the mere idea of placing a British naval officer on top of a large column as a way of warning ships from a rocky coast, is quite ridiculous.

The Metal Man, Tramore, county Waterford, featuring a petty officer of the Royal Navy, sculpted by Alexander Kirk. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Ashfield Cross Roundabout Lighthouse

The Tuskar Rock. One of the first Irish lighthouses to be built by the Ballast Board and its inspector, George Halpin, way back in 1815. Its been standing guard on its treacherous rock for over 200 years and is as much a national monument as an aid to navigation.
The only problem with it, is that its not a great photographic subject. Just that little bit too far off the coast of Rosslare unless you have a camera that costs as much as a month's rent in Ballsbridge. And there are no boat tours out to the Tuskar, even though I imagine they'd be very popular.
However, although Mohammed can't get to the mountain, thanks to Wexford resident, Damian Mcaleenan, the mountain has obligingly swum up to Rosslare and waltzed up the Dublin road in search of that esteemed gentleman.
I wrote last year about plans by the Rosslare Municipal District to install a replica of the Tuskar on the Ashfield Cross Roundabout on the otherwise uninteresting main road out of the port. In that article, I said it was expected to be complete by the year's end.
Well, it wasn't and as time dragged on, I started thinking it was going to be one of those projects that never saw the light of day. But again, I was wrong for a couple of days ago, artist Damian Mcaleenan got in touch to say the replica light was going to be up and running on Monday 20th May.
Damian was fortunate enough to be given a VIP tour of the Tuskar when he was drawing up plans for the replica. Other than that, he's a very likable chap and he's done an excellent job of reproducing the distinctive outbuildings and tower. The structure had been ready to move into position for quite a while but the wheels of local authority run slowly.
But finally its up and its a great addition to the port hinterland! Damian very kindly sent me a video of its establishment

together with some shots in the warehouse previously

Incidentally, my apologies for my absence from the blog. Too much on my plate at the moment and something had to give. Sorry.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Trying to untangle the Boyles

The Newry River front light (tended by Tom Boyle?)

There have been a lack of posts here recently as I try to put some manners on the Eagle Island book so, just to give myself a break from it, I decided to try and sort out the Boyles and O'Boyles, prompted by a Facebook post from Phil Boyle.
The earliest Boyle I have is Charles Boyle, (Keeper 20) who was born in county Donegal around 1840. His father was a farmer and he joined the Ballast Board (the precursor of Irish Lights) in May 1866. He was in Mine Head in 1871, where he met his wife, Mary Power. They married in 1875 when he was stationed at Poolbeg in Dublin. He was at Drogheda East and West in 1881, on Straw Island  on the Aran Islands from at least 1882 to 1885 (with Mary as his Female Assistant) and Rotten Island in 1901. He retired to Killybegs and died in 1929.
One of his sons, Mick Boyle (144) became a keeper. Born in Mine Head in 1876, he joined the firm in 1897. One of his first stations was Eagle Island. He married Julia Kennedy from Sligo in 1903 and served at Mew Island, Fanad and the Maidens amongst others. He died in Donaghadee, three years short of retirement in 1933.

Mick Boyle and Julia

Mick and Julia had two sons who became lightkeepers. Michael Patrick Boyle (327) was born in 1908 and joined Irish Lights in 1926, serving at Sligo, Tory, Fanad and Inishtrahull, amongst others. He was known as 'Biff.' 
And Martin Anthony Boyle (351) who also seemed to end up in the northern part of the country, serving at Inisheer, Rathlin, Tory, Fanad and Inishowen. Michael joined Irish Lights in 1926 and Martin five years later.
Martin, incidentally is the only keeper I can recall off the top of my head who was ever shot. Himself and William James were duck shooting on Rathlin and, crawling through a hedge, William's gun accidentally went off, the bullet passing through Martin's wrist and into his thigh. Thankfully, he survived.
There was another keeper called Charles Boyle (314) who, based purely on his first name, may have belonged to this branch of the family. He was cerrtainly a contemporary of Michael and Martin. And Patrick James Boyle (204)  might fit in here somewhere as well.
We then travel to Malinmore near Glencolumbkille in south-west Donegal for another branch of Boyle lightkeepers. John James Boyle (261) and Patrick Francis Boyle (297) Both were musicians who played in the St. Columba's Fife and Drum Band. Their father was a carpenter and JJ was renowned for playing Irish and Scottish airs on a fiddle made by him. Both sons added the O' to their names at various times in their lives. It seems to have been optional. One joined just before WW1, one just after. The story for Patrick was that, after waiting five years to get into the service, he ended up breaking his back due to a fall during painting and retired back to Malinmore.

John James Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

There was also a Thomas N. O'Boyle (510) who is possibly related to the two lads as there is a newspaper clipping of him getting married in 1959. The text says that he was an AK on Inishtearaght and that his father  was Sergeant John O'Boyle of Glencolumkille. It is interesting to note that Charles Boyle (20) above was born in Donegal and retired back to Killybegs, so it may well be that they are one big happy family.

Patrick Francis Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

Peter John (PJ) O'Boyle (569) was possibly a Galway man who was 31 years a keeper before retiring from the Baily in 1996. He was a dream capture for Irish Lights, being highly-skilled in carpentry, mechanics and engineering. And also a true gentleman, by all accounts. 

PJ O'Boyle c. 1970 (photo courtesy Alex Hamilton)

A nineteen year old youth called Phil Boyle has been described as assistant keeper at Arranmore lighthouse  in the mid-1920s. As his parents lived on the island, it was more likely that he was a temporary keeper, drafted in whenever one of the two keepers was indisposed.
The story goes that, in January 1925, he was winding up the weights in the lighthouse and the chain slipped, cutting off his fingers. He was rushed to Letterkenny hospital where theuy patched him up as best they could. His mother and father collected him from the hospital and travelled back to the island aboard the Burtonport extension railway. Only it was a wild night and, crossing the Owencarrow viaduct near Creeslough, two of the carriages were blown off the track and over the edge of the viaduct. The carriages ended up hanging there but one of the roofs got ripped off and four people fell to their deaths, including Phil's parents.

The Owencarrow viaduct disaster

It may be coincidence, as there are a lot of Boyles on Arranmore, but Neil Boyle served as attendant at both  Ballagh Rocks lighthouse and Arranmore lighthouse in the first decade of the 21st century.
And Andy Newman tells me that Charlie Boyle was the attendant at Arranmore prior to that. Father of Neil?
Which only leaves us with Thomas Boyle, a 64 year old county Down native, who appears on the 1911 census as a 'Lightkeeper Under Harbour Authority' in Drummullagh, county Louth. This is interesting because Drummullagh is the townland just opposite Warrenpoint harbour and the only lights I know of 'under harbour authority' are the unique round towers in Narrow Water, just upstream from the harbour. They are more on the county Louth side than county Down. I have never heard of a keeper for these two lights. I'd like to think it was old Tom.
As per the comments below I am delighted to add that Thomas Boyle, Drummullagh, Omeath was a seaman and later a pilot for Newry. He was a son of Owen Boyle, a farmer and married Margaret O'Hagan from the same townland (whose father was also a seaman) in 1874. He died on the 16th Oct 1921 age 72.

The Newry River rear light

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Eagle Island - a final call to arms

Eagle Island 1970s (photo by Alex Hamilton) Note the pre-circumcised lantern. And paint on the walls.

As some of you may be aware, I've been banging on about writing a book on Eagle Island for a couple of years now. I was hoping that the long-promised Irish Lights archives might have come out online, or even the establishment of a reading room to access them but, at this stage, I suspect we'll be celebrating Ireland winning the World Cup sooner.
Anyway, the book is largely complete now. Over 120,000 words about fourteen acres of land. I still have a couple of people I need to talk to and a lot of proof-reading to do but its more or less in its final shape.

The Queen of Scotchport arriving at the south landing 1932 (photo courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

However, I am still happy to talk / correspond with anybody who might have any knowledge of the island, however small or quirky or seemingly insignificant. Topics include, but are not limited to: former keepers, tradesmen, technicians, boatmen, helicopter pilots (or anybody who may have Eagle Island anecdotes about any of them); flora (is there anything except grass, seapinks and mushrooms?) and fauna (birds, animals, insects, fish, sea mammals); WW1 and WW2; the Stientje Mensinga; the generators, fog signals, lantern, lighting, radio direction beam etc; storms of 1836, 1850, 1861, 1886, 1894, 1921, 1935, 1986, 1988 and others; boats damaged or sunk in the vicinity of the island.

Photographs and / or anecdotes relating to any of the above would also be very welcome. (I'm particularly short of photos of any of the Gallaghers, McAndrews, Kilkers, Gaughans, Williams etc who rowed from Scotchport to the island for the lighthouse reliefs.)

If you can help, or know of anyone who can help, with any of the above, please contact me at (As I'll be selling the book on a non-profit basis, I'm afraid I can't offer a free copy in return for a photograph. Sorry!)

Photo by Richard Cummins

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The sole keeper at Roches Point


Roches Point 1862

Roches Point sits at the entrance of one of the largest natural harbours in the world - Cork - and, naturally enough was regarded as one of the major Irish lighthouses of the nineteenth century. It was so necessary that, in 1832, the Ballast Board decided that the light built there in 1817 was too small for the job, so they took it down, brick by brick, and shipped it off to Duncannon in county Wexford, and replaced it with a larger lighthouse.
It was, however, not so important as to waste the expense of a second keeper at the light. From 1817 to 1861, Roches Point was a one-keeper station, the sole keeper being expected to stay alert and vigilant during the 14 hours of winter darkness, to attend to all the repairs and painting and cleaning. 

Atkinson painting c. 1848

For nearly twenty of those years, the keeper at Roches Point was a guy called Bradley Sole, who had been born in Deal in Kent in 1812. Eight miles further down the coast he would have been a Dover Sole but you can't have everything. His grandfather had been a boat builder in Deal, so the sea loomed large in his life. 
Somehow, on 12th May 1836, he ended up as a rookie lightkeeper at the newly-erected lighthouses in Sligo harbour and the following year he married Anne Meredith, daughter of the local Sub-Inspector of the Constabulary. After stints in Sligo, St. John's Point (Donegal) and Balbriggan, they rocked up to Roches Point with at least two, and probably more, baby Soles in tow around 1845. They were to remain there until 1864.

A sketch of Roches Point by Ballast Board, later Irish Lights commissioner, Robert Calwell in the 1860s.

For those of you who yearn wistfully for the tranquil and romantic life of a lightkeeper, the following excerpt is taken from an inspection committee report of visiting the station in 1859, when Bradley was still in Sole charge.

The illuminating apparatus is catoptric, fixed; 9 red chimneys to seaward, 8 white towards harbour. There is only one keeper. He has 12 children. Receives £64 a year. He repeatedly asked for an assistant. There are no signals. He breaks a chimney every night. There is no water cistern. The keeper complains of the hardship of having stone floors in his dwelling house. Everything in this lighthouse appears to be in good order, all the reflectors were covered with brown paper. The accommodation is good for a small family. The keeper informed us that on one occasion a duck got into the lantern through the cowl, and , fluttering round, broke nearly all the chimneys and put out the light.
As there are great complaints of this lighthouse not showing well beyond a short distance to seaward, we think it advisable to state that we saw no symptoms of neglect anywhere. If, however, lights require careful and constant attention to prevent them burning dull, we deem it probable that where there is only one keeper, considerable intervals will elapse without any attention being paid to the lights. It is not possible that in a long winter night of fourteen hours, one keeper can keep his attention constantly alive. He will, we believe, inevitably go to sleep.

(The duck story, incidentally, is mentioned here - note the report mentions the keepers (plural) in the lighthouse)

Irish Lights inspection photograph by Sir Robert Ball at Roches Point c. 1905 (Photograph courtesy the National Library of Ireland)

By mid-1862, the family was down to nine children. Three had left, either died or fled the nest for somewhere with nice plush carpets. And there was still no sign of an assistant. The Commissioners probably decided he had enough children to keep the light in order. One child, John Bradley, born in 1851, would indeed later go on to be a keeper in his own right.
Brad was eventually transferred to Valentia in June 1864, another shore station, deemed a one-person station. There was some slight relief in April 1866, when the position of Female Assistant Keeper was created. In this, Bradley was assisted, not by wife, Anne, but by their 17-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
The Soles finished up the lightkeeping business at Balbriggan in 1872 and, at some stage thereafter, appear to have moved up to Donaghadee in county Down. Bradley died there in 1883 aged 70 of general debility and dropsy.
Roches Point became a two-keeper station a year or two after Brad's departure.

Roches Point, around ten years ago, taken from Weaver's Point, on the western entrance to Cork harbour

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Repairs - a poem

I came across this unattributed poem in Beam 11.2 (1979-80) I'm assuming it was written by somebody in the Lighthouse Depot, at the end of his tether trying to figure out what 'the yoke at the end of the yoke' meant.

 A Tale of Repairs

The P.K. gazed with heavy frown
Upon his diesel, broken down,
And hastened to his Radio Phone
            to get repairs.
He told the Mizen of his woe,
About the fog (he had to blow)
But not a number did he know
            nor seem to care.

"The part I want," he wisely said
"is hollowed out and painted red.
I had the number in my head
            but I forget.
It holds the thingimibob in place
About an inch from the long brace
That fastens to the big main base,
            and keeps it set."

"They'll surely know the part I mean,
It broke before on this machine.
The what-you-may-call-it is between
            and just behind.
The thing that moves along the slat
About as big as an old hat
Would be, if you could smash it flat,
            I think they'll find."

The D.M. sighed and shook his head
"I don't know what he means," he said.
"We'll have to search the old back shed
            so come along.
If he would only tax his brain
So that the number he'd retain
or send the old part in, 'tis plain
            we'd not go wrong."

From end to end they searched the bins,
Clawed over castings, bolts and pins.
They skinned their fingers and their shins -
            it made them cuss.
But still they searched, with sinking heart
(They had their other work to start)
And in the last bin found the part,
            'Twas ever thus.

Friday, January 26, 2024

100 Lighthouses of the USA

This is an Irish lighthouse blog and in all the years I've been writing it, I have never featured a lighthouse from the USA or indeed from Liechtenstein, Uzbekhistan or the Central African Republic. So this is a first and probably an 'only.'
My thanks go to Carissa, one of the students at Fuller's Library in New Hampshire. They wrote to me a while ago, requesting information on lighthouse sites I would recommend to help them with a maritime project they were doing. I sent them back a list I put together and wished them well.
One of the lighthouse sites that I failed to include was this one which features a wonderful graphic of 100 lighthouses of the USA, together with a footnote about the oldest, the tallest etc. Carissa thought I would like this chart and, through one of her tutors, Mrs Skye Olley, forwarded it on to me. 
I have to admit it is a terrific graphic. I have seen only about five of the hundred and it has certainly whetted my appetite to visit some more. It is great to see all the different colours and sizes and shapes on one page, emphasising the tremendous variety of lighthouses in the States.
It also makes me wonder if a similar chart could be done for Ireland? Get Irish Lights or the Great Lighthouses of Ireland team on the job and produce a tick-off chart for all our coastal beacons. It could be great to get younger people interested in our own maritime heritage.
So again, my sincere thanks to Carissa. Hopefully, her kind act may spawn something beautiful over this side of the pond.