Saturday, February 15, 2020

The first Poolbeg lights, Dublin

Poolbeg Lighthouse stands guard at the entrace to Dublin harbour, built on a remarkably long breakwater that dates back to the 1750s. It is one of the iconic buildings for returning emigrants, approaching their homeland from Holyhead, though admittedly these days, most people opt for Ryanair.
I photographed this lighthouse from land in 2007 and from the sea in 2014, yet it occurred to me that I have never given a historical view of Ireland's second most-famous lighthouse

In a bid to stop drifting sand from silting up the River Liffey, an ambitious project was begun in the 1740s to construct this breakwater, using first wooden piles and then granite blocks. Slightly further out from the end of the proposed breakwater was a sand bar, which had caused many wrecks. During the construction of the breakwater, a light ship was placed on the bar. I can find no picture of this lightship, save for the very crude representation in the 1750 map above.

The lighthouse was built under the direction of the Ballast Board by the very suspiciously-named John Smith, who was obliged to first build a small island of granite blocks and rocks on which to place his edifice. It was built before the breakwater was completed and took seven years from 1761 to 1768 to build.
It presented a very different appearance to the squat, almost dumpy look of the present day lighthouse. It was not nearly as tall and it sloped much more quickly to the top. It had an octagonal lantern with eight heavy-duty windows. A stone staircase with an iron balustrade led up to the gallery on the second floor, which circumnavigated the building.
It originally operated on candle-power but in 1786, it was changed to oil.
Fortunately, we have at least four depictions of the old lighthouse (above and below)

The sea-wall was eventually completed in 1795

From A view of ancient and modern Dublin, with its latest improvements” published in 1807: 
"“The Light house was begun June 21 1762 under considerable difficulties, from the depth of the water, from the power of the winds in such an exposed situation, and from the raging of the seas. These however were overcome by the masterly skill of Mr Smyth, the architect, who collected vast rocks and deposited them in a huge caissoon or chest which was sunk to the bed of the sea and afterwards guarded with a buttress of solid masonry, twenty five feet broad at the base. On this, the ingenious architect raised a beautiful circular structure, three stories high, surrounded by an octagonal lantern of eight windows. It is composed of white hewn granite firmly cemented gradually tapering to the summit and each story strengthened with stone archwork, A stone staircase with an iron ballustrade winds round the building to the second story, where an iron gallery surrounds the whole. The lantern is supplied with large oil lamps whose light is powerfully increased by reflecting lenses."

The lighthouse as we know it today was revamped in 1820, extended in height and lost its staircase. At some stage around 1850, it was painted black. I have yet to discover when it became red.

Tales of a travelling lighthouse - North Wall Quay, Dublin Port

In Ireland, there are examples of lighthouses bein built on the same site as original lighthouses (Fastnet, Ferris Point, Ardglass etc)
There are also many examples of lighthouses being built very close to existing lighthouses, Wicklow Head, Loop Head, Clare Island, to name but three.
But, off the top of my head, ( a part of my body diametrically opposite another part that I often speak out of) there have only been two examples in Ireland of lighthouses having been moved from one location to another. This has happened in England and in the US, normally when coastal erosion has threatened a particular lighthouse.
The two are Roches Point Lighthouse in county Cork which was taken down in 1838, transported to Wexford and rebuilt as the Duncannon Rear Light.
The other one is the North Wall Quay on the northside of the River Liffey in Dublin.
The original lighthouse here was built in the early nineteenth century (see previous post)
The rapid development of Dublin as a port was down to the foresight and hard work of one man, Bindon Blood Stoney, in the mid nineteenth century. Large areas of marshland were reclaimed, a Breakwater (with light) was built to facilitate the port's expansion and a quay was built, extending from the existing North Wall quay, almost enclosing the new Alexandra Basin.
The harbour works were completed in 1884. One presumes that a light of some sort must have been erected at the end of the North Wall extension but the current lighthouse only went up in either 1902, 1904 or 1908, depending on which source you go by. It is cast iron and stands 39 feet above the end of the pier in a highly-restricted area.
The pier was extended to provide extra berths  both inside and outside the basin and the lighthouse was moved to the end of the pier extension in 1937, where it has remained ever since (see map below, showing 1930s proposals for the pier extension)

It now appears that the lighthouse may be on the move again, which I reckon would be some kind of global record for a fully-working lighthouse. It appears that the North Wall Quay extension is planned to be shortened, roughly back to its pre-1937 location. And, in line with modern observances of industrial heritage, the lighthouse is to be lifted up and plonked down at the end of the new, shorter pier, along with the granite stones it sits on.
And the good news is, Dublin Port plans to make the lighthouse a heritage site, with access to the lighthouse free to the public, though on an appointment, rather than an ad-hoc basis.

Above and below, some pictures of the lighthouse interior.

Dublin North Wall light - lost lighthouse

The illustration above comes from the Dublin Penny Journal of 1834 and shows a rather grand lighthouse at the end of the North Wall, near where the Point Depot, or O2 or 3 Arena (depending on your age) is now. Basically, this view is looking across the East Wall Bridge from where the Dodder joins the Liffey (the bridge obviously not yet built!) This was the extent of the north quays in Dublin at the time, before the incredible north bank reclamations and extensions carried out by the legendary Bindon Blood Stoney in the mid 1800s.
(Rather confusingly, the current North Bank lighthouse, near Poolbeg, having been built at the end of the Great North Wall, is also sometimes called the North Wall lighthouse. This lighthouse is two miles upriver from that))
There is evidence to suggest that this light was built in 1809, though the lighthouse directory, which is rarely wrong, dates it back to 1820. 
To confuse matters, maritime historian John de Courcy Ireland, writing in 1996, said that "In 1836, the Board issued instructions to build the northwall lighthouse atb the corner of the wall opposite Ringsend. It would replace the earlier watch-house. From this corner, the wall turned north."
The 1834 illustration above clearly shows the lighthouse at the end of the quay and the map below, from the mid 1800s, shows the extent of the quay and the wall turning north. 
In my opinion, the picture above is of a lighthouse, not a watch-tower, so de Courcy may have his dates wrong.
An 1877 journal of sailing directions in Dublin port says that "a circular iron lighthouse of a grey stone colour, near the eastern extreme of the north wall, (or quay, which is now in course of extension) ... shaows a fixed white light at an elevation of 29 feet, visible in clear weather at a distance of ten miles, and a sector of red light across the river, to the southward."
When the North Wall extension was completed in the early years of the twentieth century, the lighthouse was replaced by the current North Wall Quay black and white hooped lighthouse.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dublin Port, Alexandra Basin East Breakwater - Good news!!

The light at the end of the Eastern Breakwater at the east side of the Alexandra Basin in Dublin's north port area was demolished in 2004. It consisted of a  square brick tower, which had four storeys with a lantern on top. It also had a fog bell on the side of the wall near the top. The pierhead was demolished to make way for a new pier wall, to take Berth 50a.
The lighthouse measured 4.875 meters by 4.875 meters and had a height of 15.3 meters to the apex of the lantern. It was built in 1904 and replaced an earlier lighthouse, smaller, but still probably brick, that dated from the time that the new breakwater was completed in 1884.

Now, the good news is that plans are afoot to create a new Industrial Heritage Park at the very eastern extremity of the north Dublin Port. This will be a place the public can come and enjoy with great views up and down the Liffey. The centrepiece of the Park will be an entity called The Marker, which will comprise a pole, an elevated walkway and crucially, the lantern and the bell from the lighthouse demolished in 2004. I had no idea that the bell and lantern had been preserved but I see that it was a stipulation of the planning permission.

Above, the 1904 light showing lantern and bell

Photo just prior to demolition. The blue building was something to do with port administration.

A very rare photograph (I haven't come across any others) of the original East Breakwater lighthouse (1884 - 1904) It appears to be smaller, though still with a lantern and bell. It appears to be located on the edge of the dock, where the long straight breakwater turns into a roundel. The 1904 light was positioned more centrally on the roundel.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lightship Gannet update

The latest news in the soap opera that is the Lightship Gannet comes to me from the legendary Russ Rowlett, compiler and editor of the the Lightshouse Directory, the unofficial bible for all lighthouse enthusiasts.
Lightships were once very common around the shores of Ireland and indeed the small island to the east of us. They were located wherever it was too dangerous, or too economically unviable to build a lighthouse, such as the Saltees off the coast of county Wexford or the shifting sands of Dublin Bay.
Nowadays, these guardians of our coastline have all but disappeared. The only complete lightship left in Ireland is moored in Strangford Lough; there is a mast and light on one of the quays in Arklow; another lightship is, I believe, being used as a floating restaurant on the Seine in Paris.
Lightship Gannet, built in 1954, was stationed off the county Down coast at the site of the very old South Rock lighthouse, one of the world's first wave-washed lighthouses.

It was decommissioned in 2009 and purchased by a man with the very strange name of So long and thanks for all the Fish who had her towed to the Medway in Kent for a conversion. The blog of that conversion incidentally makes fascinating reading.
Anyhow, the mercurial Gannet has been on her travels again, ending up in the heart of mainland Europe. She was towed up the Rhine to Basel where, to the delight of thousands of onlookers, she was hauled out of the water by a giant crane and laid gently in Holzpark Klybeck, which appears to be a part of Basel's harbour area, dedicated to culture and the arts. For those of you that know Basel, it is a part of the Swiss section of that city. The 600 tonne vessel will be used for restaurants, cultural events and a radio station.

I was a little perturbed at first that the photographs did not show the mast and lantern on the ship but at last I found another photograph that indicates that they are not far away!!

My thanks to Tom Brunner for sending me a video of the hoist. The lantern incidentally is back attached to the ship.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rathlin O'Birne lighthouse

Rathlin O'Birne is one of the few Irish lighthouses I have yet to clap eyes on and, despite this post, it is still the case. It is situated on a small island in south-west Donegal and I have planned for some time to do a road trip to capture the three lighthouses on that jutty out piece of land - St. John's, Rotten Island and Rathlin O'Birne.

The lighthouse was constructed on the island by 1846, though for some unfathomable reason it was ten years before the light went live. Along with the light were two keepers' cottages and a few outhouses and precious little else. Despite its proximity to the mainland, landing has always been tricky on Rathlin O'Birne - there is no slipway landing place and a dead calm sea is vital for boats to land.

It also has the distinction of being the world's first nuclear powered lighthouse and the only such light in Ireland. The isotope generator was landed on the island in 1974 after a six day journey from Dun Laoghaire.

The reason I am posting this up, as eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted, is that the island is up for sale on Or rather, seven acres of it is. The lighthouse itself is still fully functioning and remotely controlled though the keepers' cottages, now somewhat dilapidated and in need of a great deal of TLC are included. The property has a guide price of €75,000 and is being sold by DNG. I am posting up the complete set of brochure photos as they will probably disappear when the listing is taken off the market. The link may similarly not work if the property is sold.

This is the sheltered walkway leading from the lighthouse to the landing place, similar to the one on Eagle Island.

I assume the black coat hanger is included in the price.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

First Fanad Head Light (Lost Lighthouse)


On my September 2016 visit to Fanad, I tried to find evidence of the original light, with no success.
The first light was shown  at Fanad on Patricks Day 1817. According to the CIL website, 
"The first lighthouse was similar in size to two other towers being built around the same time, one at Mutton Island off Salthill, Galway Bay, and the other at Roche's Point on the eastern entrance to Cork harbour. They were 5 feet 9 inches inside diameter by three stories high-ground, first floor and lantern." 
In 1886, "Construction (on the new light) went ahead and a new larger and higher tower, close to the original tower was built together with an extra dwelling."
I was unsuccessful in finding evidence of the original tower, a stump, or a circular foundation. On the tour of the lighthouse this time around, I came across an old painting of the lighthouse, pre-dating 1886 (see above). It shows a different configuration of dwellings and a much shorter light. It appears that the new tower must have been built practically on the same location as the old tower.

It also shows steps on the left-hand side of the picture leading down to a landing stage at the water. These steps are still there, though blocked off and overgrown, see photos below.