Friday, January 1, 2021

Beacon Lighthouse No.1

I have been sitting on this lighthouse for a number of months now (not literally, of course, for it has long ceased to be) waiting for some long-promised information to be sent to me. However, though I have not given up hope, the chances of me dying before the information arrives are rising with each passing month, so I think it best to put pen to paper with what I have. (I hasten to add that a) I am really grateful to the person concerned for his offer of help and b) to my knowledge, my death is not imminent)
The watercolour above is of a beautiful wooden lighthouse. To me, it looks slightly north European, Belgian or North Germany, maybe. Of course, it must be remembered that I am an idiot. The painting is by a famous maritime artist known as Alexander Williams and it hangs in the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. It was painted from somewhere along the South Wall of the River Liffey between the old Pigeon House Fort and Poolbeg Lighthouse, looking north west across the river. The lighthouse stands at the spot where the North Bank lighthouse currently stands.
At this point I must mention that the source of the information in this post comes from Cormac Lowth, Dublin's leading maritime historian and author who very generously gave me both his time and knowledge in patiently leading me through the history of Dublin Port.

The sketch above is a preparatory drawing by Williams for the painting at the top of the page. He decided evidently to unclutter the maritime craft in the vicinity of the lighthouse when doing the watercolour. The lads in the front are 'drop-net fry fishing' which I think involved dropping a weighted net into the river and then hauling it up again.
But back to the wooden lighthouse. In the mid 1800s, the River Liffey had but two lighthouses - one at the entrance (Poolbeg) and one at the approaches of the city (North Wall Quay) In between the two were a series of perches on either side of the river, marking the channel for boats. An example of one of these perches can be seen on the right hand side of the Hayes sketch and painting below, done from roughly the same spot as the Williams' aspect. In fact, this may have been the very perch that preceded the Beacon lighthouse. It appears to be sitting on rough rock, as does the lighthouse in the Williams painting at the top of the page. The Beacon lighthouse was built in between perches nos. 3 and 5, on the site of perch no. 4.

The 1880s saw a sudden bout of lighthouse building in the Liffey. The Alexandra Breakwater light was erected, the lighthouse at the end of the North Bull Wall also went up and, on 28th June 1882, the light of the disappointingly-named Beacon Light No.1 was established. It was an occulting white light exhibited 40 feet above the high - water mark, flashing once every three seconds. This was changed in 1885 to once every four seconds. It had actually been finished by March 1881 but it took a while for the optical apparatus by J. Edmundson & Co. to be installed.

Of the lighthouse itself, I have found very little. According to the Williams painting, it was a wooden structure built on stilts. Presumably the keeper's dwellings sat above the high-water mark and it appears some sort of internal ladder or staircase led from there up to the lantern. There was a gallery and what seems to be a second external light next to the turret. The red flag was the starboard side indicator when entering a port (black for the left hand side) This has since been changed to green for starboard and red for port. On the top of the turret was a weather vane. In 1886, a fog bell was added, striking three times every thirty seconds.
It was designed and built under the supervision of Sir John Purser Griffith, chief engineer to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, who had served under Bindon Stoney.

Dublin Port map showing the five lighthouses at the end of the nineteenth century

All went well apparently until Monday 3rd February 1908 when the Marquis of Glasgow (the ship, not the lighthouse-hating member of the Scottish aristocracy) clattered into the lighthouse while leaving port. The building was completely shattered and a temporary lightship was towed to the site and left in place until a new lighthouse was put in place later that year. The new light and fog bell had the same characteristics as the old one and was also designed by Sir John Purser Griffith. 
Once again, I have struggled for information on the new lighthouse, now officially called The North Bank lighthouse. Again, it was a stilted structure with a square brickwork tower, painted with red and white horizontal bands. Its occulting white light was exhibited from a height 50 feet above the high tide mark.
This second lighthouse lasted until 1940 when it was replaced by the current North Bank lighthouse. The foundations had been severely compromised and the whole structure was in danger of falling into the water. The new lighthouse, which was automatic, in contrast to its two predecessors, was built and then divers with explosives finished the job on the old lighthouse that nature had started.
Incredibly, despite it lasting until 1940, I have yet to come across a picture of this intermediate lighthouse.

The current North Bank lighthouse

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Don't mess with that fog signal

Two jolly little stories in the run-up to Christmas, both concerning lighthouse keepers firing fog-guns and both with the keepers' lives being saved by passing ocean-going liners.
The first occurred down at the Tuskar lighthouse on the storm-swept south east coast of Ireland

New Ross Standard 25th July 1891

There were questions asked in the House of Commons about this incident and the lack of proper communication between lighthouses and the mainland in cases of emergency but the reply was that the man would have been taken off by the Belle anyway, so the communications worked grand.

Twenty years later, a similar accident occurred at the Rathlin lighthouse. There are currently three lighthouses on Rathlin (four, if you count the lower lighthouse at Rathlin East, below) but at the time there was only one (or two, ditto)

Photo from the National Library

The Strabane Chronicle 20th July 1912

Simply another danger for the lighthouse keeper to endure.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Rosslare Light, Ballygeary Pier


Sadly, I have no picture of the lighthouse at the end of the Ballygeary Pier in Rosslare, so I will brighten up the page by a gratuitous photo of the current, very pretty lighthouse (above), which is the third lighthouse in Rosslare. 
The first was at Rosslare Fort at the entrance to Wexford Harbour, long defunct, its circular foundations now lying under the sea.
In between, was the lighthouse at the end of the Ballygeary Pier, which has been stated as being established in 1881, as per the Notice to Mariners below. I have only begun to research this light recently and don't have all the facts but seemingly it was wooden, possibly similar to the East Twin Light up in Belfast. It obviously was pulled down when the current light was established.

I hope to write more about this light when I have more information (and anybody who can provide any, please get in touch!!) Suffice to say, that the pier was described as ill-fated. Built from The Point and extending 1000 feet out at a cost of £80,000, it was designed as providing a much shorter crossing from Ireland to southern parts of England. However, something happened to the railway line (it was described as 'disused' in 1892) and this hare-brained scheme fell through.
The reason for this post though is a rather wonderful letter, written by one Philip Kennedy, lightkeeper at Ballygeary Pier, in response to an article in the Wexford People on 19th April 1882, just six months after the green light was first exhibited.
The article says the Harbour Board discussed complaints by local mariners to the Wexford Harbour Commissioners that the light could not be seen more than 300 yards away. The explanation was given that the light only shows through one narrow sector. However, it was suggested that someone should go out in the tug-boat Ruby to see for themselves. At this juncture, one of the Commissioners, Mr. Hutchinson, remarked that "the best time to test it is about two o'clock in the morning when the oil is burned low and the lightkeeper, perhaps, asleep" (laughter.)
The lightkeeper responded on Saturday 29th April and I print it verbatim with no comment, except to say 'Good on ya, Philip': -

Monday, December 7, 2020

Calf Rock

 It is over five years now since I visited the Calf Rock, which would definitely be one of my Great Lighthouses of Ireland, if it were intact. Sadly it is only a stump, a terrible reminder of the power of the sea.

I  had cause recently to research an incident on the rock in 1869 when seven men were drowned and realised that I had no picture of this lighthouse. Not really surprising, seeing it was only in existence for fifteen years and in a very remote position too. However, I was able to find a couple of drawings, two from the pages of The Irish Builder and the third a sketch by Robert Callwell, a commissioner of Irish Lights, without whom we would have no pictorial representation of several of our long, lost lighthouses.

The top two drawings appear to be from the south while the Callwell sketch appears to be from the north. 
Wasn't she a beauty?

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Whitecastle pile light (lost light)

Model of Whitecastle pile light by Ken Doherty, built from a 1927 photograph, currently on display at the Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle

The lights of Lough Foyle have baffled me now for many a day, mainly because many of them are gone and there is very little in the archives about them. So, with a lot of help from local residents, Seamus Bovaird and Martin Doherty, I have tried to piece them together and record what little I know of them.
In general, Lough Foyle is a large expanse of water, where the River Foyle, after flowing through the city of Derry (I use the term merely because it is shorter) and its outskirts, suddenly widens out as it nears the sea. Donegal is on the west side, co. Derry is on the east side. After partition, nobody thought to decide who had jurisdiction over what but now the Lough is jointly administered.
The main channel for vessels ran along the Donegal coast and lights were erected by the Derry Harbour Board to warn ships from straying too close to the shore. From north to south and showing the date of their establishment, they were - 
Warrenpoint (a tower on land) (1861); 
Moville (pile light) (1882); 
Redcastle (pile light) (1852); 
Whitecastle (pile light) (1848); 
Quigley's Point (pile light) (1896); 
Ture (pile light) (1850); 
and Coneyburrow (pile light) (1848).
In addition to the pile lighthouses above, there were also pile lights with no houses. The general rule of thumb seems to be that the light-houses had eight legs whereas the house-less lights had four legs or fewer.
Of these, only the top two remain (I have not included the two Shroove lights at the the very north of the Lough as these are Irish Lights administered) I have been unable to find out when the other five pile lights were pulled down but I suspect some time around the 1960s, on the very spurious grounds that 'somebody on Facebook remembered them as a child.' According to Seamus Bovaird of the Inishowen Maritime Museum, "Deepening and re-profiling the main channel was the death knell for the piled lights as scouring at the channel edges would under cut one, or two, legs of the structure and over it went. Alterations to the channel left some pile lights too far away from the edge of the channel to be safe marks."

  Relative position of Whitecastle light to Moville and Redcastle (above) and to Quigley's Point and Ture (below)

I have been unable to locate a Notice to Mariners for any of the pile lights but Jenkins' Lists' date of 1848 for Whitecastle coincides with Hoskyn's Sailing Directions (1877) date of 1848.
Incidentally, I have come across a melancholy drowning accident from 1846. (In Victorian newspapers, deaths by drownings were always 'melancholy.' It must have been drummed into cub reporters' heads, like 'i before e.') The report tells the story of two boys who were trying to return to their father's 'light-boat' but struck it too hard and split their own boat. One was drowned and the other saved. But, at the risk of being blasé about the death of a boy, what interested me was the fact that there was a light vessel in Lough Foyle, which was probably replaced by the Whitecastle pile light.
What we do know about pile lights is they seem to have been fairly high-maintenance with repairs being carried out at regular intervals. Even as early as 1862, newspaper advertisements were inviting tenders for the repair of Ture, Whitecastle and Redcastle lighthouses. Redcastle and Whitecastle were again repaired in 1876. In 1899, Whitecastle light was practically rebuilt. 
An 1859 report describes the Whitecastle Light as showing a Common oil lamp with ten burners.  By 1864, holophotal lamps were being used and the piles were painted red. Sailing directions for 1917 list Whitecastle light as a white house on black piles showing a fixed white light on the edge of the Great Bank. The piles were subsequently painted red again.
We know the names of a few of those early lightkeepers. On the 1901 census, it was 23-year-old Donegal man, Neal Duffy, though in December of that year, the board appointed Edward Henry as lightkeeper. He was a farmer from Ballyargus and had a large family. On Monday 24th June 1907, reported the Derry Journal, Whitecastle lightkeeper William Farren had just pushed off from the lighthouse in his boat when a sudden squall capsized it and, by a huge stroke of luck, he was spotted by the occupants of a nearby motor-yacht and rescued, after spending 25 minutes in the water. The 1911 Census shows 28 year old Daniel Farren, probably William's son, as the lightkeeper.
Actually, of the five lost pile lighthouses in the Lough, Whitecastle is not entirely lost. Anybody driving down the extraordinarily beautiful coast road cannot fail to see the remains of the piles sticking up out of the water, with a new pole light close by. 

The remains of Whitecastle pile light with the new light to the left, 2016

Martin Doherty of the Harbour Board tells the story of a brave attempt at recycling the piles a few years ago. The piles were fitted with a platform and upturned drainpipes. It was hoped that terns would nest in the drainpipes and keep the eggs safe from cormorants, who are nasty little buggers at the best of times. Sadly a storm the following year did for the platform.

The Whitecastle platform with nesting drainpipes. Note the red paint still on the piles. (Pic. courtesy Martin Doherty)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dingle beacons


The remarkable sketch above is a detail of a drawing in the National Library of Ireland. The title of the piece is "Beacon Towers Erected by the Reverend Charles Gayer 1847 (Entrance to Dingle Harbour)" and the National Library have somehow decided that the artist was Samuel Watson (1761-1802) who obviously dabbled in clairvoyance as well as art. To me, it has more than a hint of Terry Gilliam about it.
I have written about these Dingle daymarks before (here) but in my naivety had thought they had only been three in number. 
The tower on the top left hand side is atop Carhoo Hill and is known locally Eask Tower. It originally stood 27 feet tall and was solid in structure, with a hand pointing in the direction of the entrance to the harbour. At the turn of the twentieth century it was increased in height to 40 feet and given a new hand. It is the only one that is relatively intact.

Eask Tower (the Dalek)

The tower on the right hand side of the sketch is on top of Beenbawn Head and would have been identical to Eask, with the obvious exception that the arm would have pointed the other way. Sadly it is now a pile of stones that adults like to play with.

Former tower on Beenbawn Head

The lower tower at the entrance to the harbour is The Towereen Bán, (presumably 'the little white tower') at Reenbeg Point. The remains of a whitewashed tower still reminds us of its former glories but, like its old pal Fungi, it seems to be lost forever.

Above, an old postcard of The Towereen Bán
Below, the sad remains in 2018. You can still see that it was not hollow.

Of the other two, the tower in the distance looks like it might be on that little headland where The Dingle Bar and Brasserie now stands. The other one seems to be across from Hussy's Folly. Maybe someone with more local knowledge has further information.

The five towers were erected in 1847 as daymarks at the instigation of the Reverend Charles Gayer, a protestant vicar and widower, who had nine children. As the famine started to bite, he gave employment to the Roman Catholic poor of the parish and thus saved many of them from starvation, like a Victorian Oskar Schindler. Dingle Harbour was a blind harbour and ships were occasionally wrecked for not being able to find its peaceful waters. The stone beacons served as great daymarks but weren't much use at night.That had to wait until the lighthouse was built in 1885.
In employing only poor Roman Catholics, there was doubtless a secondary motive, a mass conversion to protestantism by a grateful population. Unfortunately the Reverend shot himself in the foot (not literally, I hasten to add) by dying in February 1848, just as the works were coming to completion. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Newcastle county Down - the missing lighthouse! (Probably...)

A month or two ago, I posted about a lighthouse that had been erected on the pier at Newcastle county Down. The evidence I had was sketchy. A lighthouse showed at the end of the pier on the Ordnance Survey 2nd series map. An 1861 report mentioned that a 'small lighthouse' had been erected in Newcastle in 1849. In 1869, a violent storm washed away the south pier. Later estimates for its repair included £10 for a cast-iron lighthouse.
From all of this, I surmised that the original 1849 lighthouse had been washed away in 1869 and that it had been comparatively small and cast-iron, probably like the one that had stood at Bray, I said at the time.
Well, I scoured the net trying to find an old photograph of this light, to no avail. I concluded that there was no further point searching. If such a photo, or sketch, or painting existed, it would fall into my lap, rather than me finding it. Only now it appears that I had a photo of the lost lighthouse all along. And, what's more, I took it myself.
Back in 1880, a former Irish Lights engineer, John Swan Sloane, wrote a series of articles detailing the construction of Irish lighthouses to that date. And, right at the end of eleven months of articles, I found the following nugget:

I admit I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I had it correct. The 1849 Newcastle light became the 1876 Buncrana light! Not since Roches Point lighthouse floated around the coast to Duncannon in county Wexford has an Irish lighthouse made such a trip.
Fair dues to Peter Gurrie and the Buncrana and West Inishowen Historical Society for rescuing this light from the scrapyard. Not only have they saved the Buncrana light for posterity but the Newcastle one too!

Plaque on the rescued lighthouse at Grianan Park, Buncrana

There's just one tinsey-winsey problem here. The Lighthouse Directory suggests that this light dates from 1916, though the station itself was established in 1876. That would imply the ex-Newcastle light was replaced around 1916, though I can find nothing in the archives suggesting this. The plaque above indicates this is the original 1876 lighthouse. More research needed.