Thursday, July 15, 2021
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Thursday, June 17, 2021
A lot of the records at the Military Archives have now come online and have shed a lot of light on the period from the Easter Rising to independence. Of particular value are the witness statements, made many years afterwards, which not only shed light on the military shenanigans but are also crucial to understanding the philosophy of the times, the social world and the architecture of the early 1920s Ireland.
At the end of August 1920, the late Neil Blayney told me that he had information that Fanad Head coastguard station was about to be evacuated. We had been discussing the possibilities of attacking this post at an earlier date. If the rumour about its evacuation was true, it was necessary to carry out the attack immediately.
I suggested that the best means of obtaining information was, Neil Blayney being an insurance agent, to go up there, get in touch with some of the garrison under the pretext of selling insurance, and he would have a good opportunity of getting. useful information. He adopted my suggestion and, having made a call at the coastguard station, he returned immediately to inform me that the coastguard station would be evacuated inside a week. As a result of this information, it was necessary to make hurried plans to attack the place. Accordingly, the date for the attack was fixed for the night of September 4th, 1920. It was decided that the attacking party would be drawn from the Letterkenny company. The Volunteers from Fanad company were to act as scouts and guides.
Our party set out by motor car from Letterkenny and, on reaching a pre-arranged rendezvous, we were guided across country by Volunteers from the Fanad company. On reaching the coastguard station, which was a solidly constructed cement building, we took up positions behind a wall surrounding the building and about fifty yards out. The light from the lighthouse on the Head was disconcerting to us.
We were informed a few day later than a British admiralty sloop was anchored in Mulroy Bay, convenient to the coastguard station. The sloop was there for the purpose or salvaging gold from the ship, "Laurentic", which was sunk in the bay by a German submarine during World War I and had two and a half million pounds worth of gold aboard. For some unknown reason, the sloop had left the bay that night. Had the marines been in the bay and come to the assistance of the coastguards, we would have been in a bad position. Of course, it is possible that the Volunteers from Fanad would have warned us, in advance, of the presence of the sloop, had the sloop remained in the bay.
The shell of the Coastguard station at Fanad today
The keeper was evidently Charles Meehan, who would have been approaching sixty years of age at the time. A Donegal man, he was a Catholic with a large family. One son, also Charles, would become a lightkeeper too.
Other lighthouses were raided for arms and explosives - Hook Head, Mine Head, Roancarrig, even the Fastnet - but on each occasion, the raiders were very receptive to the notion that nothing should interfere with the beam of the light. As far as I know, this incident was unique in the annals of Irish Lights, although it is doubtful whether news of the incident ever made it into their annals.
About a week later, the coastguards left and the station was burned and gutted. It seems likely from the following newspaper report, that the coastguards got together and concocted a story for the admiralty as to how they had been so easily overcome. I suspect the judge was suspicious! (From the Belfast Newsletter 1st November 1920)
Friday, June 11, 2021
Grohogue Point at the entrance to Glandore Harbour, now lighthouse-less.
Glandore Harbour looks to be a fantastically beautiful place slightly west of Galley Head lighthouse in county Cork. I have never been but Google Street Map is a great invention, even though its a bugger to read road signs on. The harbour is home to three major settlements, Union Hall, Leap and Glandore (in clockwise order) and a pile of magnificent scenery.
Map of Glandore Harbour showing the position of the lighthouse. The sailing directions tend to say 'avoid Adam and hug Eve' as a rough guide to getting up the harbour. Leap is just off-map top left.
The lighthouse is shown on the last edition OSI map (1888 - 1913) and the British Pilot for 1917 states - "During the fishing season or from April 15th to May 31st and from September 1st to January 31st, annually, a fixed light with white and red sectors is exhibited from Grohogue Point on the eastern side of the entrance to Glandore Harbour." So, not a lantern on a pole then.
Detail from the last edition OSI map showing position of lighthouse. Grohogue Point is the southern promontory of Prison Cove which I am told is now the haunt of naturists.
It appears that the driving force behind this lighthouse was one Colonel Spaight, the official local bigwig, who was approached by fishermen and local boat-owners in the latter half of 1896 to lobby him for a lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour. Non-local fishermen seldom availed of the wonderful harbour for want of a light; and indeed the local fishermen "frequently felt this want also in the long, dark nights of October and November, when all had to remain tossing about on an open ocean until the advent of the light of day," (the Colonel's words, not mine, as reported in the Skibbereen Eagle on the 10th April 1897.)
The first public meeting of the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board was held on October 5th 1896 and the light itself was established on or around 12th April, the following year, probably some sort of record for Irish Lights. Unusually (well, this is the first time I have come across this) the light would only be lit during the fishing season, 12th April to 24th November and not 365 days a year. Not being of the fishing persuasion, I didn't in fact realise that there was a fishing season.
Subscriptions were raised from a variety of local and not-so-local companies, such as Cork Distillers, Bennett & Co, Clonakilty, and Belfast Ropeworks. A committee was set up to appoint a lightkeeper and Richard White was selected from a list of six candidates, apparently a popular choice with the local fishermen. He was a farmer in Carriglusky, and his farmstead lay around a mile from Grohogue Point.
Richard White born 1862, the only keeper of the Glandore lighthouse, wearing the jersey of the local Kilmacabea G.A.A. Club. He married Mary Keohane from Barley Hill in February 1896 and had a large family, most of whom were girls. He was a farmer and a fisherman, as well as a lightkeeper, and was a fluent Irish speaker too.
Patrick Hurley who is a great-grandson of Richard says that the family story is that the Townshend family of Castletownshend paid for the lighthouse and Trinity House, presumably through Irish Lights, paid the keeper's wages. I'm assuming they supplied the light too.
The Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board seem to have met annually thereafter, usually in December. The proceedings, faithfully reported in the Skibbereen Eagle and the Southern Star, normally consisted of the Chairman reporting on a highly successful lighting season and what a great boon to the the local fishing fleet the lighthouse was. The fishermen, he said, recognised the value of the lighthouse and were generous in their voluntary donations to the lighthouse fund.
Slowly over time, the message changed slightly. It was still a great light, sure, one of the best on the coast of Ireland (which may have been stretching things a bit) but the voluntary subscriptions were not being paid as they had been. True, the fishing season had been bad and hardship had been encountered but a 10 shilling contribution for a whole year's fishing was a pittance that could be afforded by so many.
In 1899, for example, the Chairman reported that they had been hoping to extend the light further into the winter season but the funds did not quite stretch that far. However, he was sure the fishermen would rally round to ensure this happened.
View from Grohogue Point looking out to Adam's Island. At one time, a wooden boxlike structure would have obscured the view.
In 1907, it was announced that the Autumn fishing season would run from 1st September to 31st January every year and the light was to be improved, even though fishermen had reported being able to see it from 12 miles away. This was probably to include the red sector as per the British Pilot description. Gales in December 1910 might well have decimated the Kinsale fishing fleet but for the Glandore Harbour light, which led them to safe waters. The following year, it was proposed that the 'temporary' wooden structure would hopefully be replaced by a more solid stone building.
At the December 1912 meeting, it was reported that, despite the greatness of the light, not one fisherman or boat owner had paid their paltry 10s voluntary contribution for that year and they had no powers to enforce the payment. The Chairman appealed to all and sundry to please help to maintain the light as the large catches of mackerel were down in no small part to the wonderful lighthouse.
An identical address was made in March 1913 almost pleading with the fishing community to support the light. And then - nothing. That is the last mention I could find in the papers of the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board. It is presumed that the wooden structure succumbed to one storm too many and there was no will in the community to replace it. As mentioned, a description of this light appeared in the British Pilot in 1917 but that could well have been a copy and paste job from the previous edition.
So what kind of a light was it. Well, thanks to Patrick Hurley, we actually have the plans which are apparently on display in Casey's pub in Glandore, which seems like a good excuse to visit. The brass lamps, according to one source, used paraffin and the object beneath the lantern, I am reliably informed, is not a honey pot with a drizzle stick, as much as I would like that to be the case. Patrick's sister is also fairly sure that their grandmother, Mary Ann (Molly) - one of Richard's children - told her that there was a hammock in the hut.
Richard Cummins, former lightkeeper, suggested this Italian lighthouse as a similarly shaped replica of the Glandore light
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Saunders Newsletter 2nd January 1822
So, now you know as much about the Bruckless lighthouse as I do. Bruckless lies at the head of the bay prior to Killybegs, as per the map below. The lighthouse that is shown adjacent to Carntullagh Head is Rotten Island, a misnomer if ever there was one, which was established in 1838, sixteen years before Nesbitt's long-forgotten aid to navigation. In the second, close-up map of Bruckless Bay from that period, there is no sign of the lighthouse, indicating it must have been quite shortlived.
Bruckless Bay 1st edition OS map. Bruckless is at the head of the bay. Darney Point, where the lighthouse was, is near the bottom at the nearest point on the mainland to Flat Rock. A light here would not only serve to warn boats of the dangers of the nearby rocks but would also enable them to continue fishing at night without having to regain Bruckless before it got dark. As such, Mr. Nesbitt's selfless gesture would probably reap dividends through the increase in catches.
As for the lighthouse on Darney Point, it seems - according to a post on the Belong to Bruckless Facebook page - that nobody in the community has ever heard of it and in fact one poster denies vehemently that it ever existed. To my mind, it must have been a substantial structure, possibly a wooden hut, with candles burning through a window, though I doubt it was a permanent structure of stone or iron. If it were merely a pillar with a lantern hung around it, I doubt it would have been worth a mention in de paper.
Friday, May 28, 2021
The Kish lightship in the first decade of the twentieth century. To me this looks like the Cormorant but, hard to believe, I have been wrong in the past. Lightships were painted black until the 1950s, when red got the contract.
Back to 1902, the lightship on the Kish Bank, just outside the entrance to Dublin harbour, gained headlines worldwide when, on 8th September of that year, she was sunk by the Royal Mail Steamer Leinster in dense fog. Neither party saw the other until a collision was unavoidable and the lightship – The Albatross – was practically split in two by the force of the collision.
The seven men aboard the stricken lightship – William Daly (Master), seamen William Duff, Patrick Langan, Michael Crowe, George Warren and Joseph Pluck and the carpenter, John Day – had been on board about a week and calmly and quickly lowered the lifeboat and rowed away. They were picked up by the Leinster and brought to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), seemingly none the worse for their experience. The lightship sank within minutes. It was eventually salvaged and sold off.
One of the rescued men was William Duff. He lived in 4, Northumberland Place, Kingstown and his main role on board he lightship – now the Shearwater, as the Albatross was otherwise engaged in submarine activities – was as a lamp trimmer. He had been on the Kish for twenty of his fifty years.
The Shearwater was a relatively new addition to the fleet having been built in 1894 at a cost of £3,900.
According to his wife, Margaret, William’s nerves had got the better of him since the contretemps with the Leinster. He had told her that he never would get the better of the shock, although on Sunday morning 12th October, he seemed to be in perfect health as he left Kingstown to rejoin the lightship. He and the rest of his shift had actually been due to relieve the other crew on the Saturday but the weather had been too bad.
His shipmate, Michael Crowe, who had also been on the Albatross agreed that William appeared to be in very good health on that Sunday and certainly made no reference to anything ailing him. The two men were winding up the weights of the revolving light at around 9.45pm when suddenly William cried out and fell down dead. Michael called the officer in charge and the two of them attempted resuscitation, to no avail. The body was subsequently brought ashore and taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, Kingstown.
A post mortem examination found that the deceased had an enormous enlargement of the liver coupled with ‘a flabby heart.’ Liver disease was entered as the cause of death. It was an unremarkable death, now long-forgotten, for an unremarkable seaman who had given his life to the lightships.
As for the R.M.S. Leinster, she continued to ply her trade between Holyhead and Kingstown until a few short weeks before the Armistice in 1918, when she was sunk by two torpedoes from a German U-boat. There was no passenger list but, thanks to the efforts of Philip Lecane, we know that there were 567 named people killed, making it by far Ireland’s worst maritime disaster.
The tragedy happened as the Leinster was passing the Kish lightship.