Friday, July 1, 2022

Wyse Point, Dungarvan, Waterford


The above photograph was sent to me by Andrew Doherty, of Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales fame, and evoked a very strange sense of Deja-vu in me. I probably haven't thought about it in over 55 years but when I was very small, there was an object very like it in our house. I think it was black and the top unscrewed and then one of the adults did something and there was a smell of paraffin and the top was screwed on again and we had a light. Why we had it, I don't know, nor what became of it. As I said, I've never thought about it until now.

The lamp and the plaque above are on the wall of the sailing club in Dungarvan. As it says, it was exhibited at Wyse Point, one of two white leading lights there. From the British Islands Pilot Guide 1917, it seems that these fixed lights led ships through the channel from the Pool. Then two fixed red lights led up to the green light on the bridge at Dungarvan. I'm hopeful this will mean something to somebody.
Lamplighters were employed in all major (and indeed minor) harbours to go out every evening and light these lamps. They were normally local fishermen, eager to supplement their earnings with the pittance the Harbour Board paid. Where the lamps were on land, such as at Wyse Point, it wasn't so bad, but in places like Dundalk, Drogheda and Limerick, where boats were required, it was a thankless and dangerous job.

Of course, any post mentioning Dungarvan is legally obliged to contain gratuitous pictures of the small but perfectly formed lighthouse at Ballinacourty Point. Above from 1906, part of the CIL collection in the National Library. Below from 2008, part of the Goulding collection on my hard drive.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Good news from Ballyglass

Currently spending two weeks near Blacksod lighthouse in county Mayo, a view of Black Rock from the front of the house and we're walking every inch of the fantastic white beaches of the Mullet peninsula. Two days ago, we happened to chance on Ballyglass lighthouse on beautiful Broadhaven Bay (no idea how we got there, just turned a corner and there we were, totally unexpectedly). 
The last time I was there was ten years ago, less than an hour before I wrote off the car near Crossmolina after a blow-out. The keeper's cottage, I noted, seemed to be in a state of disrepair and news since confirmed that it was on a definite downward trajectory.

Writing in The Irish Builder in 1880, John Swan Sloane who, by that time, had been pensioned off from his position of Chief Engineer of Irish Lights much to his disgust, wrote of the loneliness of the station, in words that would probably not go down too well today!!: -

So we roll up to Gubacashel Point aka Broadhaven lighthouse aka Ballyglass Lighthouse, expecting to find the gates locked and trees growing up through the cottage. Not a bit of it. There's a sign on the outside of the gate mentioning Mark Stephens Architects of Swinford and some feverish hard work going on at the cottage with some planks of wood getting drilled and sawn.
Further research determined that the cottage was, yes, being done up - well, put in such a state that it will not continue to decay. Mark, a fellow blogger, has written a post on the project here and hints that there is some quite exciting news to come in the near future. Maybe Irish Lights are bringing back the keepers?? Oh okay, probably not.

Ballyglass always struck me as one of the most underrated lighthouses on the Ireland circuit. It doesn't have the glamour of a Fastnet or a Hook; it doesn't have the terrible history of a Slyne Head or a Skellig Michael; it is not a tourist attraction and so doesn't appear on the list of Great Lighthouses of Ireland, like Rathlin or St. John's Point. It very much goes under the radar, which is a shame because it is a lovely little lighthouse, despite its alleged loneliness.
Naturally, I took loads of photographs, including some from Inver across the bay. 
PS A further post from Mark can be found here. So heartening to see a man with such a passion for his work

National Library CIL photograph in Album no. 2. Note the natural stone colour.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Ballagh Rock lighthouse


Ballagh Rocks from nearby Calf Island

Over two months since we spent a week on beautiful Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal, its about time I wrote about the two lighthouses in that part of the world. The first of these that the visitor encounters is Ballagh Rocks, a lighthouse since 1982, though a beacon has stood on the treacherous rock since 1875.
As most people live on the sheltered eastern side of the island, and as practically every house has a sea view, the Ballagh Rocks, much more than the main Arranmore Island lighthouse, is a very familiar sight to islanders and visitors alight. It was indeed the first thing I looked for on pulling back the curtains in our own rented accommodation, although my wife, as usual, dismissed it as 'not a real lighthouse.'.

Rather like Long Island in county Cork, the construction of a beacon at that point was a long time coming about. The rocks sit in the middle of the main northern channel between Arranmore Island and the mainland and were therefore a hazard to any craft entering Burtonport or indeed Arranmore. It was recommended that a beacon should be erected there in 1867 but it was not until 1875 that the 30 metre high stone beacon was erected. It was built by a local landowner, John S. Charley, who apparently earned little affection from his hard-pressed tenants, despite the obvious advantage of this new maritime aid.

At some point, probably after the terrible 1935 Arranmore disaster, when lighted beacons were hurriedly erected between Burtonport and Arranmore, the broad black band was added. Eventually, like Long Island also, lighthouse status was conferred at a ceremony in Killiarney in 1982 and the Ballagh Rocks beacon was required to take the Lighthouse Oath and took its place amongst the lighthouses of the world. Unlike Long Island though, it was not merely a case of sticking a light on top. As it was to be a West Cardinal light, requiring propane, new equipment was needed, with new construction. During the course of the transportation of the equipment to the lighthouse in 1981, the helicopter was forced to ditch in the sound where, according to the kayak instructor, who somehow managed to get us onto nearby Calf Island, it still lies today. The pilot managed to bail out and was saved.

It must be said, I took far too many pictures of this photogenic beacon.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Irish Lights Clocks

Just back from a very quick one-night stay trip to Waterford, after my wife expressed interest in visiting a horological exhibition there.
"You're not going to drag me to any lighthouses?" says she.
"As if!" says I.
To be honest, and my wife agreed, the horological exhibition wasn't up to much. A dozen or so of the finest watchmakers in the world assembled in one room. Each bought one, or maybe two watches to show us. "Yup, that's nice." "Yup, that's nice," "Yup, that's nice." Thirty seconds later and we'd seen everything. Good job it was free.
Undaunted, we decided to try the new Irish Museum of Time which opened in Greyfriars Church last year. A fiver in, which turned out to be a real bargain. A fantastic collection of grandfather clocks, mantle clocks, ship's clocks, Austrian, Japanese, Swiss, you name it they had it. We spent two hours in there which surprised me, as my attention span is normally measured in seconds.
On the upper floor, there were three clocks of Irish Lights interest.

When the Ballast Board became the Commissioners of Irish Lights in 1868, naturally one of the top priorities on their agenda was to buy clocks for their lighthouses. It was important that these ran accurately, otherwise lighting up time might be affected, so they didn't get them on the cheap. The bracket clock above dates from the firm of FM Moore of Dublin and Belfast c. 1868 and was probably from a Waterford or Wexford lighthouse as the donor bought it in an antique dealers on Waterford Quay.

The brass and cast-iron lighthouse clock above was made by William Milton of Dublin and dates from around 1838. Many clocks like this were made by Irish makers for use in lighthouses, harbour masters offices, train stations and canal locks as they had no timber parts, which avoided problems with damp. This one is inscribed 'Ballast Office, Dublin,' the offices of which stood on the corner of Westmoreland Quay and Aston Quay. It had a 'time ball' on its roof that fell at 1pm every day, so that sea-captains and indeed everybody rich enough to own a timepiece, could check the correct time.

This mahogany mantel regulator clock also dates from 1868 and was made by the very famous firm of John Chancellor in Dublin. It is inscribed "Irish Lights Commissioners" along with the Irish Lights flag, a modification of the George's Cross. This particular piece was used at Beeves Rock lighthouse on the Shannon Estuary.

While researching Rotten Island lighthouse in Donegal, I came across a newspaper cutting from the Derry Journal in 1938, which declared that an oak clock in the lighthouse there had been running for 100 years and had never been repaired. 
Of course, the question has to be raised - if each of the seventy odd lighthouses belonging to CIL each had at least one clock, where, now that there is no need of them, are they all now? In storage somewhere in an Irish Lights depot? Still in situ at an unwatched lighthouse? Or adorning some retired keeper's mantelpiece?
Personally, I hope it's the latter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

NLV Pharos at Belfast


Once again I am indebted to my mysterious friend Nick from Holywood for sending me pictures of the Northern Lights tender Pharos cruising up and down Belfast Lough. Equally as mysterious, Nick tells me, is that the vessel has no name or ID markings and its transponder was turned off.
Basically, there are three lighthouse boards in these islands - Trinity House, which covers England; the Northern Lighthouse Board, which is responsible for Scotland and the Isle of Man; and the Commissioner of Irish Lights, which is of course the authority for the island of Ireland.
So the Pharos is basically the Scottish equivalent of Granuaile, going around the coast and servicing buoys and lights. But whereas the Granuaile is the third light tender of that name in our jurisdiction (which sometimes leads to confusion), the Pharos is the tenth of that name to serve the Northern Lighthouse Board. Built in Poland and brought into service in 2007, it is based at Oban on the beautiful, island-studded west coast of Scotland.

But what is she doing here? (Not that we're complaining - its very nice to see her)
Well, according to Jedan Ashmore's article in Afloat last month, she has been over here several weeks now for a complete overhaul and recertification. Dry docking took place at the Harland and Wolff docks and tests appear to be ongoing. I wonder if someone should tell them to put back her markings and her transponder.
One can only imagine the resignation of the Scottish people to the fact that the flagship of their lighthouse service had to be built in Gdansk and needs to be sent to Belfast for an NCT, while the world-famous shipbuilding industries of the Clyde and the Leith are rapidly fading into distant memory.

Irish Lights' not dissimilar Granuaile

Nick also sent me a short video showing the Pharos. For other videos of his featuring rural and maritime stories and happenings, simply search for Irelandscapes in YouTube

Friday, April 29, 2022

When the Light Goes Out


"When the Light Goes Out"  - the book wot I wrote - is finally out. It was, to all intents and purposes, finished last August but with typical arrogance I thought publishers would be queuing up to print it, but sadly they weren't, possibly because its not very good. After realisation dawned that nobody was going to bite, I decided to publish it myself but Lulu has recently revamped their self-publishing site and it took me ages to figure out the formatting etc. But anyway, it's out now, thank God.
It is a lighthouse book with a difference. It tells the story of lightkeeping in Ireland from 1786 to 1972 through the fatalities that occurred to Irish Lights personnel and their families while on duty. In case that sounds like 'unrelenting gloom' as one publisher mentioned to me, I have tried to write the book in an entertaining manner, as much as the subject matter allows. All of the cases in the book - which are presented chronologically - are the ancestors of people alive today, many of whom I was able to contact. Universally they were supportive, delighted that their long-forgotten (or, in some cases, half-forgotten) ancestor should be brought back to life, in print, anyway.
So the book, which runs to 85,000 words, is a history, of sorts, of lightkeeping in this country, it serves as a roll-call of those who died in service, it shines a light (sorry) on some of the lesser-known lighthouses around their coasts and it is a collection of human-interest, real-life yarns. Or, at least, that is the intention.
Books are available to order from the sidebar to the right of this page (if viewing on a phone, you'll need to scroll to the bottom and select Web Version to view the sidebar) 
To keep costs down, books going to the island of Ireland will be despatched by myself, but anywhere else in the world, I will get Lulu to send. (This is because postage from Ireland is ridiculously expensive and Lulu, with their many printing presses around the world can post much more cheaply) 
I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. I just hope the number of errors are at a minimum and none of them are major ones!
Any questions, drop me a line at
Pete, April 29th 2022

Arranmore poem


For the Day After National Poetry Day, a poem from D.J. O'Sullivan, lightkeeper, field-naturalist, ornithologist, scientist, contributor of articles to national newspapers and poet. It is simply called Arranmore and is taken from his 1947 anthology entitled Lightkeeper's Lyrics. It is not about a lighthouse at all, more of a political discourse from a nature expert. Having just returned from a week on Arranmore, I can confirm that the nature still abounds on the island, though I wouldn't know a cushat from a Jew's-harp beetle.

Bright sunbeams gleam 'twixt flouncing waves,
The Jew's-harp beetle sparkles blue:
Where gnarl├ęd gorse shows armour'd leaves
A spider's web is dinked with dew.

The mist-bow o'er the stream glints red,
A brassy, brazen, brilliant tone
That flickers ochreous to lead,
Becomes nimbused, then nimbly gone.

Roan heifer noses through the hedge
Sweet honeysuckle bordering near;
The sunning ass, upon the hedge,
Half wakes to twitch flies from her ear.

Brown bees are pulsing flower to flower,
To gilly comes the Green-veined White,
This female's had her nuptial hour,
As tatter'd wings denote in flight.

Ringed-plover "tu-li-tu" around,
Showing trailing wings and drunken legs,
Pretending hurt - fall to the ground,
A ruse to hide their "scrape" of eggs.

The wood-rush rustles faery tunes,
The cushat coos in elder tree.
And all along the ribb'd sand-dunes
Blue harebells dance in ecstasy.

D.J. (Danny)'s father, Eugene, was lost at the Bull Rock lighthouse, county Cork on midsummer's day 1917. One of his sons, also called Eugene, brought the Irish lightkeeping occupation to an end in 1997, when he handed over the keys of the Baily to Irish Lights.