Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poer Head Fog Signal Station

Poer Head (also called and pronounced Power Head) lies about four miles east south east of Roches Point, although the name does not appear on my sat nav. Therefore I used the coordinates 51°45.595'N, 008°06.679'W and was somewhat taken aback to find that a T-Junction was my 'destination'. However, a quick call to a nearby house advised me to take the road to the right, skirt the locked gate and follow the cliff path 'for ten minutes' to reach the Head.

Well, it was one windy day! The beach at Inch was deserted and the grey seas smashed into it in a particularly uninviting fashion. After about 15 minutes I came to the small compound at the end of the headland.

Poer Head was unique among Irish Lights stations as it was the only one that didn't include a light.It operated from 1879 to 1970 as a fog signal station. Built under the direction of the celebrated William Douglass, it started out life as steam siren and ended up as a combination of Ruston engine and Atlas Copco compressor, whatever that is. It was then transferred to the Old Head of Kinsale.

Approaching down the cliff path, I at first thought that the outhouse in the bottom two pictures was the old fog station, as it bore a resemblance to the Barr Point Fog Signal Station. However, a notice to Cork County Council on the gate looking for planning permission made me re-think, and I eventually figured it out.

There were two semi-detached houses from the 1870s (the white house in the photo above) which must have been the keeper's cottages. There was a large house from the 1950s - the other large house with the single double chimney, with a wooden free-standing building behind (to be converted into a granny flat)

And finally, the old fog signal station itself from the 1870s, to be converted into holiday accommodation. (the first four photos on the page) Not being technically minded , I have no idea what the two large orange tanks beside the building are (oil tanks?) I also presume, but don't know for certain, that the triangular structure on the roof (pictures 2 - 4) is where the signal was emitted from.

In 2012 we holidayed in the summer on the lovely Sheeps Head peninsular and I expressed an opinion that I could easily live there. Ah, said my wife, but wait till you see it in the winter. I was reminded of her words visiting Poer Head, imagining myself trapped in the ex-fog signal station cum holiday apartment by a storm force wind.

I doubt very much that you could build a holiday apartment out of this bunker!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Old Head of Kinsale (2)

A condition that the Golf Course imposed on the Old Head of Kinsale Signal Tower Restoration Fund was that buses be used to convey visitors to and from the new lighthouse. I had hoped that I could walk back as along the way there lay the ruins of the 1665 lighthouse and the 1814 lighthouse. I asked but was told firmly no. The Golf Course was afraid there might be a liability if I was struck on the head by a golf ball, and, not wishing to jeopardise their relationship with the Golf Course, I had to accept that.

I did however ask the bus to pause for a minute so I could take a photo of the cottage style lighthouse through the window. Interesting to see the square cut-out in the roof where the brazier stood and which was supposed to be lit every night. There were other such lighthouses on Howth Head, Hook Head, Loop Head, Island Magee and they were uniquely Irish in design.

The photo above was taken from outside the Golf course perimeter.

Old Head of Kinsale Fog Station

Three cannons were installed and established as a fog signal at the Old Head of Kinsale on 1st February 1893. Two successive reports were fired every ten minutes. A third keeper or fog signal man was appointed to the station who was at first in lodgings until another dwelling was built for him in 1895. A new light and fog signal were established on 17th December 1907. William Spence of Dublin supplied the lantern, fog signal jibs and apparatus
The character of the explosive fog signal was changed to one report every five minutes from 1st June 1934. From 1971 each explosive report of the fig signal fired during the hours of darkness was accompanied by a brilliant flash of light. When all explosive fog signals around the coast were discontinued in 1972, (due to a threat of terrorist attacks) Old Head acquired the siren fog signal from the discontinued Poer Head fog signal station (1970) with a character of three blasts every forty-five seconds. The siren was replaced by an electric horn with the same character in December 1985 and controlled by a videograph fog detector, obviously in anticipation of making the station unwatched.

The fog signal, together with any remaining around the Irish coast was discontinued in 2011.

Old Head of Kinsale (5)

And so to the Old Head of Kinsale. I'm figuring that this is the 5th light on this headland. The first was an ancient fire that some say was used to lure ships to their doom so the locals could get the wreckage. In 1665, a cottage style lighthouse with a brazier on the roof was built. In 1804, a six foot temporary lighthouse was constructed to replace the brazier. In 1814, a new tower was erected which unfortunately was frequently obscured by fog. And so, in 1853 the new lighthouse was built. It was originally white with two red bands - this changed in 1830 to the current black with two white stripes (or, presumably, white with three black stripes!)

The lighthouse here is usually blocked off to the public by the Golf Course here but once a year the Old Signal Head Tower Restoration Fund hold an open day. The one last year, which I missed, was apparently a huge success. This year I arrived at about 10.30 and there were very few people there. This could have had something to do with the weather which, despite the photographs, was very windy (Force 6, gusting to Force 8) and showery. However, in my opinion, this only augmented the whole lighthouse experience.

We ascended the 124 steps to the top and ventured out onto the platform. I'd read about Antarctic adventurers battling gale force winds, but never really appreciated it until now. Even walking was difficult. The seas around the headland were quite dramatic too.

The history and the technical stuff can be found at the CIL page here. The inside of the tower, incidentally, has been painted royal blue.

From Galley Head to Kinsale

Slow train to Kinsale
or Ogden Nashes his teeth

Living in Ireland, I think perhaps we don’t really appreciate our wonderful scenery.
It is particularly evident when coming back from holidays in hot places like Lanzarote or Egypt that are dry and arid and completely devoid of any greenery.
(Not that I wish to decry the Canarian or Egyptian landscape which is of the most part quite spectacular
And can be ‘the dog’s bollix’ to use a coarse vernacular.)
But, in truth, there is little in nature to beat driving through the Irish countryside with the sun, when it is actually shining, casting shadows from the hedgerows,
Or shining, when there are no hedgerows, on the potato rows or carrot rows or other veg rows.
So, after visiting Galley Head lighthouse, I decided to make for the lighthouse at the Old Head of Kinsale,
Which, along with Hook Head, the Fastnet and Howth Bailey, is, to Irish lighthouse enthusiasts, the equivalent of the Holy Grail.
And so I had the choice of taking the main N71 road back towards Cork or taking the shorter and twistier but more picturesque R600 through Timoleague, when I left Clonakilty,
And, though it might take longer, I chose the latter, without feeling the slightest bit guilty.
And the sun came out and life was good on my trek to the Grail (Holy)
And I drove leisurely but not too slowly.
Until, that is, about a mile after leaving Clonakilty I came up behind a white transit van
Who was backed up behind an old red Fiesta going as slowly as any moving car possibly can
Without actually stopping.
And between second and third gear, there was much changing and chopping.
Now those of you familiar with minor Irish country roads know they are not the straightest
And opportunities to pass are never the greatest.
And just as nature abhors a vacuum, so Irish nature abhors a straight road,
And as we trundled eastwards, car after car came haring up behind me before it too slowed,
Until we were like a slow goods train with differently coloured and shaped carriages
Being towed by this tiny Fiesta which most of the motoring world disparages.
Now I can fully understand how the enchantment of the countryside can make any driver lose himself in his dreams
And there are present streams and future streams but this was going to ex-streams.
If I am ever driving narrow roads and I find myself holding up a car behind me,
I immediately look for a gateway to pull into to let him pass or, if I don’t, my wife will very soon remind me.
Simply put, it is only polite and civil
And to argue otherwise would be utter drivel.
(And, on this subject, God bless Irish tractor drivers who are always thoughtful and courteous
Even if those big wheels spray muck in heavy rain that simply serve to dirty us.)
But matey in the Fiesta trundled blithely on at twenty kilometers an hour
And by the time I reached Kinsale I was heartily sick of the greenery and the sun shining on the bower
And my mind was full of impure thoughts and my lips spake words coarse and graphic
Just like when I am back in Dublin stuck in rush hour traffic.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Galley Head, Cork

Calculating that I would arrive in Kinsale before the first tour began, I decided to use the time profitably to visit Galley Head lighthouse, as it was the only functioning lighthouse I hadn't managed to visit between the Suir and Crookhaven. The technical and historical stuff can be found on the CIL page here.

For some reason, the coordinates given on the CIL page seemed to want to bring me inland (which I sensed was probably wrong) so I rather crudely set my course to Point on the Map. Without GPS, you need to go to Clonakilty and take the road leading to Inchydoney Island, a lovely beach which we visited on a warm summer's day ten years ago. The road brings you along the shore of the estuary and then, when the road bends around to the right (as the sign for Inchydoney says go straight on) you follow the bend around to the right, past a beach, whose sand was on this day blown all over the road. About a mile up this road, there is a signpost pointing left to Galley Head. Follow this road. Unsurprisingly it slowly deteriorates until there are only a few bits of tarmac between the potholes.

Galley Head is one of the lighthouses on the recently launched lighthouse tourism initiative between CIL and the Department of Trade and Industry. It appears that the initiative hasn't kicked in yet because everything is done to try and keep the tourist away. Three hundred yards before the light, there are two signs warning that this is a private road and death by impaling is the usual punishment for transgressors. Then just before the CIL path up to the compound, which is locked by an iron gate, there is a parking space for one car with a big red No Parking sign on it. Cead mile failte!

The light was first exhibited here in 1878 after the usual dragging of heels by CIL. I love the story of the Sultan of Turkey on the CIL site. I visited on a day with Force 6 winds gusting up to Force 8 and the the seas were most dramatic.

Cork Harbour Lights

 Buoy near Blackrock Castle

The report of the Port of Dublin Lighthouse Inspectors to the Board of Trade in 1864 is a fascinating snapshot the state of the Lighthouse service in that year. It details the lights found, their condition, their characteristics and their usefulness.

 Blackrock Castle with Tivoli Quay behind (looking eastwards from Dunkettle)

It is a long journey from entering Cork harbour at Roches Point to the City quay, with many banks and shallows and in general the inspectors were highly complimentary of the lights provided by the Cork Harbour authorities.

 Starboard marker buoy at Dunkettle

Apart from the Spit Bank Screwpile lighthouse at Cobh, the report lists five other lighthouses, as well as numerous perches and buoys. The lighthouses are at Lough Mahon, Dunkettle, Blackrock Castle, King's Quay and Tivoli.

 Port marker buoy at Dunkettle

The Lough Mahon Light appears to have been at the eastern end of Lough Mahon where the approach to the city turns northwards. It was an octagon shaped light, built on piles and exhibiting a red light. It guarded a notorious shoal called the Meelough (or Meelagh) Spit, which is today a good fishing location.

 Marker buoy roughly where the old Lough Mahon lighthouse used to stand

The Dunkettle light, also octagonal and  built on piles, showed a green light and appears to have been located where the city approach turns eastward, near where the Jack Lynch Tunnel's northern shore disappears under the sea. Both the Lough Mahon light and the Dunkettle light, said the inspectors, were under the charge of men who were quite old and probably not up to the job.

 Looking citywards from near Blackrock Castle

A white light was exhibited from a window in  Blackrock Castle, while Kings Quay and Tivoli lights were 'ordinary gas lamps showing red' The distances from one to the other are:
Spit Bank to Lough Mahon - 5 miles 6 1/2 cables
Lough Mahon to Dunkettle - 1 mile 3 cables
Dunkettle to Blackrock - 3 1/3 cables
Blackrock to Kings Quay - 5 1/2 cables
Kings Quay to Tivoli - 6 cables

Looking westwards from the old Kings Quay

Apart from Spit Bank, the only lighthouse still standing is Blackrock Castle (now an observatory). Lough Mahon and Dunkettle pile lights have been replaced by buoys whereas Kings Quay and Tivoli have both been redeveloped.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Blackrock Castle, Cork

Annual open day at the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse in county Cork. A long long way to go for one lighthouse, so I was up early and on the road at 5.30am, even though the weather forecast didn't look promising.

This is Blackrock Castle on the banks of the River Lee in Cork City, now more famous as an observatory. In fact, very few people are aware that it was once a lighthouse at all. The Castle's own site says "The original tower was built by the citizens of Cork in 1582 to guard the water approach to the city from pirates and other raiders. The tower also acted as a sentinel to guide shipping safely to and from the port. Indeed the motto on the crest of Cork City above the Latin phrase: “Statio Bene Fida Carinis” means “a safe harbour for ships.
'Following the 1601 Battle of Kinsale against the Spanish, Lord-Deputy Mountjoy replaced the fort with a castle in 1604 but this was as much to protect himself from the citizens of Cork as from the Spanish.
The people of Cork, ever-rebellious, were slow to acknowledge James the First as their King. It was during this time that Hawlbowline was fortified and James Fort was built in Kinsale. As well as being strong enough to mount artillery for the protection of Cork Harbour the main tower of the castle had an outside diameter of 10.5 metres and a wall thickness of 2.2 metres – unusually thick for an Irish castle.This would have enabled the tower to withstand a naval assault from the Spanish or any other would-be invaders while allowing those in the tower to return cannon fire with relative safety.
'In 1608 James the First returned control of the castle to Cork City. Peat fires were lit atop the tower to help guide ships in and out of the port at night. From now on the Castle would meet the needs of the City Corporation and have less to do with the defence of Cork."
 The castle was destroyed twice by fire, once in 1722 and once in 1827, being rebuilt both times. It appears to have been used as a lighthouse all during this time. A report by lighthouse inspectors in 1864 says that a white light was displayed from a window in the main, or lighthouse tower which rises to 100ft above the level of the river - presumably the thin tower in the photographs. It was in the care of a young woman and 'appears to be well-kept and clean.'

The light was one in a series of fixed lights and buoys designed to guide ships from the entrance of Cork Harbour up to the port in the city centre. There was a pile lighthouse near the eastern end of Lough Mahon and another - called the Dunkettle Light - round about where the Jack Lynch Tunnel disappears under the northern part of the Lee. From there, ships aimed for Blackrock Castle, the light on Kings Quay and the light on Tivoli Quay. The light was discontinued on 25th February 1903

The first three photographs are taken from the north bank, near the Jack Lynch Tunnel, where the river bends around to southward. The other four photographs are taken from points adjacent to the castle itself.