Saturday, September 13, 2014

The First Light

Here's an interesting question (or perhaps it isn't) Where was Ireland's first lighthouse? 

Well, according to tradition, St. Dubhan, a Welsh monk, and contemporary of the much more famous Patrick, came to this lonely peninsula and established a monastery here in 452ad (about tea-time, as Monty Python would say) Here he established a lighted beacon for ships to warn them of the treacherous coastline hereabouts, a beacon that was tended for 700 years until the Tower was built in the early 13th Century.

But where was it, this beacon? It was probably a chauffer on top of a mound of stones. Adjoining Hook Lighthouse itself is an old wall and a small plaque on a wall saying 'Site of Monks' Chapel' To my eyes the wall in the top picture looks younger than 5th century but I'm no expert. If they had the chauffer right on the point, then it would probably have been around the site of the present tower.

Of course, they could have had it about a mile further north, where the ruins of the original monastery still stand, surrounded by a small graveyard. To be honest, I wouldn't build a monastery and then have to maintain a beacon a mile away but hey, those ancient monks were quare fellers altogether.

Anyhow, to cut to the chase, Ireland's first lighthouse lay between the ruins of the monastery and the tip of Hook Point. Can't narrow it down further than that, unless anybody else has further information.

Hook Head Lighthouse

We'd visited Hook about ten years previously, in our pre-digital camera days, but had somehow come away with very little in the way of photographic evidence. We decided to right that particular wrong this time! The last time, we did the tour, so we decided against it as we had a lot of stuff planned.

If the Fastnet Light is the most iconic of the Irish lighthouses, then Hook Head is the grand-daddy of them all. The blurb reads that it is the oldest operational lighthouse in the world, though I'm not so sure about that. Okay, the original tower was built in the early 13th Century but it has been built and rebuilt many times since then and it wasn't operational for all those years either. 

But it is a beauty of a lighthouse. The original tower was built by the Normans to guide ships up the River Suir to the town of Ross. The nearby monks had been installed as custodians of the light, which was a coal fire burning on the tower's top. With the dissolution of the monasteries in the 17th century, the light flared no more but it was one of six tendered for by Robert Reading in 1665.

Reading was keen to take the money from passing ships but not so interested in maintaining the light. The keepers were obliged to supplement their income through various nefarious activities and the light sometimes suffered as a result. The coal fire was only replaced in 1791.

Originally this lighthouse had three red bands instead of two black ones. I always have the impression that this is a rather dumpy tower, not slim and elegant like some. At 152 feet, it is tall enough, but it must have the largest girth of all Irish lights (says he with not a shred of evidence to back this up)

The Watchtower (presumably not what Dylan and Hendrix had in mind)

Somewhere here, between the tower and the sea, there was the foghorn (according to the map)

Buoy at Hook

Another buoy at Hook

Lightkeepers Cottages (now Visitors Centre)

Passage Point, co. Waterford

A few days down in Waterford and boy, were we blessed with the weather. After a rubbish August, we got endless September sunshine. Best country in the world when the sun shines!
We decided to take the Passage East to Ballyhack ferry, joining Waterford to Wexford, and visit the lighthouse at Hook Head. On the way, we stopped off at Arthurstown to view this screwpile lighthouse in the middle of the Suir. I thought it was the only Leinster lighthouse I hadn't got, but seeing as it's joined to the Waterford side of the river by a sandbank, presumably it's a Munster lighthouse instead.

 We might have got a bit better picture on the short hop down from Ballyhack to Arthurstown if there had been any stopping places but the pier at Arthurstown offered as good a vantage point as any. As you might have guessed this a screwpile light approximately 23 feet above the River Suir. It has a fixed light and was constructed in 1867. The other three screwpile lights in Ireland are at Moville (county Donegal), Dundalk Bay and Cobh.

The Lighthouse Directory, God bless it,  mentions the light being mounted on a brick column, as evidenced from the picture below, but there was no sign of the brick on our visit.