Thursday, May 21, 2015

Calf Rock / Bull Rock Shore Dwellings

There was certainly something fishy about the construction of the dwellings for the lightkeepers of Calf Rock when they were constructed back in the early 1860s. The land was acquired for £181. George Halpin's original estimate for the construction of the shore dwellings was £2,000, an amount considered to be ridiculously expensive. Yet when the contractor Henry Grissell put in a tender of £6,151 for the shore dwellings, it was accepted without question!

The accommodation, built on the mainland on the southern entrance to the Dursey Sound, was in view of the Calf Rock Lighthouse at the other end of the island.It consisted of a double house, two smaller units and an end section which was reputed to be haunted. The end section was reserved for visiting workmen.

In 1939, the families were moved to a more convenient location in Castletownbere, as the old accommodation was so remote that provisions and schooling were a big problem. Eventually the dwellings were sold in 1946 for a miserly £260, mainly for the slates on the roof. In 1994, the dwellings were purchased by a Swiss/German couple who did the houses up. They are now owned by another German family.

The house is easy to locate. It is the next house southwards of the excellent Windy Point Bed and Breakfast accommodation just above the cable car.

Above, the tiny pier on the mainland - between the shore dwellings and the cable car - which was used to ferry animals and provisions to and from the island prior to the cable car's introduction in 1969. It also served as the embarkation and disembarkation points for the keepers going on or coming from shore leave.

Bull Rock

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to see this most isolated of lighthouses from the end of Dursey Island. Although only three miles away, I was afraid that the notorious mists and rains would descend. Instead we had glorious sunshine, although the ferocious winds made photography difficult.

The Bull Rock Lighthouse came into being after the Calf Rock lighthouse was blown down in 1881 and after a temporary light at the end of Dursey Point had been erected since. It first came into being on the first day of 1889 after a mammoth construction undertaking.The tower is 15m high and 91 metres above sea level. Even at that, the waves have been known to wash over it.

The light was converted to electric power on the 21 August 1974, increasing the candle-power still further to 4,500,000. From 25 April 1978 the light was exhibited in poor daylight visibility.
The fog signal was discontinued on 17 May 1989.
On 31st March 1991 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the Keepers were withdrawn from the station. As part of the automation process the original lantern and optic, which was too large to be automated, were replaced by a much smaller lantern and quartz halogen lamps giving a high intensity light with low power consumption. The station was placed in the care of an Attendant, the aids to navigation being monitored via a telemetry link with Irish Lights at Dun Laoghaire.

The Commissioner of Irish Lights reported back in 2012 that the current light in the tower would be discontinued shortly and the light exhibited from a point higher on the island (presumably the square white building above) However, there has been no confirmation that this is complete.

The photographs above were taken from the westernmost tip of Dursey Island. From that position, the Bull Rock is partially obscured by the Cow Rock which is lower but longer. Hence you still have a good view of the lighthouse over the top of Cow Rock.

The photographs below were taken from the top of the final hump on Dursey Island before it sweeps down to the temporary lighthouse and the sea. Hence the division between the Cow Rock (foreground) and Bull Rock can clearly be seen.

51°35.521' North 10°18.073' West

Dursey Point Temporary Lighthouse

The destruction of the Calf Rock Lighthouse in November 1881 left the tip of the treacherous Beara peninsula without a light, so some form of temporary light was needed until a new lighthouse could be built on Bull Rock. A three roomed wooden structure was hurriedly assembled and a spare lightship lantern was seconded from the stores in Dun Laoghaire. It was then decided that the Atlantic winds would soon huff and puff and blow the house down so the whole structure was enclosed by a stone wall..
In the main room stood the mast, 15 inches thick and over 25 feet tall passing through the centre of the lantern. The lantern was surrounded by a wooden balcony and four lengths of chain secured the mast. The light went into operation three months after the Calf Rock light was washed away on 2nd February 1882 and it did its job well until the Bull Rock Lighthouse opened for business on the first day of 1889.
The wooden structure and the lantern and balcony are gone but the stone walls remain, still pretty intact. They are indeed a welcome haven for the weary hiker who has braved the gale force winds for four miles from Dursey Sound.

View from the south

View from the west (sea)

View from the north west

NOTICE TO MARINERS. (No. 27.)—IRELAND—SOUTH-WEST COAST. BANTRY BAY APPROACH. Dursey Island—Flashing Light on Dursey Head. WITH reference to Notice to Mariners, No. 1, of-3rd January, 1882, on the partial destruction of Calf Rock Lighthouse, and the intended exhibition of a temporary light on the south-west extremity of Dursey Island :— The Commissioners of Irish Lights have given further notice, that on 1st February, 1882, the light (similar in character to that recently shown from the Calf Rock Lighthouse), was exhibited from a temporary lighthouse erected on Dursey Head, the south-west extremity of Dursey Island. The light is a flashing white light, showing a flash every fifteen seconds, visible -between the bearings of S.W. S., through, east, and W.N.W., it is elevated about 189 feet above the sea, and should be visible in clear weather from a distance of 16 miles. The lighthouse bears E.N.E. from Calf Rock, distant 8 cables. Position, lat. 51° 34' 40" N., long, 10° 14' 0" W. [The  bearings are magnetic. Variation 21° Westerly in 1882.']

Interior of the main room

Still sturdy walls

Calf Rock

It is nearly three years now since I started making plans to see the remains of the infamous Calf Rock Lighthouse off the tip of Dursey Island, a stark reminder of the terrible power of the sea. Two years ago we came down with the express purpose of seeing it but were thwarted by maintenance to the cable car, the only viable means for tourists to reach the island. This year we were luckier and crossed early in the morning, albeit on one of the windiest days I've ever known. Not blustery, just a constant driving wind that increased in intensity the nearer you got to the western tip of the island. Small wonder it has been called the windiest place in Europe.

Due to the frequency of shipwrecks off the south west coast of Ireland, a decision was reached in 1857 to construct a lighthouse off the end of Dursey Point. There were many (the contractor included) who argued that the Calf Rock was too low an island to place a lighthouse and that Bull Rock, a little further north and much higher, would be more appropriate. The Elder Brethren of Trinity House prevailed though and George Halpin's cast iron tower was approved for Calf Rock. The constructor, one Henry Grissell, later said that the waves were so fierce here, that they sometimes obscured the top of the tower for two minutes at a time. Indeed, only Wolf Rock - off Lands End in Cornwall - and the Fastnet have to contend with more ferocious seas.

The Calf Rock with the old temporary lighthouse in the foreground

The difficulty of landing men and provisions on the rock strung out the construction process and it was not until June 1866 that the light was lit. The lighthouse was 102 feet high, tapered from 20 feet to 14 feet under the balcony, and built of cast iron plates bolted to a central pillar. Ancillary dwellings for the workmen were hewn into the rock (see the black rectangular holes in the pictures) These rude dwellings saved six lives fifteen years later.

But before that, tragedy struck in 1869 when the keeper offshore thought he saw distress signals on the light. Hurriedly commandeering a boat and six men they set forth for the Calf, only to discover their mistake. Almost immediately, a huge wave capsized the boat and all seven were drowned. 
That same year, as a result of storm damage, the lower part of the lighthouse was strengthened.
Then in November 1881 during a prolonged bout of atrocious weather, the unstrengthened top of the lighthouse was swept away into the sea one night. The keeper on duty had fortuitously just nipped downstairs for a second when the wave struck. The six men managed to make their way to the workers' dwellings, which were waterlogged and there they stayed for 12 days, as high seas made rescue by boat impossible. The whole world waited for news. Eventually a local crew, skippered by one Michael O'Shea, managed to get a line onto the island and the three keepers and three workmen took a running jump into the foaming cauldron. Al;l were saved to great rejoicing.

A memorial to the six men and their heroic rescuers was unveiled on the mainland on Dursey Sound, in sight of the Calf Rock in 2013. Incidentally, with the Fastnet being constructed of the same material, it was hurriedly decided that another Fastnet needed to be constructed before it suffered the same fate. This only took 23 years to come to fruition.
A temporary light was erected on the end of Dursey Island in 1881 to replace the Calf. This lasted for eight years until the new light was exhibited on Bull Rock on January 1st 1889.

Bantry Bay Lights

Okay, a few lights from around the Bere Island area. This rather substantial green light marks the entrance to the tiny harbour at Pontoon, or Beal Lough, where you catch Murphy's Ferry on the mainland over to Rerrin on the eastern side of Bere Island. From the coast road between Adrigole and Castletownbere, watch out for a small lane down to the coast, signposted for Bere Island.

The last time I was here in 2004, the heavens opened. They must have remembered me, for they did so again. N51°39.26' W9°51.24'

Let me introduce you to George. George is a beacon operated by the Commissioner of Irish Lights. He is rather new, situated between the eastern end of Bere Island and the mainland on the Beara peninsular. I can find nothing else about him.

This bottom beacon is Carrigavadra or the Dog Rocks, located off the east point of Bere Island. It is an unlit beacon and there are plans to replace it with a proper Aton (Aid to Navigation) soon.

Roancarrig 1 and 2 (again)

A trip down to West Cork is always an occasion to be savoured. My last time down here was three years ago, when we walked the western end of Bere Island and bagged Ardnakinna Lighthouse. We were also able to view Roancarrig from the shore near Adrigole, but this time we decided to walk the eastern end of Bere Island (the Rerrin Loop) which gave a different perspective on the two lights.

Roancarrig is set on a small island in the middle of Bantry Bay. The original lighthouse with its distinctive black band was erected in 1847 and only ceased operations in 2012, when it was superceded by a small stainless steel tower adjacent to the lighthouse, fitted with a solar powered LED light. This structure can clearly be seen in the first four photographs on the page.

The old tower was 20metres high - the new one is only seven metres high, shining white or red depending on the sector. There is more information and a close-up picture of it here .

The picture below actually shows the island (nearer the top) from the peak of Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula, which we climbed two days later.

51°39.183' North 09°44.823' West

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oyster Island

As you drive into Rosses Point, the neat little lighthouse on Oyster Island hoves into view on your left. Yet again, it is very photogenic with its buff walls, white lantern and red guard rail.

Back in 1837, two lights were established on Oyster Island (so called due to the large amount of oysters that were once found on its shores) Lining the two lights up would help to guide ships through the narrow channel between Coney Island and the mainland. Then, around 1893, they decided to change the approach. The two lights were dismantled and one light – the present one – was constructed on the western edge of the island, in much the same position as the old front light. This light then became the rear light, with the Metal Man on Perch Rock acting as the front light. Clear?

Shocked to discover it is six years since I was here last

Okay, so where exactly was the old rear light on Oyster Island? Umm. No idea. Presumably somewhere to the east of the present light. The island’s not that big. There’s a ruin of a house near the north eastern shore (above)

A bit further east there’s a rectangular stone wall that might at one time have marked a lighthouse compound. But I am only guessing.

Waiting on the shore

No, this is not a lighthouse but may be the missus of one! It is said by some around Rosses Point that occasionally the Metal Man comes ashore and saunters around. If this is true, it’s probably to visit yer wan standing on the sea front, gazing out to sea with grief etched over her face. Carved in bronze by Niall Bruton, she is a memorial not only to all the Rosses Point men lost at sea but also to the women left behind, watching in vain for a sail on the horizon.

The engraved plaque reads:-

“Lost at Sea, Lost at Sea
Or in the Evening Tide.
We Loved You, We Miss You.
May God With You Abide.”