Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Lightship Gannet update

The latest news in the soap opera that is the Lightship Gannet comes to me from the legendary Russ Rowlett, compiler and editor of the the Lightshouse Directory, the unofficial bible for all lighthouse enthusiasts.
Lightships were once very common around the shores of Ireland and indeed the small island to the east of us. They were located wherever it was too dangerous, or too economically unviable to build a lighthouse, such as the Saltees off the coast of county Wexford or the shifting sands of Dublin Bay.
Nowadays, these guardians of our coastline have all but disappeared. The only complete lightship left in Ireland is moored in Strangford Lough; there is a mast and light on one of the quays in Arklow; another lightship is, I believe, being used as a floating restaurant on the Seine in Paris.
Lightship Gannet, built in 1954, was stationed off the county Down coast at the site of the very old South Rock lighthouse, one of the world's first wave-washed lighthouses.

It was decommissioned in 2009 and purchased by a man with the very strange name of So long and thanks for all the Fish who had her towed to the Medway in Kent for a conversion. The blog of that conversion incidentally makes fascinating reading.
Anyhow, the mercurial Gannet has been on her travels again, ending up in the heart of mainland Europe. She was towed up the Rhine to Basel where, to the delight of thousands of onlookers, she was hauled out of the water by a giant crane and laid gently in Holzpark Klybeck, which appears to be a part of Basel's harbour area, dedicated to culture and the arts. For those of you that know Basel, it is a part of the Swiss section of that city. The 600 tonne vessel will be used for restaurants, cultural events and a radio station.

I was a little perturbed at first that the photographs did not show the mast and lantern on the ship but at last I found another photograph that indicates that they are not far away!!

My thanks to Tom Brunner for sending me a video of the hoist. The lantern incidentally is back attached to the ship.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rathlin O'Birne lighthouse

Rathlin O'Birne is one of the few Irish lighthouses I have yet to clap eyes on and, despite this post, it is still the case. It is situated on a small island in south-west Donegal and I have planned for some time to do a road trip to capture the three lighthouses on that jutty out piece of land - St. John's, Rotten Island and Rathlin O'Birne.

The lighthouse was constructed on the island by 1846, though for some unfathomable reason it was ten years before the light went live. Along with the light were two keepers' cottages and a few outhouses and precious little else. Despite its proximity to the mainland, landing has always been tricky on Rathlin O'Birne - there is no slipway landing place and a dead calm sea is vital for boats to land.

It also has the distinction of being the world's first nuclear powered lighthouse and the only such light in Ireland. The isotope generator was landed on the island in 1974 after a six day journey from Dun Laoghaire.

The reason I am posting this up, as eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted, is that the island is up for sale on Or rather, seven acres of it is. The lighthouse itself is still fully functioning and remotely controlled though the keepers' cottages, now somewhat dilapidated and in need of a great deal of TLC are included. The property has a guide price of €75,000 and is being sold by DNG. I am posting up the complete set of brochure photos as they will probably disappear when the listing is taken off the market. The link may similarly not work if the property is sold.

This is the sheltered walkway leading from the lighthouse to the landing place, similar to the one on Eagle Island.

I assume the black coat hanger is included in the price.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

First Fanad Head Light (Lost Lighthouse)


On my September 2016 visit to Fanad, I tried to find evidence of the original light, with no success.
The first light was shown  at Fanad on Patricks Day 1817. According to the CIL website, 
"The first lighthouse was similar in size to two other towers being built around the same time, one at Mutton Island off Salthill, Galway Bay, and the other at Roche's Point on the eastern entrance to Cork harbour. They were 5 feet 9 inches inside diameter by three stories high-ground, first floor and lantern." 
In 1886, "Construction (on the new light) went ahead and a new larger and higher tower, close to the original tower was built together with an extra dwelling."
I was unsuccessful in finding evidence of the original tower, a stump, or a circular foundation. On the tour of the lighthouse this time around, I came across an old painting of the lighthouse, pre-dating 1886 (see above). It shows a different configuration of dwellings and a much shorter light. It appears that the new tower must have been built practically on the same location as the old tower.

It also shows steps on the left-hand side of the picture leading down to a landing stage at the water. These steps are still there, though blocked off and overgrown, see photos below.

Fanad Head Lightkeepers' Cottages

There are three cottages at Fanad Head available for rent - Tory, Inishtrahull and Dunree, named for the three nearby lighthouses and the way the cottages face. Tory and Inishtrahull were former lightkeepers' cottages, while Dunree is a former storeroom. So, in the photo above, our cottage, Tory, is accessed by the green door furthest left below the visible slate grey roof. Inishtrahull faces a different way. It is situated to the right of the tower (chimneys visible). Dunree is the squarish building extreme right with the two green doors.

The cottage is accessed by a short flight of steps. The walls are extremely thick with the result that you can barely hear a gale blowing outside. The photos on the Lighthouse site are very poor. The rooms are a lot more spacious than the photos indicate and we could easily have accommodated a fifth person on the foldy-up bed.

Excuse the bags on the bed. First bedroom, two twin beds. View of the outside compound. All the rooms have massive radiators and are very cosy.

Sitting room. No telly. No WIFI. Sketchy mobile phone signal.

Bathroom with original red-tiled floor and free-standing bath, which my wife thought creepy but which I would have liked to have used, as any bath I ever had either froze your shoulders or your knees and this was one deep tub. But it would have been a scandalous waste of an awful lot of water, so we all used the shower instead.

Double bed, Bedroom 2

The hall. Although the rooms were in the same positions as the original cottages, the use of the rooms has altered

Very large kitchen with all mod cons.

The house is full of information on the lighthouse, paintings of Fanad Head (all for sale) and boasts a library cupboard, found in many lighthouses and sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation.
Accommodation is offered at about twelve Irish lighthouses around the coast. Best value is probably off season. An absolutely fantastic three-night stay.

The Lighthouse Tavern, Fanad Head

It doesn't really look like a pub, more a converted residence but it was a godsend to us. Staying at the lighthouse, we would drive the one kilometer uphill to the pub every evening and walk back down every night. Then I'd pick up the car again in the morning.

Having a pub so near saved us the hassle of driving to a pub and the necessity for a designated driver. The pub is small and offers a small selection of tasty and generously-sized evening meals. For some reason, RTE Gold appears to be the default channel on the telly but it actually worked quite well!

Building next door with a brilliant mural of the lighthouse itself.

Oh, and a grand pint too.

Fanad Head revisited

As a Christmas gift, my wife bought me a voucher for a stay at Fanad Head Lighthouse, so in mid-April, we set off, along with her sister and husband. The first day was very stormy but with good visibility. After that it calmed down a bit but was quite dull. But staying in a lighthouse is probably the one occasion you don't mind the weather.

It was my first visit since September 2016 and the old visitors center / shop inside the compound had moved to larger premises just outside the gate. But apart from that, little had changed. We got a free tour of the tower with our accommodation, which I will detail in a separate post.

The helicopter landing pad is no longer used by the Commissioner of Irish Lights. These days it is very occasionally used by air / sea rescue helicopters and mad women.

Semaphore flags hanging inside the tower. More internal photos from my September 2016 visit here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Rosslare Fort (Lost lighthouse)

Once again, I am indebted to Redmond O'Brien for drawing my attention to one of the lost lighthouses of Ireland. Hunting out lighthouses is very satisfying and it brings you off the beaten track but the discovery of a lost lighthouse is very rare and, for an anorak like me at least, very exciting.
Redmond drew my attention to the Speed map of Ireland (above) drawn in 1610 and pointed out the candle holder symbol - rather like the Jewish menorah - located nearby, asking if I knew anything about it.
As it happened, I had looked at the map a long time ago and come to the conclusion that this symbol did not represent a lighthouse based on the evidence that, though there were several of these around the coast, many more lay inland. And, obviously, what would be the point of a lighthouse in a landlocked county?
However, prompted by Redmond, who suggested a location just north of Rosslare Golf Club, I did a bit of digging and came across the lost community of Rosslare Fort, situated at the end of a long spit of land that jutted out into Wexford Harbour from, yes, just north of Rosslare Golf Club.
There is a great deal of information on this place on the fantastic Rosslare Fort website, which I couldn't possibly reproduce here and why would I need to? The first written mention of the fort is actually 1599, when it appears on an earlier map. Due to its position at the mouth of the harbour, a navigational light would seem to be a necessity and the suggestion is that this was a wooden structure, located, naturally enough, at the very tip of the spit. It is not known for how long it operated but it was certainly no more in the early 1800s, though its circular foundation was still visible by the end of the nineteeenth century.
A strong fort was erected by the native Irish as the threat of a Cromwellian invasion increased, with nine big guns trained seawards to dispel a naval attack. Unfortunately, they were attacked from the landward side. The men tried to escape in a boat and, after a short battle, were sunk. The women and children left behind were rounded up, marched down along the spit and murdered.
In the 1800s a lifeboat station was set up at the fort which held up to fifty households at its height. A perch light was established on one of the large dunes.
The village and lifeboat station survived until 1925 when the sea breached the spit and washed it away, creating an island. The village disappeared under the waves shortly thereafter. However, recently, the sea has receded to such an extent that, at very low tides, remnants of the conurbation can sometimes be seen.
Below, a map of Rosslare fort.