Saturday, December 19, 2020

Don't mess with that fog signal

Two jolly little stories in the run-up to Christmas, both concerning lighthouse keepers firing fog-guns and both with the keepers' lives being saved by passing ocean-going liners.
The first occurred down at the Tuskar lighthouse on the storm-swept south east coast of Ireland

New Ross Standard 25th July 1891

There were questions asked in the House of Commons about this incident and the lack of proper communication between lighthouses and the mainland in cases of emergency but the reply was that the man would have been taken off by the Belle anyway, so the communications worked grand.

Twenty years later, a similar accident occurred at the Rathlin lighthouse. There are currently three lighthouses on Rathlin (four, if you count the lower lighthouse at Rathlin East, below) but at the time there was only one (or two, ditto)

Photo from the National Library

The Strabane Chronicle 20th July 1912

Simply another danger for the lighthouse keeper to endure.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Rosslare Light, Ballygeary Pier


Sadly, I have no picture of the lighthouse at the end of the Ballygeary Pier in Rosslare, so I will brighten up the page by a gratuitous photo of the current, very pretty lighthouse (above), which is the third lighthouse in Rosslare. 
The first was at Rosslare Fort at the entrance to Wexford Harbour, long defunct, its circular foundations now lying under the sea.
In between, was the lighthouse at the end of the Ballygeary Pier, which has been stated as being established in 1881, as per the Notice to Mariners below. I have only begun to research this light recently and don't have all the facts but seemingly it was wooden, possibly similar to the East Twin Light up in Belfast. It obviously was pulled down when the current light was established.

I hope to write more about this light when I have more information (and anybody who can provide any, please get in touch!!) Suffice to say, that the pier was described as ill-fated. Built from The Point and extending 1000 feet out at a cost of £80,000, it was designed as providing a much shorter crossing from Ireland to southern parts of England. However, something happened to the railway line (it was described as 'disused' in 1892) and this hare-brained scheme fell through.
The reason for this post though is a rather wonderful letter, written by one Philip Kennedy, lightkeeper at Ballygeary Pier, in response to an article in the Wexford People on 19th April 1882, just six months after the green light was first exhibited.
The article says the Harbour Board discussed complaints by local mariners to the Wexford Harbour Commissioners that the light could not be seen more than 300 yards away. The explanation was given that the light only shows through one narrow sector. However, it was suggested that someone should go out in the tug-boat Ruby to see for themselves. At this juncture, one of the Commissioners, Mr. Hutchinson, remarked that "the best time to test it is about two o'clock in the morning when the oil is burned low and the lightkeeper, perhaps, asleep" (laughter.)
The lightkeeper responded on Saturday 29th April and I print it verbatim with no comment, except to say 'Good on ya, Philip': -

Monday, December 7, 2020

Calf Rock

 It is over five years now since I visited the Calf Rock, which would definitely be one of my Great Lighthouses of Ireland, if it were intact. Sadly it is only a stump, a terrible reminder of the power of the sea.

I  had cause recently to research an incident on the rock in 1869 when seven men were drowned and realised that I had no picture of this lighthouse. Not really surprising, seeing it was only in existence for fifteen years and in a very remote position too. However, I was able to find a couple of drawings, two from the pages of The Irish Builder and the third a sketch by Robert Callwell, a commissioner of Irish Lights, without whom we would have no pictorial representation of several of our long, lost lighthouses.

The top two drawings appear to be from the south while the Callwell sketch appears to be from the north. 
Wasn't she a beauty?

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Whitecastle pile light (lost light)

Model of Whitecastle pile light by Ken Doherty, built from a 1927 photograph, currently on display at the Inishowen Maritime Museum in Greencastle

The lights of Lough Foyle have baffled me now for many a day, mainly because many of them are gone and there is very little in the archives about them. So, with a lot of help from local residents, Seamus Bovaird and Martin Doherty, I have tried to piece them together and record what little I know of them.
In general, Lough Foyle is a large expanse of water, where the River Foyle, after flowing through the city of Derry (I use the term merely because it is shorter) and its outskirts, suddenly widens out as it nears the sea. Donegal is on the west side, co. Derry is on the east side. After partition, nobody thought to decide who had jurisdiction over what but now the Lough is jointly administered.
The main channel for vessels ran along the Donegal coast and lights were erected by the Derry Harbour Board to warn ships from straying too close to the shore. From north to south and showing the date of their establishment, they were - 
Warrenpoint (a tower on land) (1861); 
Moville (pile light) (1882); 
Redcastle (pile light) (1852); 
Whitecastle (pile light) (1848); 
Quigley's Point (pile light) (1896); 
Ture (pile light) (1850); 
and Coneyburrow (pile light) (1848).
In addition to the pile lighthouses above, there were also pile lights with no houses. The general rule of thumb seems to be that the light-houses had eight legs whereas the house-less lights had four legs or fewer.
Of these, only the top two remain (I have not included the two Shroove lights at the the very north of the Lough as these are Irish Lights administered) I have been unable to find out when the other five pile lights were pulled down but I suspect some time around the 1960s, on the very spurious grounds that 'somebody on Facebook remembered them as a child.' According to Seamus Bovaird of the Inishowen Maritime Museum, "Deepening and re-profiling the main channel was the death knell for the piled lights as scouring at the channel edges would under cut one, or two, legs of the structure and over it went. Alterations to the channel left some pile lights too far away from the edge of the channel to be safe marks."

  Relative position of Whitecastle light to Moville and Redcastle (above) and to Quigley's Point and Ture (below)

I have been unable to locate a Notice to Mariners for any of the pile lights but Jenkins' Lists' date of 1848 for Whitecastle coincides with Hoskyn's Sailing Directions (1877) date of 1848.
Incidentally, I have come across a melancholy drowning accident from 1846. (In Victorian newspapers, deaths by drownings were always 'melancholy.' It must have been drummed into cub reporters' heads, like 'i before e.') The report tells the story of two boys who were trying to return to their father's 'light-boat' but struck it too hard and split their own boat. One was drowned and the other saved. But, at the risk of being blasé about the death of a boy, what interested me was the fact that there was a light vessel in Lough Foyle, which was probably replaced by the Whitecastle pile light.
What we do know about pile lights is they seem to have been fairly high-maintenance with repairs being carried out at regular intervals. Even as early as 1862, newspaper advertisements were inviting tenders for the repair of Ture, Whitecastle and Redcastle lighthouses. Redcastle and Whitecastle were again repaired in 1876. In 1899, Whitecastle light was practically rebuilt. 
An 1859 report describes the Whitecastle Light as showing a Common oil lamp with ten burners.  By 1864, holophotal lamps were being used and the piles were painted red. Sailing directions for 1917 list Whitecastle light as a white house on black piles showing a fixed white light on the edge of the Great Bank. The piles were subsequently painted red again.
We know the names of a few of those early lightkeepers. On the 1901 census, it was 23-year-old Donegal man, Neal Duffy, though in December of that year, the board appointed Edward Henry as lightkeeper. He was a farmer from Ballyargus and had a large family. On Monday 24th June 1907, reported the Derry Journal, Whitecastle lightkeeper William Farren had just pushed off from the lighthouse in his boat when a sudden squall capsized it and, by a huge stroke of luck, he was spotted by the occupants of a nearby motor-yacht and rescued, after spending 25 minutes in the water. The 1911 Census shows 28 year old Daniel Farren, probably William's son, as the lightkeeper.
Actually, of the five lost pile lighthouses in the Lough, Whitecastle is not entirely lost. Anybody driving down the extraordinarily beautiful coast road cannot fail to see the remains of the piles sticking up out of the water, with a new pole light close by. 

The remains of Whitecastle pile light with the new light to the left, 2016

Martin Doherty of the Harbour Board tells the story of a brave attempt at recycling the piles a few years ago. The piles were fitted with a platform and upturned drainpipes. It was hoped that terns would nest in the drainpipes and keep the eggs safe from cormorants, who are nasty little buggers at the best of times. Sadly a storm the following year did for the platform.

The Whitecastle platform with nesting drainpipes. Note the red paint still on the piles. (Pic. courtesy Martin Doherty)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Dingle beacons


The remarkable sketch above is a detail of a drawing in the National Library of Ireland. The title of the piece is "Beacon Towers Erected by the Reverend Charles Gayer 1847 (Entrance to Dingle Harbour)" and the National Library have somehow decided that the artist was Samuel Watson (1761-1802) who obviously dabbled in clairvoyance as well as art. To me, it has more than a hint of Terry Gilliam about it.
I have written about these Dingle daymarks before (here) but in my naivety had thought they had only been three in number. 
The tower on the top left hand side is atop Carhoo Hill and is known locally Eask Tower. It originally stood 27 feet tall and was solid in structure, with a hand pointing in the direction of the entrance to the harbour. At the turn of the twentieth century it was increased in height to 40 feet and given a new hand. It is the only one that is relatively intact.

Eask Tower (the Dalek)

The tower on the right hand side of the sketch is on top of Beenbawn Head and would have been identical to Eask, with the obvious exception that the arm would have pointed the other way. Sadly it is now a pile of stones that adults like to play with.

Former tower on Beenbawn Head

The lower tower at the entrance to the harbour is The Towereen Bán, (presumably 'the little white tower') at Reenbeg Point. The remains of a whitewashed tower still reminds us of its former glories but, like its old pal Fungi, it seems to be lost forever.

Above, an old postcard of The Towereen Bán
Below, the sad remains in 2018. You can still see that it was not hollow.

Of the other two, the tower in the distance looks like it might be on that little headland where The Dingle Bar and Brasserie now stands. The other one seems to be across from Hussy's Folly. Maybe someone with more local knowledge has further information.

The five towers were erected in 1847 as daymarks at the instigation of the Reverend Charles Gayer, a protestant vicar and widower, who had nine children. As the famine started to bite, he gave employment to the Roman Catholic poor of the parish and thus saved many of them from starvation, like a Victorian Oskar Schindler. Dingle Harbour was a blind harbour and ships were occasionally wrecked for not being able to find its peaceful waters. The stone beacons served as great daymarks but weren't much use at night.That had to wait until the lighthouse was built in 1885.
In employing only poor Roman Catholics, there was doubtless a secondary motive, a mass conversion to protestantism by a grateful population. Unfortunately the Reverend shot himself in the foot (not literally, I hasten to add) by dying in February 1848, just as the works were coming to completion. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Newcastle county Down - the missing lighthouse! (Probably...)

A month or two ago, I posted about a lighthouse that had been erected on the pier at Newcastle county Down. The evidence I had was sketchy. A lighthouse showed at the end of the pier on the Ordnance Survey 2nd series map. An 1861 report mentioned that a 'small lighthouse' had been erected in Newcastle in 1849. In 1869, a violent storm washed away the south pier. Later estimates for its repair included £10 for a cast-iron lighthouse.
From all of this, I surmised that the original 1849 lighthouse had been washed away in 1869 and that it had been comparatively small and cast-iron, probably like the one that had stood at Bray, I said at the time.
Well, I scoured the net trying to find an old photograph of this light, to no avail. I concluded that there was no further point searching. If such a photo, or sketch, or painting existed, it would fall into my lap, rather than me finding it. Only now it appears that I had a photo of the lost lighthouse all along. And, what's more, I took it myself.
Back in 1880, a former Irish Lights engineer, John Swan Sloane, wrote a series of articles detailing the construction of Irish lighthouses to that date. And, right at the end of eleven months of articles, I found the following nugget:

I admit I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I had it correct. The 1849 Newcastle light became the 1876 Buncrana light! Not since Roches Point lighthouse floated around the coast to Duncannon in county Wexford has an Irish lighthouse made such a trip.
Fair dues to Peter Gurrie and the Buncrana and West Inishowen Historical Society for rescuing this light from the scrapyard. Not only have they saved the Buncrana light for posterity but the Newcastle one too!

Plaque on the rescued lighthouse at Grianan Park, Buncrana

There's just one tinsey-winsey problem here. The Lighthouse Directory suggests that this light dates from 1916, though the station itself was established in 1876. That would imply the ex-Newcastle light was replaced around 1916, though I can find nothing in the archives suggesting this. The plaque above indicates this is the original 1876 lighthouse. More research needed.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Quare goings-on at Cape Clear


When I was a child, my parents often had trouble with the neighbours over one thing or another, no matter where we lived. Now I'm an adult, I'm prepared to put up with a bit of inconvenience to avoid the nasty, obsessive feeling of being at loggerheads with 'them next door.' Even if you don't see your neighbours from one end of the year to the next, its a very underrated feeling to have no issues with twitching curtains.
Not so these two boyos, as reported to the Cork Southern Reporter, back in early 1843.

Intolerance and Bigotry even at a Lighthouse

There is a Lighthouse on the Southern Coast of Ireland, not five miles from Cape Clear, on which two Lightkeepers reside with their families in different habitations, the one a Protestant and the other a Roman Catholic. The Protestant is principal light man, was a Lieutenant of Marines, and is this long time retired from the service on her Majesty’s half pay. This sprig of the Reformation is in the habit of being visited by a saintly Parson of the neighbourhood, who never comes without some of his followers in his train. A Coast Guard and his family (all Protestants) living near are summoned to attend the station (if such a popish name could apply to the gathering.)

The keepers' cottages on Cape Clear are now reduced to being a couple of gable walls.

Induced by the example set by his neighbour, the Catholic Lightkeeper resolved to have his station too, and for that purpose invited the Priest to his house. The Priest, faithful to his engagement, was at the gate of the Lighthouse early on the morning of the day appointed but was met by his parishioner, the Lightkeeper, with tears in his eyes. Gentle reader, you will think those tears were tears of gladness at the sight of a respected clergyman coming to discharge the duties of his calling. No such thing: they were tears of dread and dismay at the frightful rating he got a few minutes before for presuming to introduce a Popish priest into the sanctuary of the Lighthouse, hallowed as it was by the visits of the saintly person above alluded to. The poor man was threatened with being instantly turned off and deprived of his livelihood if he dared to introduce any Minister of “that damned infernal Church” to pollute with his presence a place hitherto sacred only to the flying visits of any Ranter of the Law Church who may choose to come there. The Priest, of course, not wishing to involve any member of his flock in trouble, did not urge his visit, but immediately returned home.
These facts will speak for themselves and who, after reading them, can envy the gallant Marine, or his less fortunate brother of the lantern, their feelings.
Cape Clear, April 29th, 1843. 

"There is a lighthouse ...not five miles from Cape Clear" is an interesting phrase. Not sure who the writer is trying to kid. The only lighthouse at this time between Kinsale and Skellig Michael was on Cape Clear itself. I bet the families had a great relationship after that little incident!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Black Rock, county Louth

 A few months ago, I did a piece on an interesting concrete block called Gunnaway Rock off the coast at Warrenpoint in Carlingford Lough. (And yes, I'm aware that the juxtaposition of the words 'interesting' and 'concrete block'  will jar to many people's ears!)
Black Rock, off the coast of Omeath on the other side of the Lough, was a sister of the Gunnaway Rock. It lay roughly 300 yards off the coastline at the end of the coastal shoals. Being submerged at high tide, it was particularly dangerous. A perch was placed on the rock in the middle of the nineteenth century, which was found by an 1864 Irish Lights local harbour report to be totally insufficient and barely visible in clear weather. The lough landlord, Lord Clermont, was unimpressed with their findings.

Turn of the century showing the shoals stretching out from Omeath and culminating with the Black Rock beacon. Below, practically the same photograph at high tide.

Wrecks, frankly, were bound to occur, as evidenced by this Newry Reporter piece from 1877:-

Sailing directions for 1877 describe the rock as being "marked by a perch and covered at three hours flood... on the outer edge of the stony foreshore that covers this side of the lough."
Still the redoubtable Lord Clermont did nothing and it took the wreck of the Shark, on Gunnaway Rock, to galvanise the Lough Commissioners into action. Harbour master Captain Smith had suggested the previous year that,  for the insubstantial outlay of roughly £200 per year, he could, over time, finish the job of lighting the lough. In particular, he said, he would start with concrete towers on Gunnaway Rock and Black Rock (off Omeath) similar to the one he had already erected on Earl Rock, near Greenore.
After the wreck, the Commissioners took up his suggestion and the concrete tower on Black Rock was built.
Sadly, the concrete tower did not last anywhere near as long as those on Gunnaway Rock and Earl Rock. On 23rd August 1898, the Northern Whig reported - 

Four days later, the Dundalk Democrat reported that the steamer was still caught on the rocks but gave further news of the stone beacon-

After this, the Commissioners reverted to a perch to mark the rock, hopefully a lot more visible to shipping than Lord Clermont's stick above the water.

Today, the Black Rock is marked by a pole, probably not dissimilar to Lord Clermont's perch. 

Photo from a 2018 intertidal assessment report of the Black Rock

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Bullock Harbour


This little beauty of a light has adorned the quayside at Bullock Harbour in Dalkey since 2017. I say 'Bullock Harbour' but some call it 'Bulloch.' To paraphrase Woody Allen, if the two factions ever met, a very dull argument would ensue.
Fishermen have plied their trade from this tiny south county Dublin harbour for centuries. The Cistercian monks were granted the rights to the fisheries here in the twelfth century and built a castle to protect their assets. The enclosed community of fishermen were thus safe from the marauding hordes of Wicklowmen but not from the outstretched hands of the monks, who demanded protection money. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the castle fell into private hands. 

Sketch of Bullock Castle by Francis Place, 1699

A 'new' stone pier was erected here in 1770, implying that some sort of pier existed beforehand. The harbour became a base for pilot boats guiding ships into Dublin Port and also for the Revenue Commissioners. As a natural harbour, it was small and unlikely to expand. In addition, it was, and still is, prone to the most extraordinary seas on the east coast of Ireland which wash over the western part of the harbour and sometimes completely submerge the quay walls. A very recent history of the harbour by Elizabeth Shotton, compiled using the latest scientific methodology, can be found here

Bullock harbour under siege during the 2018 storms

For many years a crane used for loading and unloading cargo stood on the quay walls. At length, it became redundant and was left to rust until finally removed a few years ago, leaving behind a rather fetching stone plinth, just crying out to be used for some sort of public art or memorial. 
Over in Dublin Port, millions of common terns had taken to nesting on the 1902 mooring dolphins outside the ESB Power Station. (Yes, in my naivety, I had to look up 'mooring dolphins.' You wouldn't believe the strange visions that had flashed through my mind.) Basically, a dolphin is a big not- particularly- aesthetic wooden platform on piles used to supply additional mooring facilities and also to take in water. Being located in a navigable channel, each of them required a light.

1902 Dublin mooring dolphin built as part of the construction of the power station by the Dublin Electric Company, later the ESB. Note the red light.

Concerned by the state of one of these dolphins, Birdwatch Ireland, who had been monitoring the dolphins as nesting grounds, contacted the ESB, who agreed the dolphin was in a parlous state. In previous years, they would have simply knocked the dolphin and thrown the light in the nearest skip but there is a great ethos in Dublin Port at the moment for conserving maritime heritage in the port. Not only was the dolphin replaced by a brand new nesting platform for the terns but the light was sent to Bullock Harbour to adorn the vacant plinth there. (Bullock Harbour comes under the auspices of the Dublin Port Authority) The light, it should be stated, is purely ornamental.

Old Dolphin light with Bullock Harbour and Castle behind

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Lightship Gannet with mast!!

My sincere thanks go to Lorenz Holenstein of the canton St. Gallen in Switzerland for taking the time and trouble to send me this photograph of the 1954 Irish lightship Gannet now proudly in itds new home in the Holzpark Klybeck on the shore of the Rhine in Basel.

It is over a year since it arrived in Switzerland and I posted at the time my slight worry that the mast and lantern were sitting beside the ship, rather than on it in the latest picture I had. Now, thanks to Lorenz, it appears that all is well. She's actually looking a lot better than she has done for many a year.

I have cousins in St. Gallen and many happy memories of childhood holidays there.

Lightkeepers' Cottages, Clifden

The four lightkeepers' cottages at Clifden c.1928 (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

Away in the wescht of county Galway, the twin lighthouses of Slyne Head sit on a tiny island called Illanaumid. One is black and in use; the other unpainted and abandoned. It is difficult to get close to them, though long-distance views are possible from the vicinity. (I was surprised to see them pop up on the horizon while walking on Omey Island recently)
Until the end of the nineteenth century, lightkeepers' families lived on the island but by 1896, change was afoot. As the CIL website puts it - 
During November 1898 the Inspector, Captain Galwey and Engineer, Mr Douglass had been instructed to find a suitable site for shore dwellings at Clifden and by March 1902 the Engineer, Mr C.W. Scott, reported that, of the two sites visited, the one nearest the quay on the Bodkin estate was particularly suitable and could be purchased for £225. Documentation was completed by 1904, the block of four standard flat roofed Scott designed houses were built by Mr R. Calwell of Belfast in 1905 and were completed and occupied by the keepers in 1906. Slyne had been a relieving station from April 1898, six weeks on and two off, the keepers and their families were accommodated in lodgings in Bunowen until the dwellings were built at Clifden.

Two views of the newly-built houses in 1908 taken by an Irish Lights inspection team

It is believed that the two end houses for the block of four were for the principal keepers and the two terraced houses in the middle were for the assistants. The house was located on Beach Road near the old quay, set back a little bit from the road, so much so that a house has since been built between the block of four and the road.
CORRECTION! (6/5/21) I am indebted to Declan Commons who is currently engaged on restoration work at the four cottages. He points out that the roadside house in front of the cottages actually pre-dates the cottages which, as he says, brings up the question of access. As Dougal would say, I stand corrected, Ted.
I was recently contacted by Christopher Kates, who owns a treasure trove of old photographs inherited from his mother, Eileen. Eileen was the daughter of Eugene Fortune a long-time lighthouse keeper, who was at Slyne Head in the late twenties when Eileen was born. They lived in one of the two inner houses, indicating he was probably assistant keeper at this time. 
Eugene, incidentally, was a son of one Thomas Fortune, the Principal Keeper at Calf Rock in 1881 when the whole shebang came tumbling down. Christopher has generously agreed to let me use some of his photographs, such as the one at the top of the page in this blog.
The relief of the lightkeepers was a long, convoluted affair, as described by A.D.H. Martin in the Beam magazine of December 1977:-
The decision of the relief was in the hands of the boatman for obvious reasons and, when conditions were favourable, he hoisted a 'bat' against a wall near his cottage which informed the keepers on the rock that the relief was 'on'. He then journeyed 2½ miles (4km) to Bunowen to inform the cart contractor (or more recently van contractor,) a journey made by horse, bicycle or if early enough a child going to school. The cart (van) contractor proceeded to the shore dwellings at Clifden, 8 miles (12.8km) away, picked up the relief keeper, mail and perishable foodstuffs, the other items having gone ahead to Slackport a day or days before. 
The cart went as far as the boat contractor's cottage where the relief was transferred to donkeys with creels or panniers across their backs. Since the war, a motor van was used from Clifden as far as the Connemara Golf Links or "the airfield" where before the war, that enterprising aviation entrepreneur Sir Alan Cobham held his flying circus. There the road petered out and a horse and cart took over as far as the donkeys. The donkeys set off across rocks and heather for about three quarters of a mile to the boat slip at Slackport where the relief was finally transferred into a currach and rowed out 3 miles (4.8km) through the islands and rocks which form Slyne Head to the lighthouse. Soon after 1962, the road from the boat man's cottage to the boat slip was surfaced by one of our coast tradesmen, Michael Keane, It became known locally as "the M1" and allowed the van to travel from Clifden to the boat slip. 
From October 1969 until the station became unwatched the relief between Clifden and the lighthouse was carried out by helicopter in about six or seven minutes!

Relief day at Slackport. Eugene Fortune is standing far right. (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

By 1971, keepers' families preferred not to live at the shore stations and the cottages were sold off, though access to the nearby helicopter pad was maintained. One of the houses, described as a Master Lightkeeper's House "built around 1880" is now operating as an Airbnb

The cottages in 2016 (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

These last three photographs are from the Airbnb website referenced above. I'm sure they won't mind me giving them some free advertising!