Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The six Ardglass lighthouses - Nos. 3 and 4

Following on from the speculative Ardglass No.1 and the patriarchal Ardglass No.2, I have decided to dedicate this post to Nos. 3 and 4 together as it would be logistically impossible to separate the two.
We left Ardglass with business booming. A south pier had been constructed with a new lighthouse at the end of it (1817) and the herring was being landed in large amounts. Steam packets were plying their trade between Ardglass and Liverpool and the Isle of Man and dwelling houses for rent were constantly being advertised in the newspapers as the town sought to promote itself as a health spa.

However, there had been criticism in various quarters that the south pier had not gone far enough. Literally. A longer pier would offer more protection and would accommodate a much larger amount of boats. An Act of Parliament in 1830 delivered a method of redress. Harbour commissioners could now borrow money on the strength of future harbour dues and Ardglass's landlord, William Ogilvie, who had built the first pier, borrowed £6,000, placed it with his own £16,000, and began the work of building the extension to the harbour. The old pier was to be extended 300 feet out from the old pier, into 17 feet of water at low tide and would be 20 feet broad. A new lighthouse would be erected at the end of it and the old 1817 light pulled down.
William Ogilvy died early into the project and the work was carried on by his stepson (in some reports, nephew) and inheritor, Major Beauclerk who, according to the Belfast Newsletter in March 1835, was popular with his subjects, (despite his three year absence):

Work continued. According to Samuel Lewis in his wonderful 1837 Topography of Ireland, "A handsome lighthouse is now being erected on the pier, which is connected with the land by a very capacious wharf covering nearly an acre of ground, with a basin of semi-circular form, beyond which are the quays for the colliers." 
Unfortunately, this is the only description of this short-lived lighthouse I have come across. Handsome. Better than nothing, I suppose. Without Wandering Sam, we could only guess at its ugliness or lack of.
A map exists, dating to roughly 1837 / 1838, showing the new pier, evidently under construction.

The lighthouse indicated would have been the old 1817 lighthouse, which had been at the end of the original pier. By this time, it would have been extinguished. The new lighthouse, not yet operational would have been at the end of the pier extension

As the pier was being constructed, a temporary light was established. It would have been mobile and, as construction progressed, it would have moved further and further along the pier. This same sort of procedure also took place when they were building the east and west piers at Dun Laoghaire.
Perversely, we have a description of the temporary light but not the main light! It was "a small temporary wooden lighthouse similar to a pigeon box standing on a 4-legged stool." For anybody counting, I will label the Temporary Light as Lighthouse No.3 and the practically completed (all except the lanthorn) brand spanking new Lighthouse as Lighthouse No.4.
And then disaster struck. On the last week of November 1838, with the future of Ardglass looking decidely rosy, a great storm arose. There had been constant strong winds for a week beforehand and then suddenly, in one twenty-four period, the weather went off the barometer. And, as the Down Recorder reported on December 1st, the hopes and dreams of Ardglass were crushed in one day.
"‘On Tuesday last the wind at south-east had blown a perfect hurricane during the entire day, and bearing upon the harbour of Ardglass with extreme violence, when about the hour of two o’clock in the day, the new lighthouse, at the extremity of the pier, was turned over upon its base, and fell in one compact mass of masonry, and, in a few minutes more, was hurled into the sea as a block of wood, although consisting of four hundred tons of hewn stone, bound together by iron cramps, rendering it firm as one solid rock; but, in this instance, the fury of the elements mocked the skill of man, and laughing at his projects. It is but justice to those engaged in this undertaking, to say, that the lighthouse itself was a specimen of perfect workmanship, cemented with skill, and having all the elements of strength and durability. But the writer of this, who saw it in progress of building two months back, predicted this disaster (yeah, yeah, yeah), unless the pier upon which it was being erected should be made secure before the approaching winter, as it was much injured by the preceding winter. However in the last month workmen were employed, and the repairs commenced; but then the season was too far advanced to permit of such substantial improvements as would fortify the work against the assaults of the sea and now the outlay of many thousands of pounds are washed into the sea.
‘The new lighthouse had been finished, all but the lanthorn, and in the meantime a temporary wooden structure had been erected for giving the requisite light at sea, and it too was swept away on Wednesday night; the materials being washed up on the beach beside the harbour and then drawn into the town of Ardglass under the direction of Captain Saunders, who was unceasing in his attendance on this much to be regretted occasion. It is feared more of the pier will be swept away by the sea if the Government does not commence the repairs as soon as the season permits.'  The Belfast Telegraph on 4th December, estimated the loss of roughly £26,500 spent on the pier and lighthouse.
A bare five weeks later, the infamous Big Wind of 1839 destroyed practically all the vessels in the remnants of the harbour. A Category Three Hurricane, four people were killed in the locality, the cathedral was severely damaged and barely a home in the country was left unscathed.
Things got even worse for Major Beauclerk later on in 1839:

So, what contributed to the downfall of the pier and the two lighthouses? Well, it appears that the whole project was beset by bickering and arguments, particularly about finance and who should pay for what? From 1830 to November 1838, the pier was not completed. Sir John Rennie's advice to the Ballast Board in 1832 was to build the lighthouse on the headland at Phennick Point, marking the approach to the harbour but the Ballast Board overruled him and insisted on the end of the pier. 
More serious were the allegations that inferior materials had been used on the seaward side of the pier in order to cut costs. It appears that this caused the pier to be damaged in the preceding winter. It then took the best part of a year for communications with all parties to be made and committees to be set up, despite warnings that the damage would need to be repaired pronto or the whole pier might go. It was not before September 1838 that a builder was sent to Ardglass to address the pier damage by which time the easterly gale season was practically on them. The repairs effected in the time available were too little too late and the first major storm of the winter saw two lighthouses, thousands of pounds and the economic growth of Ardglass disappear into the cold waters.
It is unclear exactly when the original 1817 lighthouse was dismantled. It may have been when the south pier was being built. One report, albeit fourteen years later, says it came down in 1839, after the other two got washed away.
So. Three lighthouses constructed and demolished in 25 years. Would Lighthouse (and I use the term guardedly) No.5 be any more successful? 

The six Ardglass lighthouses - No.2

Before I get into this lighthouse, I may point out that the whole history of the Ardglass lighthouses was related to me by a very kind and patient man called Michael Howland, a local Ardglass historian, shopkeeper and brewer, without whom I would only have vague notions of the quare goings-on in the port during the last century!
As we saw in Ardglass lighthouse No.1, Ardglass had, for many centuries, been one of the major fishing ports on the east coast of Ireland but, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, its usefulness had begun to wane. At the time, Ardglass, was owned by one Lord Charles Fitzgerald who, due to financial constraints, sold it to his stepfather William Ogilvie in 1806.

A rather unflattering sketch of William Ogilvy!

Ogilvy was evidently straining at the leash to redevelop Ardglass into a major fishing port. He immediately started making plans for building a new harbour to accommodate the fishing fleet.
Geographically, as Alexander Nimmo says in 1822, 

"Ardglass is a small rocky bay or creek, about 150 fathoms wide, and extending at high water 500 fathoms inland, with three or four sandy coves along its shores, divided from each other by rocky ledges." 

The original, lightless harbour had evidently been the innermost, most northerly of these coves on the western shore. Ogilvy recruited John Rennie, the famous Scottish engineer and lighthouse pioneer, to design the new harbour.

The much lovelier John Rennie

Rennie's design was to extend the rocky ledge at the southernmost end of the west shore, thereby enclosing the other coves to the north of it. Not only did this greatly increase the area of the harbour but the depth of the new harbour meant that much larger ships could be accommodated. 
Work began on the new harbour in 1810  and was finished around 1815. The map below, of 1815, shows the new pier with the lighthouse, constructed but not lit at the end of it. The whole operation was financed in a joint venture between Ogilvie and the local Fisheries Board.

Map of Ardglass harbour with the new pier in 1815. Kimmers Port at the top of the page was the original, inner harbour.

Detail of the map above, showing the lighthouse. Whether this is a true representation of the lighthouse or a generic lighthouse drawing is not known but it bears a distinct similarity to the drawing below, the lack of tapering notwithstanding.

The lighthouse itself was exhibited for the first time on St. Patrick's Day 1817, the same night that the lighthouse at Fanad Head was exhibited. It had cost roughly £1,000.

The Belfast Telegraph in 1818 strongly criticised the project, which Mr. Ogilvie responded to in strenuous terms. The bullet points appear to have been (I have only seen the response, not the original article) that the pier was too small, both in length and height and there was some questioning of the financial drain of money. These criticisms were to recur over the next few years. Mr. Ogilvie admitted that high seas frequently washed over both the pier and the lighthouse in high seas but some of the best engineers in Britain had designed the project.
Various improvements were made to the harbour in the following years, mainly towards the end of the 1820s and the 1830s. Due to the success of the new harbour, great plans were made by Major Aubrey Beauclerc, grandson of the now deceased William Ogilvie, to extend the pier and build a new lighthouse at the new end. This would naturally make the 1817 lighthouse redundant and when the new light went up in 1836, the old light was knocked.
We have a drawing, albeit very small, of the old lighthouse. It appears to be very much on the style of other lighthouses of the time, Mutton Island, Howth, etc, probably stone built and tapering slightly as it ascends. The drawing is undated but we can date it to 1817-1828 as the latter year was when the ruins of Kings Castle, clearly visible in the picture, were demolished.

Detail from the above drawing

Below, I append a couple of newspaper clippings from the times, both of which would have been overseen by the 1817 lighthouse and the 1817 lighthouse alone. 

From 1821, so presumably the coronation of George IV

From 1832, there was also a steam packet to and from Peel in the Isle of Man. Including overland travel from Belfast , this route cut about an hour off travelling from Belfast .

William Scoresby, writing in 1820, of one of his whaling voyages, mentions of passing "the New Light near Strangford" on March 20th, which can only have been Ardglass.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The six Ardglass lighthouses - No.1 (maybe)

Last night, I dreamt of Ardglass again.
Well, no, that's not true but my recent quest to find very early lighthouses led me back to thinking of the day eleven years ago when I made my only visit to the small fishing port. In those days, my blog was a mere photograph and brief description of the light and how to get there with little about the history of the light. These days I have become more aware of maritime history and the need to record it and preserve it.
For such a relatively small town, it seems amazing that Ardglass had five definite lighthouses and possibly a sixth, if my conjecturing in this post turns out to be true. Not only that but none of them were built on the same location. And none of them shone in conjunction with another. To my untrained ear, that sounds pretty unique!
Anyway, I have been trying to prove the theory that in certain parts of the country in the Middle Ages, fires were lit on top of coastal towers to guide ships into the harbour. This certainly happened in England but so far I have been unable to confirm their existence in Ireland. Norman towers on the south coast of Wexford may have shone guiding fires. Ditto Mutton Island at the entrance to Galway harbour. But as yet, all is mays and mights and could haves.
The first lighthouse proper was erected in Ardglass in 1813 but the town has been a fishing port for over 2,000 years due to its natural harbour. Indeed, by the fifteenth century, it had developed into one of the main Irish ports along the Irish Sea. At one stage, it was the only harbour of refuge between Dublin and Belfast. It boasted at least six castles. It had a passenger and freight ferry service to Peel in the Isle of Man. 
To me, it would seem strange that Ardglass could have developed to such a degree without some form of light guiding ships into safe haven at night. So, I believe that a light may well have been shown from one of the many towers that ring the town. And from that, I speculate that Jordan's Tower, right on the harbour front, would have been the most likely location for such a beacon.

Jordan's Castle pre-restoration (Ardglass' first lighthouse?)

The tower was restored by Francis Joseph Biggar, the celebrated antiquarian, in the early years of the twentieth century and turned into a museum. He renamed it Shane's Tower. Parties were often held there and reports marvel at the sight of the fire alight on top of the tower, lighting up the darkness as it did in days of yore. (I'm paraphrasing) Alas, so far I have been unable to confirm that the castle did indeed boast a beacon in its earlier years. And, if it did, was it a beacon to raise the alarm for an imminent attack or a beacon to guide ships into harbour at night?

Map of Ardglass 1813 showing Jordan's Castle ("in ruins") behind the beach

But, anyway, we'll park that one for now. Onwards and upwards to Lighthouse No.2.

Ardglass current lighthouse 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Passage Point Perch

I have written before about the Spider Light  as it is known locally. One of the great Alexander Mitchell's screwpile lighthouses - it sits at the end of a rather nasty sandbank on the River Barrow between Passage East in county Waterford and Arthurstown in county Wexford. The light celebrated its 150th anniversary a few years ago though it was too infirm to appreciate it. 

Photo by Trabas

Alexander Mitchell was a Belfast engineer who patented the Screwpile lighthouse - basically a lighthouse on stilts that could be screwed into sandy seabeds where normal lighthouses would fear to tread. Spit Lighthouse in Cork Harbour is probably the most famous and looking pretty dandy after its relatively recent spruce-up. There is another off Moville on the River Foyle, also not looking too bad and in Dundalk Harbour, which is too far from the coast for me to ascertain its condition. Together with the forlorn Passage Point, they constitute the last remaining Mitchell pile lights remaining in Britain and Ireland.
Mitchell's system  - he was completely blind by the way from the age of 17 (reputedly from learning Greek! Let that be a lesson to you) - could also be used for building piers. The east coast of the USA is dotted with his lighthouses. There were others in Ireland, notably at the Kish - one of his rare failures - and four in Belfast Harbour. For some reason boats and ships seemed to take a dislike to these latter four and at least three were run down accidentally! But that is another story.
I have a small garden fence at home. Unfortunately, every couple of years I have to paint the bloody thing or else it will rot. Ditto my shed. Sadly, Waterford Port Authority has failed to maintain this historic lighthouse and it is now an ugly, rusting mass of iron sitting sadly up to its arse in water. The brick column has disappeared and the light has been replaced by a perch. Which brings me, in a rather long-winded manner, to the point of this article.
I had no idea when perches first came into existence for marking dangers on harbour approaches. I knew they were common in the nineteenth century. If I ever thought about them, I thought they might have been around in the late eighteenth century. Now thanks to Andrew Doherty, a local historian and author, who is the go-to authority on all things Barrow and writes the wonderfully diverse Tides and Tales blog, it seems that there was a perch at Passage Point way back in the seventeenth century.
Andrew sent me a copy of a lovely 1685 drawing of this precise area, clearly showing the perch at the end of the bank, the now defunct fort at Passage East and Duncannon Fort in the background. The drawing was by a lad called Thomas Phillips, who was sent to the area to survey the defensive capabilities of the river in case of attack.

He also managed to root out a 1787 map, also quite breathtaking in its clarity, which shows the Perch clearly marked, sitting proudly in the mud and guarding the entrance to Kings Bay, which was used as a harbour of refuge by ships winding their way up and down the river to and from Waterford. It is noteworthy that the drawing of the perch on the 1787 map corresponds very well to the description of the perch in the 1864 Report by the Port of Dublin Corporation into local lights, buoys and lighthouses in Ireland - "a pole, with barrel on top, coloured black."
It seems, therefore, that there was a perch on this spot from at least 1685 to its replacement by the Mitchell lighthouse in 1867. As Andrew says, it is rather ironic that the maritime authorities have now reverted back to a perch to guide ships away from the west bank.

As for the historic lighthouse, it seems destined to be left to its own devices, to rust and slowly deteriorate until swept away by some violent storm. Sadly, there appears to be money in the country for preserving the sexier aspects of maritime heritage - the Titanic Quarter, Wicklow old lighthouse, Spit Bank etc (and I am not for a minute begrudging these the love and care that has been lavished on them) but nothing for the workhorses that kept our coasts and rivers navigable without a second glance. I would assume the great girders of Passage Point will have to be removed at some stage. Wouldn't take too much imagination to reassemble it at, say, Hook, either as a memorial, or even an indoor space. But probably easier to scrap it...

Notwithstanding the rather bizarre band of red added to the photograph above by the Lighthouse Digest, it seems that, even comparing the photo above and the ones below, parts of the lighthouse are already starting to disappear.

 You can nearly see the new perch smirking in this recent photograph (courtesy Barony of Gaultier Historical Society) I suppose if one was in an alliterative frame of mind, one could call it the prim yet patronising Passage Point perch.
Many thanks to Caroline Ryan and Andrew Doherty for risking life and limb to obtain the very latest photographs of the dilapidated lighthouse and shiny new perch (late June 2020)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Very old Irish lighthouses

I have been trying, for many moons now, to get a definitive list of the oldest lighthouses around the coast of Ireland. As many of you realise, I am not particularly academic, so my research will never be published as a 'paper' or a thesis or whatever it is they call scholarly works on maritime history.
To fix an arbitrary date, I have been working on pre-1700 lighthouses. These are, of course, few and far between, all of them probably coal-burning braziers atop a house or tower.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, the 'definitive list' - which I am hoping can be added to - is as follows:-

1) The Old Head of Kinsale. In 1665, Robert Reading received a patent to run six lighthouses around the coast of Ireland and to extract taxes from shopping for them. The lighthouse off the sea at Howth was never built, so that leaves five. The cottage from which the fire burnt at the Old Head is still standing.

2) Barry Oge's castle - Presumably a light was shone from a tower or a building at this Gaelic chieftain's castle on the approach to Kinsale when Reading received his patent. Shortly afterwards, the castle was razed to the ground by some entity called 'The Crown' and Charles Fort was built on the site. History does not tell us where the earliest light was situated.

3) Hook Head  The Big Kahuna of Irish lighthouses needs little introduction from me. Probably built in the 1200s, the dissolution of the monasteries extinguished the flame in the 1500s, only for Reading to relight the fire in 1665 or shortly thereafter.

4) The Baily, Howth - The lighthouse at the Baily is the third on that part of Howth. Reading's 1665 light was located halfway up the hill (as opposed to today's location on the toe of the headland), another cottage-style, brazier burning lighthouse. The illustration below is taken from Gabriel Stokes' map of 1725, by which time a tower had been added to the original brazier-burning cottage.

5) Isle of Magee - The final lighthouse to come under the Reading patent was at Isle of Magee, aka Islandmagee, which is not really an island but an isthmus overlooking the approaches to Belfast. By all accounts, the lighthouse did not last very long (Reading was a complete waste of space and ran the lighthouses into the ground through neglect) and nobody seems to know exactly where it was. My money is on Muldersleigh Hill just above the present Blackhead lighthouse, for reasons outlined in the link above.

Okay, that's the five Reading lights done and dusted, but what others were there? Well, we know there was another cottage-style lighthouse at
6) Loop Head - WD Adams, writing in 1891, says a light was first exhibited here in 1802 but he was probably talking about lighthouses as we know them today. The CIL page for Loop Head puts the record straight and places the cottage's construction to 1670, yet it is unclear who ran the light at this early stage. The remains of the cottage are still on the site.
7)Youghal - Roughly where the present lighthouse stands, was an old tower, from which the redoubtable nuns of St. Anne used to keep a fire blazing at night to guide ships into the harbour. The tower was said to have been built around 1190 - a condition of the donation of land for the nunnery was that the light should be kept by the sisters. Like Hook Head, the dissolution of the monasteries quenched the light, though it was certainly lighting and guiding again by the 1640s.

8) Blackrock Castle - Quite near the site of the present-day Jack Lynch Tunnel, sits Blackrock Castle, or Blackrock Observatory. When sailing upriver from Roches Point to the city of the Cork via the River Lee, the Castle was one of the last approaches to the port itself. The original tower was built in 1582 as part of a fort. It became part of the Castle when the latter was constructed in 1604 and certainly from at least that time, peat fires were lit on top of the tower to guide ships up and down the river.

9) Rosslare Fort? - Slightly speculative this one, as I can't be sure about the dates but there was a fort on a spit of land jutting out from Rosslare into Wexford Harbour. This fort was constructed in the late 1500s. It was said to have contained a wooden lighthouse, which was gone by 1800. The Speed map of 1610 shows a Jewish candelabra symbol, which could indicate a light shining there, though the same symbol appears in Offaly and Kildare!
In 1925, the community at Rosslare Fort was abandoned, when the sea broke through the spit. The whole spit is now underwater, except at very low tides.

And that, I'm afraid, is my 'definitive list.' I haven't included The Maiden Tower at the entrance to the Boyne, because I have found nowhere to indicate that it was ever lit, although it was apparently a maritime daymark and is certainly old enough to have served as a pre-1700 lighthouse. I also read somewhere that there was a very old light on the front in Kinsale before the land was reclaimed from the sea but I seem to be one of those people that folk don't answer when I ask them questions!
Where would there have been other lighthouses? Well, in general, the pre-1700 population would not have been greatly in favour of lighthouses, as they deprived them of much-needed salvage from shipwrecks. I would suggest they would probably need to be located in a fortified place (Charles Fort, Rosslare Fort, Blackrock) or be under the management of the local clergy (Hook Head, Youghal). Though of course, the Baily and the Old Head of Kinsale survived without either.
They would also need to be located at places favoured by shipping - Kinsale, Youghal, Cork, Wexford, Dublin, Belfast, Limerick and Waterford are already represented. There could be more at these locations. A forgotten tower near the port of Limerick? A light somewhere near Cheekpoint where the river bends around to Waterford? Something near Roches Point would have been handy, I'd have thought!
If anybody has any suggestions, or, indeed, concrete information, I'd dearly love to hear from them. My email is gouldingpeter@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Cavanagh lighthouse

So, it's 2020. Coronavirus year, as it will forever be known. In years to come, grandchildren will be asking, "What did you do during the lockdown?" 
"Hmm. I drank rather a lot of beer. Got sunburnt in the garden. Walked around the estate. Slept a lot..."
But, did you not take the opportunity to do something artistic or constructive? Something you always wanted to do but never had the time?
Cue, Noel and Geraldine Cavanagh from Kilnamanagh in Dublin. Noel, a retired stone mason, had had a yearning over the years, to build a lighthouse in his garden but, due to life getting in the way, he had never managed to get around to it. 
Then, when Covit19 struck, being forced to cocoon at home, the couple discovered that when one door closes, another opens and work began in earnest on the long-planned project.

The project took nearly three months to complete. It stands two and a half meters tall and even has its own small scope flashing light, as the Cavanaghs felt that using a First Order Fresnel lens might have disturbed the neighbours! The light is painted in traditional red and white horizontal bands with a red lantern and gallery rail.
"I had intended to build it all in granite stone," says Noel, "but felt it would be more original-looking to build in brick and paint with traditional coloured stripes. I had given great thoughts to the design and finally decided that Hook Head was the simplest way to go. The base itself is granite."

Noel did not lick his construction expertise off the stones. A stone-mason for many years, his grandfather, Charles Cavanagh, from Limerick, was also a stone mason and reputedly worked on the construction of "one of the south coast lighthouses." Given the timeline, this would probably have been the Fastnet.

For people not familiar with Dublin geography, Kilnamanagh could not be considered close to the sea, so the Cavanagh lighthouse will probably not be a great aid to maritime safety. But I bet there's plenty of people who would give their right arm to have this feature in their back garden!