Tuesday, June 30, 2020

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.

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