Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lough Mahon Pile Light (lost lighthouse)

Drawing of Lough Mahon lighthouse from the wonderful corkshipwrecks.ie

Cork Harbour claims to be the second largest harbour by area in the world behind Sydney. Mind you, there's a number of others queuing up to be labelled the second-largest, but that's neither here nor there. Let's just say it's big and leave it at that.
Like Dublin, like Belfast, like Dundalk, the big problem for Cork in the early eighteen hundreds was that of silting. Anything larger than a rubber duck was obliged to anchor in the lower harbour and have their cargo loaded and unloaded by lighters and brought the seven miles into the docks. This was highly inefficient in terms of time and money and energy and pleased nobody except maybe the lighter owners. 
There was a bit of the oul' dredging going on but it was not until the Cork Harbour Board was set up around 1840 that a serious attempt was made to get these big ships all the way up the river, day or night. The main problems were the shifting sandbanks of Lough Mahon and the very narrow channel up that lake towards Blackrock Castle. Serious dredging took place in the 1840s and 1850s and by the end of the latter decade, the river was ready to be lit with a combination of lighthouses and buoys. 

Nineteenth century map of the narrow stretch between Lough Mahon Lighthouse (5 o'clock) and Blackrock Castle (10 o'clock) The yellow splodges of light are the lighthouses. The third lighthouse (11 o'clock, where the channel turns west towards the city) is Dunkettle Pile Light.
 Map of the harbour showing the channel to the city

So, in September 1858, fifteen ship-owners and master mariners - but curiously, no lighter-owners -contacted the Harbour Board "soliciting the erection of a light on Lough Mahon between Horse-head and Blackrock" to enable ships to access the channel at any time of day or night. The proposal was accepted and Sir John Benson, the Board's chief engineer, was asked to furnish plans for the light. In November of that year, Mr. P.R. Roddy was contracted to erect the lighthouse for £285.
On 30th March 1859, the Freeman's Journal gives us the first description of the new light:-

I am assuming that 'the worm' mentioned is, in fact, thousands of tiny worms, and not some evil alien entity from Dr. Who. More's the pity.
The red light was exhibited for the first time at sunset on Friday 2nd September 1859 and a man named Humphrey Scannell of Blackrock, aged 59 years and a Harbour Board employee, was appointed temporary lightkeeper until the Dredge Committee met to make a permanent appointment and decide a salary. Seems incredible that this lighthouse was under construction for at least six months and the Board hadn't considered the appointment of a keeper until the day before it was due to be lit!
The lighting of the Lough Mahon pile light was roundly welcomed but it highlighted the need for the final piece of the jigsaw - a light at the north-west end of the channel, near where the present day Jack Lynch Tunnel disappears underground near the Dunkettle roundabout. The Dunkettle Pile Light was constructed and built in 1863 and we will deal with that lighthouse in another post.
In 1864, the Board of Trade (Ballast Board) carried out one of their regular reports into local harbours and navigational lights. Their main source of complaint regarding Cork was the brilliancy, or lack of it, of the lights. At the two pile lights, they stated that "the thick glass, nearly approaching to bulls-eyes, must necessarily absorb a portion of the light." Sir John agreed to fix this immediately. They also stated that "the light at Black Rock is in charge of a young woman and appears to be well-kept and clean; those in the two Pile Lighthouses were in the charge of men, who appeared to be rather too old and not so efficient as to be (in the opinion of your Committee) quite fit for the charge of so important an office."
The response of the Harbour Board was to remove the keeper at the Lough Mahon light but retain the keeper at Dunkettle, whom they "did not consider incompetent." An internal inspection in 1867 found the lighthouse in a dirty state due to oil leaking from the light. The following year, a report stated that

A Board of Trade report in 1870 found the lighthouse to be "in a most creditable state."
In 1873, when it was reported that the annual expenditure of the Lough Mahon light was £79, 'a man named Scannell' - possibly the same Humphrey Scannell who was appointed temporary keeper in 1859? - applied to have his wages raised from 15 shillings to £1 per week, so as to be put on a par with the other keepers. The Board initially agreed but later referred the matter to the Dredge Committee.
Whatever the result of that, Mr. Scannell was no longer the keeper at Lough Mahon in 1874, a fact he was probably happy about as both the keeper of the light and his wife lost their lives in a mad storm in late February of that year. The incident was reported in the Cork Constitution, under the headline, 'Melancholy Death by Drowning.'
"During the prevalence of the storm on Thursday, a melancholy accident took place, by which two persons lost their lives. It appears that on that day, the lighthouse keeper, Jeremiah O'Callaghan and his wife were in Lough Mahon lighthouse and that she, in consequence of the stormy weather prevailing, got nervous and requested her husband to carry her to shore. He acceded to her request and they were seen from the shore to get into the boat and put off. This was about one o'clock. A severe hailstorm, accompanied with thunder and lightning, then came on and it is supposed that, during its prevalence, the boat capsized. No-one on shore saw the accident, as it is anticipated, if there were persons there, they sought refuge from the storm. The man, it is said, was a good swimmer. They were married about nine months and were both young. Attention was first drawn to the lighthouse in consequence of the lamps not being lit at the usual time. A boat was immediately set off and, on arriving at the lighthouse, it was found the deceased were missing. The boat was found yesterday at Hop Island but up to the present, there is no sign of the bodies, though the river is being actively dredged." 
This is the only account I could find that mentions the keeper by name. Corkshipwrecks.ie - the only  site I could find that had collated any information on the lighthouse - has the name as Callinan. I could find neither a marriage cert or a death cert in the civil records for either name.
One wonders how, in the circumstances, the paper could tell that Jeremiah's unnamed wife got nervous and asked to be carried to shore. Maybe it was poetic licence. The Cork Constitution, the following week, got even more poetic with the publication of a poem by an unnamed author:

Dark was the sky and the wind blew high,
The waves look white and wild.
The light-keeper's wife watched the angry strife,
And she feared for her unborn child.

"Oh love," she said. "I am sore in dread.
I shall die if I tarry here.
My trouble may come and I far from home.
Take me back to my mother dear.

"These frail planks shake when the wild winds wake
And the thunder rolls o'erhead
With sullen crash and the lightnings flash.
Oh! carry me home," she said.

"Dear wife, take heart. See, the black clouds part
And the sun shines out on the lea. (Lee?)
I will row you across without harm or loss
Safe home to your mother," said he.

His arm was strong, but the way was long
And the squall came down amain (sic)
Oh! Christ who did sleep on the stormy deep
Send help, or his strength is vain.

The frail bark tossed. "Oh, love! we are lost,
You can swim, strike out for the shore;
Oh no, wife, no. Should I leave you so,
I could never be happy more."

"And must we die, my poor babe and I
Or ever I see it's face?"
"You shall see it, love, in the heaven above
Through the blessed saviour's grace."

"Brave heart and true, I can die with you."
But no other word they said.
Now Lough Mahon's wave makes their early grave
Till the sea gives up her dead.

The Harbour Board seemed fairly unmoved by the double tragedy. Basically, it was the couple's own fault. If they had wanted to go ashore, the Commissioners' boat was passing by at 12.30 and they could have gone ashore in that. They rejected any suggestion that the boat supplied was too flimsy, for a) they had never had a complaint before and b) a heavier boat would not have been manageable. They also postulated that it was the wife's fault for standing up in the boat to put on her shawl and thus capsizing it, a great example of perspicacity in the absence of any witnesses. The Harbourmaster concluded that he had a boat in the yard which had been earmarked for the lighthouse and he would have it transferred immediately (even though he had declared the lighter punt to be perfectly okay.)
Corkshiprecks.ie, unlike myself, have found the report of the inquest, which was apparently highly critical of the Harbour Commissioners, and in particular, the boat supplied by them, which was felt to be too old, too waterlogged and too small. They also say that a Mr. Regan was appointed as the replacement keeper.
He couldn't have lasted very long because the following year, there was nearly another tragedy when Lough Mahon lighthouse-keeper George Carpenter nearly lost his life.

It appears that in 1877, The Worm was back, despite having being banished by the Doctor to the farthest reaches of the Universe.

Thankfully the Tardis arrived just in time and the lighthouse was saved. The light, incidentally, was still a fixed red one and we are told that a fog bell was rung in foggy weather, exactly the conditions it was designed for.
In 1898, we learn from an investigation into an accident between two boats, that Michael Murphy, who was called as a witness, was the lightkeeper at Lough Mahon. The 1901 Census finds him living at Blackrock, aged 52 years. He gives his occupation as a 'Light Housekeeper,' though I suspect his light housekeeping duties were secondary to his lighthouse keeping.
However, his chosen profession came to an abrupt end "on or about 3rd January 1905," when a whole new series of buoys was put into operation from Queenstown (as was) up to the City.

And so, 46 years of lightkeeping came to an end at Lough Mahon. A Wigham oil light was installed and Mike Murphy was shunted off to Fiddler's Green. No more would the fog bell sound around the tidal Lough Mahon.
The oil light lasted until 1924 when the Harbour Board, fed up with their oil being syphoned off, introduced an acetylene lamp to the structure.
The end, when it came, in January 1930 was swift.

It was decided not to rebuild the lighthouse but to replace her with an acetylene lamp on a tripod.

The SS Ardmore. She was sunk in 1940 with all hands when it struck a magnetic mine laid by German aircraft near the Saltees and thus in Irish territorial waters. It had been on its way to Fishguard with a cargo of live animals. Only two bodies of the crew were ever found.