Thursday, July 23, 2020

Bray Lighthouse

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a single line in an old newspaper from 1865. "The Wicklow fisherman haven't had a light in the harbour since the end of the pier was washed away three years ago." I researched this event, found a big storm that caused untold damaged to shipping in 1861 but couldn't find a word about the pier or the light. So I posted up on "Wicklow Past"s Facebook Page, asking if anybody knew about it.
One of the replies came back to the effect that maybe I was confusing it with Bray lighthouse toppling into the sea in 1957.
In all my years hunting out Irish lighthouses, extant and extinct, I had never once heard of a lighthouse in Bray. I immediately went on to "Bray - Did You Know?" - the Bray equivalent of Wicklow Past - and saw that, indeed, not only did Bray have a fine cast-iron lighthouse for sixty years but it's demise produced some of the most spectacular lighthouse photographs I have ever seen in my life.
(Incidentally, all the photographs in this post come courtesy of Bray-Did You Know - obviously the go-to source of information about old Bray -  with my supreme gratitude.)
The construction of a proper harbour in Bray began on 13th June 1891. The two claw-like piers at the north end of the famous esplanade would provide fine shelter. The southern pier - which would be the primary passenger pier - would be 822 feet in length and would have, at its end, the lighthouse. On 6th June 1896, it was reported that the harbour was practically finished and was set to open by the end of the month. The cast-iron lighthouse had arrived on site and all that was needed was the lantern. It was due to open by the end of June. By the 26th of that month the lighthouse was in place and the lantern would be established "in a few days." It was "an iron structure, standing on a concrete base, the lantern being about 25 feet above the water, which will be sufficiently high to guide ships into port."
A harbour master was appointed at the end of March 1897, the position involving the duties of a lightkeeper. The successful candidate was Thomas Scraggs of Duncairn Avenue, who was paid the princely sum of £1 per week for his labours. He was a married man, aged 37 years at the time of his appointment and he held the job at least until the 1911 Census, when hopefully his wife and nine children had seen a decent hike in wages!

It is difficult to fathom why the lantern, which would be fitted "in a few days" in June 1896, should only be exhibited for the first time fourteen months later. I often think that 19th Century lighthouse builders worked on a different time-scale to the rest of the world.

 Collier with lighthouse Bray Harbour c.1913

And for the next 60 years, the Bray lighthouse - which did not, incidentally, have a fog bell - led a quiet, unremarkable existence. It seems it was always painted white. The Harbour Board flirted with the idea of installing a Kitson Light in 1902. In 1903, the Commissioner of Irish Lights inspection tour of local lighthouses, founded the light "clean and in good order." In 1905, there was a particularly gruesome suicide near the lighthouse. One of the witnesses, one Andrew Molony, had passed the victim at 6.30am as he was on his way to "put out the light at the lighthouse," indicating that Thomas Scraggs had at least learned the art of delegation.

View from the sea, the Great Sugarloaf back right

Bray Harbour about 1952

It appears that some time in the fifties, the light was made unwatched and occulting, though larger vessels no longer availed of the harbour. It seemed as though the lighthouse would continue as a destination for hardy pier walkers for a long, long time but on 25th September 1957, a great storm called Hurricane Carrie had other ideas. It had already wreaked havoc on its journey and it hit the East Coast of Ireland with ill-concealed delight.

It seems that the 50 mph gale, accompanied by torrential rain, ripped away one of the concrete pillars of the foundation, causing the lighthouse to be set adrift. It did not topple immediately, however, giving lucky camera-owners the opportunity of a lifetime to capture the amazing scenes for posterity. Several hours later, the pounding sea completed the job.

In December that year, the Town Engineer estimated that the cost of repair for the harbour would be upwards of £30,000. Of this, £2,000 would be needed to repair the pier, £300 to clear the lighthouse and rubble, £1,000 for a new lighthouse and £3,500 for dredging. Due to the decline of the harbour, it was eventually decided not to proceed with the works. It was not until the 1980s when a new sewage pipe was under construction that the remnants of the lighthouse were finally removed.
Of course, the wags were out in force in the aftermath of the incident. As Ray Cranley's song Down by the Dargle said:-

The Russians may boast of their Sputnik in space,
the Americans show off their White House.
But Bray tops the lot, for this little town's
got the world's only submarine lighthouse.


  1. That's a good question. As there were only 'remnants' left in the 80s, I'm presuming that most of it went for scrap. I would have thought that the lantern would have been recyclable though?

  2. HI Peter, I'm doing a graphic design project on bray lighthouse. Any idea where I could find higher res imagery of the one of Bray Harbour in 1952 and of the one Roy Byrne took of it breaking off? Thanks a mill!

  3. Hi, sounds an interesting project! There's a Facebook page called "Bray - Did You Know?" which is where I found all of these photos. I'd suggest messaging them and asking, or else message the people who posted them up?