Monday, July 6, 2020

East Twin Light Belfast (lost lighthouse)

After so many lost lighthouses and not a photograph, at last, we have not one, but several, admittedly grainy photos of a lost lighthouse!! Though, in light of the fact that it lasted until the 1960s, one would have imagined there are many more out there somewhere. My eternal thanks go to Senan Molony of Dublin for drawing my attention to this light way back in 2014.

These photographs were made possible by the fact that this biggish ocean-going liner on 2nd April 1912 was so overwhelmed at passing the legendary East Twin Light en route to Southampton and thence to New York that she insisted on stopping for photographs. The ship was called the 'The Titanic' and sadly, we don't know what happened to her after she left Belfast.

The lighthouse was evidently made out of wood, probably had a concrete plinth and I would estimate it is around 18-20 feet tall, though estimations are not my strong point. The pictures can be located to the Thompson Graving Dock because of the tall chimney that used to stand alongside the Thompson dock pump house on Queen’s Island (thanks again, Senan!)
Okay, let me take you back in time to the 1840s. Dargan's Island was created by all the mud and clay that engineer, William Dargan, shovelled aside to create a wider, deeper, straighter channel to help craft bigger than a postage stamp to access the docks at High Street. Well, he didn't do it all himself and when the good people of Belfast realised this, they changed the name to Queen's Island, when Victoria visited in 1849. It soon became a pleasure park similar to Crystal Palace in London, open during the day. And, judging by the 1850s map below, there was a battery and some form of lighthouse at its eastern end.

Now, wait while I do something really clever. Well, quite clever. Or maybe accidental. The map above is from Griffiths Valuation and when you transpose that map onto a map of today, the lighthouse comes out more or less exactly at the spot where the Great Light (the optic from Mew Island Lighthouse) is located on the Maritime Mile, which I still haven't visited.

What I'm saying is that, when the next big land reclamation operation took place in the 1880s, Queen's Island merged into East Twin Island to form one big sticky-out bit, to use a technical term. And when that happened, there would have been no need to move/knock/recycle the lighthouse at the tip of Queen's Island as it suddenly found itself sitting smugly on Victoria Wharf on East Twin Island.

In the map above, which is from the first decade of the 1900s. the Queens Island lighthouse would have been roughly where the flashing red beacon is situated. In fact, the beacon probably replaced the lighthouse when the latter went walkies up the coast.
Once all the contours of East Twin had been refigured in 1891, they decided to re-jig the whole maritime lighting system. The old pile houses were knocked down and replaced and the southern East Twin light (as opposed to the Inner Light at the tip of the promontory) was moved further north. This was conveyed in a Notice to Mariners on 9th July 1891.

This would appear to be the last position of the lighthouse and, as seen above, it certainly would have got a great view of the Titanic going up and down to its graving dock. The fact that it was moved, rather than replaced, would have presented no great difficulty to engineers that had constructed a massive new harbour out of a sandbank. The light on North Wall Quay in Dublin was also moved at roughly the same time and that was a stone lighthouse.

In 1915, the light tower won the most boring news article of the year, when a small fire broke out due to faulty electrical apparatus but it was put out before the emergency services could arrive. Eight years later, the green light was replaced by two red ones, for some reason, hence the map above. 
Of course, Belfast would not be Belfast without the proverbial Spaniard in the works. The Belfast Newsletter of February 4th 1914 reported that "The secretary submitted reports from the harbour-master and engineer as to the destruction of the light tower at the south end of the east twin island by the operations of tho dredging contractors, K. L. Kalis  Wzoon & Co., and stated that he had written to the Irish Lights Commissioners for their sanction to the re-erection of the light tower on a new site which had been approved by those officers, and it was recommended that the engineer be authorised to re-erect the light tower at the new site on the East Twin Island, when sanctioned by the Irish Lights Commissioners, at the expense of Messrs-K. L. Kalis Wzoon & Co." 
The Harbour Board meeting of February 18th 1914 mentioned that "A letter from the secretary of the Irish Lights Commissioners conveying tho sanction of the Commissioners to the altered position of the-light tower exhibiting two green lights vertically on the East Twin Island was read".
And then, from the Newsletter of June 26th 1933-


It would appear that the East Twin Light would have been too small to house residential quarters. The logical explanation would be that the keeper of the Inner Lighthouse, at the tip of East Twin Island, would also have been responsible for the lighting and maintenance of East Twin.
An information board on the maritime mile in Belfast's Titanic Quarter says that the East Twin Light survived until the 1960s, when it was pulled down to make way for the new dry dock in the shipyard.


  1. Highly interesting for us lighthouse luvvies !

    1. My great grandparents were the light keepers from 1921 onwards

    2. There are many lighthouses around our coasts that seem lonely but I would have thought East Twin must be one of the loneliest, even though it was located in the heart of the city. The reason being, that nobody ever went out there, except maybe the ferryman.