Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pile Light No.1 (The Outer Light), Belfast (lost lighthouse)

So we move into more modern times. Alexander Mitchell's 1844 Pile Lighthouse lasted until 1889. The three pile lights built to lead boats down the Old Channel to the city were removed around 1890 and four new pile lights were built to replace them. These lights started at roughly the old position of the Holywood Light and marked the south side of the New Straight Channel into the City at roughly equidistant intervals. As we shall see later, Lighthouse No.1, or The Outer Light, was the only one to last any decent amount of time.
The Outer Light was the first to be built, though in true Harbour Board style, it did not show a light immediately because the Board decided to refer the matter to the Navigation Committee, due to the possible legal ramifications of opening early.
Eventually, a Notice to Mariners was issued in July 1891, saying that all four lights were now open for business.The Outer Light, it stated, "shows a steady bright light for six seconds, followed by three eclipses, two short and one longer, five revolutions taking place each minute." I am hopeful that this made more sense to nautical types than it does to me.
Thanks to the Belfast Newsletter journalist who attended the formal opening of the "New Straight Channel," we have quite a detailed if paragraph-less, account of the new Outer Light: -


lighthouse keeper front (you see what I did there?) things weren't quite so rosy, as the Freeman's Journal reported on 27th December 1895 that the keeper of No.1 Lighthouse had died the previous night and preparations were being made to bring the body ashore. "It is supposed that he died of natural causes," said the paper, as no further mention of the death of the unnamed keeper seems to have reached the press.

Drawing of the destruction of Lighthouse No.2 in Belfast Lough in 1892. The Outer Light is shown on the right. The distance between the three lighthouses was roughly one mile between each, so scale was obviously unimportant to the artist.

Detail from the sketch above

On April 13th 1901, tragedy again struck the lightkeeping community, as reported in the Belfast Newsletter:-

Before the end of the decade, another very similar accident occurred with a No. 1 Lighthouse keeper drowning, making his way back to the lighthouse in 1909:-

The above was reported in the Kerry Sentinel. I can find nothing in the Belfast papers until the next Harbour Board meeting, which addressed the recommendation of the inquest that a steam launch should be used to ferry the keepers to and from the light. While expressing regret at the death of "the unfortunate man Kennedy," the board felt it was a matter for the Harbour Master to provide the launch and anyway, the man was coming back to his post two days early and shouldn't even have been on the Lough at the time the accident happened.
Thankfully that was the end of the spate of deaths and, as far as I'm aware, no other deaths occurred at the light while on duty. Other keepers included James McKibbin, brother of Samuel at the East Twin Inner Lighthouse, and Charlie Johnstone, who did relief at the light after WW2. The latter recollected in 1985 that keepers did two weeks on and one week off and it was a really pleasant posting, although the lack of a radio meant that the keepers had to employ their semaphore skills when contacting shore.

Railway travel poster by Norman Wilkinson dating probably from the 1930s and featuring the No.1 Pile Light

In 1930, the existing reed horn fog signal was changed to a diaphone and slight alterations to the light were made.
When did the No.1 Lighthouse come down? Well, on August 29th 1950, a long list of changes to the lighting system in the Victoria Channel, included the announcement that "The pile light will be marked with the letter 'B' (presumably after being patted and pricked) and the light will be altered to show a red light giving one long and three short flashes every ten seconds. The Fog Signal at the Pile Lighthouse will be discontinued and the Lighthouse will cease to be watched."
In 1955, it was announced by the Harbour Board that dredging on a large scale would be commencing shortly and that all the port side beacons would, in turn, working inwards to outwards, be replaced by buoys. On 11th August 1959, the Belfast Telegraph reported that "from today" the red light that first flashed from the lighthouse in 1844 - this seems to be a common misconception - would shine no more and the lighthouse "is being demolished."

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