Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pile Light No.2, Belfast Lough (lost light)

As we saw with Pile Light No.1, the massive harbour works in Belfast in the latter half of the twentieth century, during which they straightened up and dredged four miles of channel as well as constructing numerous docks and shipbuilding berths (including Harland and Wolff) necessitated new lighting. The old pile lights built between 1844 and 1851 were demolished and four new pile lights, imaginatively named 1,2,3 and 4, were built. The 'New Straight Channel' was formally opened in July 1891.

This is the only representation of this very short-lived pile light that we will probably ever see. It is a detail in the larger sketch reproduced below.

The light showed a fixed bright light, placed in an oriel window, visible through 180 degrees, a fact that was to feature in its destruction. Like its three companions, it was placed on the south side of the new channel at a distance of roughly one mile from Lighthouse No.1 and the same from No.3. In other words, it was the second pile light on your left as you came into Belfast. 
It was a wooden lighthouse erected on cast-iron hollow piles and had been made as stable and secure as humanly possible with the help of cast-iron tie-rods. Like her three companions, she had live-in accommodation for a keeper and his wife, the reasoning being that it would minimise the danger of constant rowing back and forth to the light in heavy seas to light and douse the lamp.
I wonder if this last point flashed through the mind of the lightkeeper James Cooke as he floundered in the freezing water of the Lough at 2.30am a bare sixteen months later? From the Freeman's Journal Saturday 19th November 1892: - 

The accident, contrary to the report above, actually happened at 2.30 am on the morning of 18th November 1892.

Sketch of the scene of the disaster. Lighthouse No.2 is in the middle, the Medway is in between it and the Outer Light. The artist took a lot of licence regarding scale as the lighthouses are about a mile apart.

At the three-day inquiry into the tragedy in January 1893, it was shown that the course taken by Captain Arnold in The Medway - going south of the Outer Lighthouse at high tide - was a common one and was in fact the course taken by many of the pilots with boats coming from the south, as there was no obligation to keep to the north of it.
The court heard that the Pile Light had originally been fitted with two red lights shining in the direction that the Medway was approaching. These however had been removed on the instructions of the Commissioner of Irish Lights. The Medway would have had little or no indication that it was bearing down on the lighthouse until it was almost on top of it.
The lighthouse was not rebuilt but replaced with a buoy.
Following publication of the report, the Newsletter commented, "Who but Irishmen would build a lighthouse that cannot be seen?"

Irish Press- 18th November 1961

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