Friday, July 10, 2020

The Two Belfast Pile Lights, one substantial structure and a Stone Beacon (1851-1891) (lost lighthouses)

Researching the many lost lighthouses of Belfast Harbour is completely head-wrecking. Any corrections or additional information, please leave in the comments or mail me at!
So far, we have dealt with the outermost of the Belfast lights, Mitchell's Holywood Bank or Belfast Lough light. Basically, in the early 1800s, Belfast harbour was a big muddy mess. The Lagan emerged from the city, not into the sea, but into a wide expanse of mud, winding its way (sometimes at a depth of only three feet) to the much deeper Pool of Garmoyle, which sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. Steamers, on their 22 hour journeys from Liverpool or Glasgow were often obliged to anchor at Garmoyle and wait another six hours or more for the tide, ferrying the more impatient passengers into the city by rowing boat.

Somewhat indistinct map of Belfast port 1820. The quays began at High Street and the river wound its way around the mud flats to the Pool of Garmoyle and the sea. Basically the two big bends in the river were to be flattened and dredged, giving a much straighter deeper and wider entrance to the town from the sea.

After a few false starts due to harbour politics and financial constraints, work finally got underway in the 1840s and by 1851 the first bend had been obliterated. The mud dredged up for the new channel was piled up to the south to create what eventually became Queen's Island, Belfast's first pleasure park.
Around 1851, the newly formed Harbour Commissioners were able to announce the arrival of three new lights between the Pool of Garmoyle and the City of Belfast:

1) a substantial stone structure, situated at the lower end of East Twin Island, showing a green light.
2) on the margin of the old Seal Channel (see map above) showing a red light, and
3) at the Pool of Garmoyle, "below the stone beacon" showing a green light.

Basically, all lights on the northern side of the channel were to show red lights and green lights were to be displayed on the south side of the channel.
Both pile lights were wave-washed (ie. built in water) and all three provided accommodation for a keeper and his wife, to minimise the dangers of travelling to and from the light in dangerous weather conditions.
Lighthouses 2) and 3) were pile lights on the borders of the mud banks and were, according to the sailing directions of 1877, built of timber, supported on strong piles, braced with wrought iron tie-rods. It is said that the cost of the three lights was approximately £741.
Regarding the Seal Channel lighthouse, George Smith, the Commissioner's engineer, stated, in January 1851, that, prior to the erection of the pile light, the entrance to the Seal Channel had previously marked by a light shone from a guard vessel operated by the Customs but that, latterly, a sloop had been utilised to do the job. Technically, these two vessels are also lost light-vessels!
The Pool of Garmoyle Light 3) is described as being below the stone beacon, a drawing of which appears in the Harbour Lights Inspection report of 1864:  

To return to Lighthouse 1), the 'substantial stone structure, situated at the lower end of East Twin Island, showing a green light,' East Twin Island appears to have been a very narrow strip of land again formed by dredging and located off the end of Queen's Island. 

This Griffiths Valuation map of the 1850s, shows a lighthouse at both ends, which both appear to be built on land, rather than water. The course of the Old Channel is clearly seen meandering to the south of this newly-formed island. The tip of Queens Island can clearly be seen in the bottom left of the map. The red line actually represents county boundaries, indicating that the two East Twin lights were in county Down, rather than Antrim.

A very helpful askaboutireland map, showing a present-day map superimposed on the 1850s map. As can be seen, the two lights at the ends of the old East Twin were both located in today's Channel!

More questions than answers, of course, the main one being the location of Lighthouse 1). Was it in the sea or on land? George Smith in 1851 is no more helpful - 

If he'd have said south or north East Twin, instead of 'lower end of the east bank', he might have saved me a great deal of trouble. Poor George. How could he know that 170 years later, I'd be cursing him from a height?
Anyhow, I believe that Lighthouse 1) was probably the Inner Light situated at the very tip of East Twin Island. I have dealt with this light in a separate post, so we'll simply lay it aside.
To recap then, we have a pile light at the Pool of Garmoyle, near the Stone Beacon; we have a pile light guarding the Seal Channel; and we have a stone light in the water or on land at the lower end of East Twin.
The 1864 harbour lights report was very favourable in general to the hard work of the Harbour Commissioners. They had but two quibbles. Firstly, the brilliance of the lights was questioned and suggestions were made for increasing their luminosity. Also, and I need to quote this, "the very low scale of wages granted to the light-keepers is not sufficient to insure (sic) an anxious, zealous and careful discharge of the important duties entrusted to them."
I hope that by 1868, Patrick M'Aravey, keeper of the Garmoyle pile light, had got a rise in wages, having to undergo an ordeal as that reported by the Irish Examiner on Tuesday June 30th of that year:

Slowly before its eventual demise, No. 2 Lighthouse, the Seal Channel pile light, was also ran into, again without loss of life.

In 1889 - 91, further improvements were made to the harbour, which involved the pulling down of the 1851 pile lights to be replaced by other lights, which were either collided with or pulled down. More lost lights. And barely a photo between them.

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