Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Scarlet Rock, Shannon Estuary

The Scarlet Tower in all her majesty. Photograph courtesy Mick Worland of Bunratty Search and Rescue

I should be used to it by now but there are very few photographs of this wonderful example of our maritime history on the net. This tower has stood in the Shannon estuary for over 200 years, guiding thousands of ships past a dangerous rock. It is not by any means ugly. A cut stone tower, roughly five miles downriver from the city, tapering slightly towards the top and it was only by chance that I managed to pick up a picture of it. If it were to crumble tomorrow, there would be little to mark its passing pictorially.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Corporation of the Chamber of Commerce of Limerick - consisting mainly of shipowners and merchants - were sick to the hind teeth of their ships striking the reef running from Scarlet Rock to the Whelps, which stretched over three-quarters of the width of the Shannon. Indeed, one of those wrecks was still visible there at low tide in 1955. 
And so, in 1817, they advertised for somebody to build a 'beacon or tower' on the Scarlet Rock. The thirty-feet tall round tower was completed the following year. It was built of squared cut limestone blocks and even the top was stone.

For over fifty years, the Scarlet Tower was the only purpose-built navigational beacon in the Shannon Estuary between Beagh Castle and the Port of Limerick, a distance of some eighteen miles. There were other daymarks along the shore which experienced pilots employed to wind in and out of the treacherous shoals and hidden rocks - Tervoe House, Aughinish Point, ruined castles etc - but from 1818 to 1871, when there was an explosion of perches and beacons, Scarlet Tower had this portion of the river to itself.
In 1832, the romantically-named naval officer, Captain Mudge, was commissioned to survey the Narrows - as that part of the estuary was called - and to offer suggestions as to how the navigation of it could be improved. 

Does anybody know what the little square in the tower on Mudge's sketch is? A hole? A window? A door? And is it still there?

The Whelps in the centre, Scarlet Rock at one o'clock. This is a magnified detail of the chart below

There is a small paragraph at the end of a Sunday Independent article in 1955 about the demise of lamplighting that mentions Scarlet Tower as being 'the first lighthouse on the Shannon,' though obviously Loop Head might disagree. The paragraph concludes with the sentence, "At a signal from the city corn merchants, a great beacon fire was lighted from the flat roof of the 20-foot-high tower to guide the corn ships past the danger out to sea." (I believe the 20-foot reference has to be a mistake. Judging by the photo below of Mick Worland shinning up the ladder of the tower below, he is roughly five layers of blocks tall and, though they are hard to count, there seems to be a good 30 layers in the photo at the top of the page.)
This is the first time I have come across a lighthouse 'on tap,' so to speak. I hope it is true but so far I have been unable to corroborate it.

The Scarlet Tower with a more modern beacon adjacent. All photos on this page courtesy Mick Worland and the Bunratty Search and Rescue Facebook page

Position of Scarlet Rock in the Narrows

Back in 2013, some Cork GAA fan decided it would be amusing to raise the Cork flag on the Scarlet Tower. Mick Worland of the Bunratty Search and Rescue, a Clare man, I am assuming, was stung into action and replaced it with a Banner banner, so to speak. The structure atop the tower seems to be some kind of protection for an oil lamp, probably erected in the 1870s. I doubt the Tower still has a light, due to the proximity of the more modern beacon (two photos above)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Redmond of the Skelligs

The Upper Light at Skellig Micheal with ruins of the keepers houses

Occasionally I get emails from people asking if I know anything about lightkeepers of yore who feature in their family tree. Invariably I don't because I am primarily interested in the lighthouses and have not really made a study of the keepers, but I have an interest in family history and try to help as best I can, or at least set people on the right path.
Last year, I received a letter from a lovely lady called Heather Walker from British Columbia in Canada, asking if I knew anything about her ancestor James Robert Redmond (both first names used!) and his father, Joshua Redmond, both of whom were lightkeepers in the service of Irish Lights (or whatever the association was known as, at the time)
Well, I knew the Redmonds were one of the famous dynasties of Irish lightkeepers but trying to unravel the various strands was both exciting and fascinating. Suffice to say that Joshua Redmond, the father, was born probably around 1796 and, during the time he was a keeper, there were at least two other Redmonds in the same profession (Michael and Peter Redmond), who may or may not have been family.
Sadly, the Commissioners of Irish Lights do not hold records of early lightkeepers, though their records of subsequent keepers are excellent. We know that Joshua served on Skellig Micheal for a long period, but we have had to piece his story there from other sources.

The west-facing side of the island, showing the path between the lighthouses. Little Skellig photobombing back right.

It appears that Joshua was a Dublin man (or possibly Carlow) and he married Mary Hickes at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 1819. Of his early career, we know nothing. There is a possibility he may have been a military man before turning his hand to lightkeeping. We know he had a son George born in 1834 on the Arran Islands, on which the only lighthouse is the old, original light in the centre of Inis Mor. This George may well be the same son who met a grisly end on the Skelligs.
From The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle - a Journal of Papers Connected with Maritime Affairs (1856), we learn that Joshua was transferred to Skellig Michael in 1838 and hadn't left it since. 


Anyway who has ever visited the Skelligs, or indeed ever seen pictures of it will know that, outside of the monastery,  the island appears to be composed of craggy and impassable rock. On the lighthouse side, there is barely any walkable ground, save for the road between the lighthouses. The Upper Light appears to be stuck to the rock with Bostik and the lower is on a rugged pinnacle jutting out into the sea. How these people reared their children is a complete mystery.
In 1850 and 1851, the Valuation Office paid a visit to 'Skellig Rock Great and Rocks' to determine the taxable amount of the properties to the Revenue. In a footnote, they say that "the island was purchased from James Butler Esq. by the Ballast Company for the sum of £500 in 1820." (I have seen differing amounts for that figure)
The lower lighthouse, says the report, was built in 1820 and was 59 feet in circumference at the base and 45½ feet at 23 feet up. It was 37 feet from the base to the top of the glass.
The Principal Lightkeeper  was Edward Nolan, serving here since 1838 and occupying a house with extension, porch and two offices or outhouses. The Assistant Lightkeeper was John Kelly, also on the Rock since 1838, occupying an extension-less house, porch and two offices.
Up above them sat the Upper Light, 59 feet in circumference at the base and 45½ feet at 20 feet up. It was 34 feet from the base to the top of the glass.
The PK here was 'Josuah' Redmond, with his house porch and two offices, the same accommodation as the assistant, James Butler, another surname synonymous with lightkeepers in Ireland. Joshua was also at the station since 1838, whereas James was the blow-in, only there since 1845!
The Commissioner of Irish Lights official site gives the chronology of the building of the two lighthouses. It states that the tower and dwelling were built of rubble masonry with slate cladding on the outside walls. The dwellings were semi-detached (one house for the Principal Keeper and one for the Assistant) the lower was two-storey, the upper single. Each had attic rooms...  Each house had its own cast iron porch and all four are still in situ. The only "imported" stone was granite for the lantern blocking, tower, floors and stairs, windowsills and certain wall coping stones. 
The building of the lights was fraught with difficulties. Work began on the lower lighthouse in 1820 and only completed in 1826. In contrast, the upper light was started and finished in a few months in 1826.
One of the workmen, Peter Cane,  blew himself up with explosives used for blasting the rock, an accident for which his widow was still receiving a Ballast Board pension in 1859. More worrying, if true, was a letter from an anonymous author to the Freeman's Journal in February 1826. Under the heading "Deplorable Circumstance" the author states that "there are now about forty workmen now on the Skellig Rock, nearly a month without victuals or firing and the weather is so bad that no relief can be given them. The signal of death is constantly flying from the Rock. Two men escaped about a fortnight ago by jumping off and were most miraculously saved by the relief boat, though she could not approach the Rock. The account the men give of their fellow sufferers' privations is melancholy." Whether the letter is accurate or hyperbole is open to question. Certainly the Ballast Board lists Peter Cane as the only fatality of the building of the lights. What is known for certain is that the two lights were exhibited for the first time in December 1826.

One of the first keepers was Michael Wishart, who had been removed from Tuskar Rock after the infamous smuggling episode there. He fell to his death in 1828 while cutting grass for his cow, according to the above site, citing Commissioner Robert Callwell. I'd imagine getting a cow on the island would have been an interesting proposition, almost as strange as finding grass long enough to cut. 
There is a grave up in the monastery for the children of lightkeeper William Callaghan from 1869 - slightly after Joshua Redmond's time - both of whom died on the island.
So, it was a hard old station on The Skelligs, though Joshua, seventeen years at least without leaving it, didn't seem to mind.

The Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society No.9 (1976) also details an account by one John Windele to the island in 1851, the same year as the Valuation above. Windele, as detailed by the article's author, Peter Harbison, seems to been somewhat scatterbrained at times in his account. It seems, from reading it, that the notes he made at the time were insufficient and he added to them from memory some time afterwards. Nevertheless, the jist of his account is true. I will give a few snippets in relation to the lighthouse here. (Incidentally, in the narrative, Windele calls the keeper of the Upper Light 'Rooney,' which obviously should be 'Redmond.' As far as I can tell, no Rooney ever served on Skellig)

After visiting the monastery, Windele and his companion, returned to the Upper Light, where they were to stay the night. "The light-

It seems as though by 1862, Joshua Redmond had been dragged, kicking and screaming, off his beloved Rock, for he made a complaint about being owed money in Kilrush Court. It is likely that he was the lightkeeper at Kilcredaune before being pensioned off. This would have been eight years before his Upper Skellig Micheal light was discontinued with the establishment of the lighthouse on Inistearaght.
Joshua was still living in Kilrush when he died in 1873:-

His son, James Robert (the names appear to be interchangeable) followed his father into the lightkeeping trade, serving at Rotten Island, Roancarrig, Youghal, Inisheer, Drogheda and Eagle Island, if not more. I often think that it would make a great documentary for someone with lightkeepers in their ancestry to follow their great-grandfathers around the coast of Ireland. None of the lights mentioned above are among the so-called Great Lighthouses of Ireland but most are far more interesting than many that appear on that list. It would be a travelogue of Irish family history woven into our national history at some of the most stunningly beautiful places on our coastline. Maybe I should copyright the idea before somebody else does.

Addendum: There was a story that Hugh Redmond had lost a son and a nephew on Skellig Rock. As Joshua tells the story of losing a son over a cliff, I assumed that Hugh and Joshua were one and the same. Jos-hugh-a, if you see what I mean. I am now informed that Hugh Redmond was the Principal Keeper on the North Maidens Lighthouse in the 1850s.
As it appears that Hugh, like Joshua, was a Dublin man, it now seems likely that Hugh and Joshua were brothers. Hugh would have served on the Skelligs, probably before Joshua arrived. Maybe Joshua replaced Hugh in 1838. We know that Joshua lost a son. If Hugh also lost a son during his time on the Rock, then that would explain the 'losing a son and a nephew' tale. In fact, both Hugh and Joshua would have lost a son and a nephew.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Muldersleigh Hill revisited

Photo of one of Sir Robert Reading's cottage-style lighthouses at the Old Head of Kinsale built 1665. The light was exhibited by a coal fire in a brazier in the cutaway piece of the roof. Presumably the short-lived Islandmagee light would have been similar, if not identical.

Seven years ago, I visited Muldersleigh Hill which overlooks the western entrance to Belfast Lough. In 1665, Sir Robert Reading was granted a patent to build and maintain six "lighthouses and towers" around the country and to extract tolls from passing ships to pay for their upkeep. One of them was at Isle of Magee, which corresponds to today's non-island, Islandmagee. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know exactly where this short-lived lighthouse was situated. Indeed, several authorities have categorically stated that the light was in fact the cottage lighthouse erected on Lighthouse Island, one of the Copeland Islands, on the opposite side of Belfast Lough.

Google map of Belfast Lough. Whitehead (top centre) is regarded as the beginning of Islandmagee, which continues northwards

Back then, I argued for Muldersleigh Hill as the location of the light. This was largely based on three premises.
1) Kevin McCarthy's book Lighthouses of Ireland says that "The Blackhead headland, surrounded by a stony beach, rises to 211 feet above sea level to the north-east of Whitehead. Its prominent position at the north east entrances to Belfast Lough made it an ideal site for the first lighthouse built in the area in 1665 at the order of King Charles II.  However it was abandoned within three years of its construction."
2) In 1833, the Reverend James O'Laverty, in his Historical Account of the Diocese of Connor says "On the summit of Muldersleigh Hill are the ruins of a light-house..."
3) Two of the other 1665 lighthouses - Howth and the Old Head of Kinsale - were built on the highest point of a headland, presumably on the basis that the higher up it was, the further away it could be seen. Of course, this was later found to be untrue, as mist and cloud frequently obscured the light. The current Black Head Lighthouse now sits on the cliff top, below Muldersleigh Hill. Given this tendency, the summit of Muldersleigh Hill seems the logical place for Sir Robert Reading to build.

In 1704, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Duke of Ormond wrote to the Lord High Treasurer about the patent issued to Sir Robert. The gist of his complaint appeared to be that Sir Robert was receiving the dues from passing ships, as per the patent, but, of the six lighthouses, only two were being maintained, and those two insufficiently so.
In 1667, the Town Book of the Corporation of Belfast tells us, Richard, Earl of Arran, the fifth son of the Duke of Ormond, "had a lease on the lighthouse at Island Magee." This was evidently being held in trust for Robert Reading and, when Sir Robert's daughter, Elizabeth, married James Hamilton,  the patent was handed down to the latter. James later became the 7th Earl of Abercorn.

1690 map of Belfast (Carrickfergus) Lough. The topmost hill on the northern side of the Lough is marked with the words 'Old Tower'. This corresponds to Muldersleigh Hill.

Part of the lease agreed upon by Richard, Earl of Arran, in 1667 stipulated that, in return for erecting and maintaining the lighthouses, he could charge 1d per ton for every British and Irish ship passing the lighthouses on an outward journey and 2d per ton on every foreign ship passing either inward or outward. And 10s per year on locasl fishing ships. The Irish shipowners petitioned the King that this charge was draconian and so Richard was only permitted to levy the tonnage on foreign ships, a decree that was later transferred to the Earl of Abercorn.
At the 1704 enquiry, the Earl, defending the poor or non-existent state of the six lights, maintained that he could not possibly maintain the six lights on the payment received from foreign ships only (£500 per year). It might have been possible he said from the revenue of all ships (£1,600 per year) As things stood, the two lighthouses he was maintaining cost £200 to maintain, so he was only making £300 per year on the enterprise. Poor divil. For surrendering his interest  in the lighthouses to the Revenue Commissioners, he was awarded £1,000 per year for the next three years.

Griffiths Valuation (mid-1800s) map showing "(Site of) Light Ho." on the summit of "Mulderslys Hill." The 1902 Black Head Lighthouse sits roughly at the 211 (bottom right)

What we learn from the 1704 petition is that the lighthouse at Isle of Magee had been abandoned thirty-six years previously. In other words, since 1668. Probably the logistics of transporting large quantities of coal up the hill to keep the beacon alight at night proved too much for the amount that Sir Robert was prepared to fork out. So, it was probably operational for less than three years.
The report also describes the brazier in use on the 'Hill of Hoath', which would doubtless have been used at the Old Head of Kinsale and the Isle of Magee too.

Doubtless the inefficiency of the fire also contributed to the early demise of the Isle of Magee light.
A Review of Rectangular-plan Earthwork Enclosures in counties Antrim and Down, published by Aidan and Christopher Lynn in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (2011) suggests there were several ancient and not-so-ancient rectangular buildings on Muldersleigh Hill, none of which had yet been excavated.

The Revenue Commissioners, taking over the obligation to build and maintain a lighthouse to light ships into Belfast Lough, were of the opinion that "there should be a lighthouse on one of the Copeland Isles, commonly called Crosse Isle, and that a lighthouse on any part of Isle Magee would be no way comparable thereto. A lighthouse would be most useful on the South Rock, but was scarce practicable, or would be very chargeable. If there must be one on the Isle Magee, the place where the last lighthouse stood was the most proper." 
To sum up, then, the evidence for the location of the elusive Isle of Magee lighthouse seems to point strongly to the summit of Muldersleigh Hill. Both the Old Tower on the 1690 map and the "(Site of ) Light Ho." in the Griffiths Valuation Ordnance Survey map are strong evidence that there was once a lighthouse there and the archaeolgical survey of 2010 at least shows something was physically there.
Another point is that Robert Reading was patented to erect a light for showing ships into Belfast Lough on Islandmagee. He would not have been permitted to build it elsewhere without permission. Now, Islandmagee starts at Whitehead. The only possible part of the Islandmagee coast capable of lighting a ship into the Lough would be along the two miles of the coast from Whitehead to the site of the present-day Black Head Lighthouse. This section of the coast is east-south-east facing. Further north the coast trends north-north-east, which would not be seen by ships approaching Belfast from the south (see map below) 
And Muldersleigh Hill lies within that two-mile coastline...

Friday, August 14, 2020

Gunnaway Rock, Warrenpoint

Gunaway or Gunnaway or Gannaway Rock. The man is Denis Gallagher, who had this photograph on his bucket list for many years! The photographer was Velma Toombs and the rower of the boat was Peter 'Popsie' O'Hare. Photograph taken in the late 1940s. Information from the oldwarrenpoint forum

There is a place near me in Dublin that I maintain is a magical place. It is on the M50 / N3 interchange. Cars circumnavigate this spot. The Royal Canal bisects it. The railway line to Sligo slices through it. And planes fly overhead.
I like things like that. The one spot in America that is on my bucket list is where the four states - Arizona, Mexico, Utah and Colorado converge. You can apparently lie down on a designated spot and have all four limbs in different states.
Gunnaway Rock, off Warrenpoint, (I will stick to this spelling because I like it, though the other two variations are commonplace) is, allegedly, one of these magical places that is probably a portal into a parallel universe. It is the spot where counties Down, Armagh and Louth converge. And where Ulster meets Leinster. And where Northern Ireland meets the Republic.
It is located where the Newry River empties into Carlingford Lough and could be a nasty little bugger for unwary ship captains. A Ballast Board's inspection of Ireland's harbours and lights in 1864 noted that "from the entrance of the lough to Warrenpoint, the buoys and perches are under the sole jurisdiction of Lord Clermont, who claims dues from all vessels entering the lough. The perches are altogether inefficient, being scarcely distinguishable in the finest weather. We think it desirable that his Lordship's attention should be drawn to this subject, when, we have no doubt, he will either improve the perches or place buoys in lieu."
The same report also said the Garnaway Rock (sic), like Black Rock in Omeath, was graced with a wooden perch.
Lord Clermont's response to the Ballast Board was terse, to say the least!

Ravensdale Park, Newry, 14th March 1864
Sir, I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter on the 2nd inst., enclosing a copy of an extract from the report of a deputation of the Ballast Office Board, relating to the several sea-marks from the entrance of Carlingford Lough to Warrenpoint, to which you called my attention.
I beg leave to say, in reply to the above, that although I am proprietor by purchase of small anchorage tolls leviable on such vessels entering  the lough as do not belong to the Port of Newry, there is no obligation or condition in the patent which grants the tolls, binding the proprietor to the buoying of the lough.
I may add that the buoys which I caused to be laid down a few years since were voluntary contributions on my part and were not placed in consequence of any obligation or demand as of right.
(Signed) Clermont.
Don't you just love those old landlord classes?
On February 24th 1872,  the Hannah, over from Wales with a cargo of slates ran aground on Gunnaway Rock. By 1887, the Newry Navigation Company had made safe the many hazards of the Newry River through dredging and lighting and Captain Smith, (the Carlingford Lough Commissioners' harbour master and secretary) suggested to the Board that, for the insubstantial outlay of roughly £200 per year, he could, over time, finish the job by lighting the lough. In particular, he said, he would start with concrete towers on Gunnaway Rock and Black Rock (off Omeath) similar to the one he had already erected on Earl Rock, near Greenore.
The Board sanctioned the proposal but nothing was done until the following year when the Shark ran aground. As the Shipping Gazette reported on 21st March 1888,

The report is significant because it shows there was already a perch of some kind on the Gunnaway Rock prior to its encounter with the Shark, though it probably didn't survive the encounter. Sailing directions for 1877 describe the rock as being "covered on the first quarter flood and marked by a pole. It is three cables from Warrenpoint and between it and the point are some rocks that uncover (roughly 4 feet) at low water."
Unsurprisingly, the Lough Commissioners sprang into action and authorised Captain Smith to begin work on his concrete beacons immediately! Judging by the photograph at the top of the page, the circular part of the beacon appears to have been around 12 feet tall and mounted on a square concrete plinth of indeterminate size. Of course, the photo above was taken at the end of its life and it had had to be repaired several times in its lifespan. In September 1899, for example, 'extensive repairs' were said to have been carried out at Gunnaway and Black Rock beacons. 1935 saw further reparations.
It appears that the tower was never lit (someone correct me if I'm wrong!!) Certainly, sailing directions for the few years I have consulted mention no light.
The local story seems to be that the rock got it's name because it was the last piece of Warrenpoint seen by emigrants who had 'Gone away.' The Admiralty seems to favour Gannaway and there is now a Gannaway estate in the town but the locals seem to have a healthy disregard for this name and doggedly stick to Gunnaway. I have read elsewhere though and less interestingly, that the name means 'the rock of the sandy place.' Though I have also heard that 'Belfast' means 'the sandy place.' I'm starting to get highly suspicious of the etymology of these anglicised place-names.
The rock was a feature of the famous Gunnaway Swim,  a long-distance race which thrived in the fifties. Begun in 1947, the race was revived in 2007 to mark the centenary of the Warrenpoint Baths. But in August 1901, the Rock witnessed another epic swim, as reported in the Belfast Newsletter,

When the end came for the concrete tower, it was at the hands of the elements. It is difficult to fathom how wooden perches can survive even the wildest storms but a hulking great block of concrete can get toppled over but we are constantly reminded of the power of nature and shouldn't be at all surprised. 

From the Irish Independent 4th November 1955. The tower may well have been compromised by the storm responsible for the Princess Victoria tragedy two years earlier.

The photos below appear by permission of the Old Warrenpoint Forum and show the Rock before and after the destruction of the tower. Many thanks to Brian McCalmont for his help in preparing this piece.

Panoramic view looking south down the Newry River to Carlingford Lough. One of the Newry River round towers can be seen on the river bank, middle left. Warrenpoint is centre stage in front of the mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea (I could write a song about that) The two old Warrenpoint perches can be seen at the entrance to the Lough, with the black dot of Gunnaway Rock  tower behind.
Looking suspiciously like a mine, some wag attached a flag to the beacon on the rock after a game against Cork

This looks like more than four feet of rock exposed to me. Either the level of the Lough has dropped or this was taken at an exceptionally low tide?

A screenshot from Connor Sweeney's excellent drone video of the rock with its yellow beacon as it was in 2015. The circular rings of the tower can still be seen very clearly. Connor's YouTube video can be seen below

And, just to bring the story of the Rock's navigational history as up to date as possible, this from February 2019. At last, it has its light!!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Sod Rock aka Sod Island, the Shannon Estuary

The light on Sod Island (pic courtesy of Mick Worland )

There is a famous story about how Nome in Alaska got its name. Apparently, an early draft of a map marked the settlement but the drafter didn't know what it was called and put 'Name' by the side of it. The printer misread this as Nome and thus the town was named (or Nomed, I suppose)
I rather suspect that something similar happened to Sod Island. The Irish name for this small rocky patch of the Shannon is Oilean Dubhach, which translates as Sad Island. You see where I'm going here....
Sod Island lies in the middle of the river where, coming towards Limerick, the river starts to narrow into 'The Narrows', the long, winding stretch of the river that caused ships up to the middle of the nineteenth century to fear the approach to the city. There were many obstacles along this stretch. Horse Rock was the first danger reached; following it came a length of shoals totalling three miles, at the end of which lay Sod Rock or Sod Island. This was where there was a choice for vessels. Did one take the North or the South Channel? Originally the South Channel was the favoured route and so ships needed to keep Sod Island on their port side, going towards the City. The North Channel was blocked by a geleogical feature known as Big Bird, which (I'm sure I'm not the only one) lends itself to an image of a big yellow puppet sitting in the water. 

The big problem in the first half of the 1800s was the complete lack of lights in the upper Shannon estuary. After Beeves Rock, ships were obliged to moor up for the night as the channel was so full of rocks and shoals that advancement would have been reckless. In the very short winter days, if you were unlucky with the tides, you could be stranded there without ever making the required high tide. There had been a bit of token dredging and a large circular tower had been built on The Scarlets further upriver but it was not until the Harbour Board was formed in 1864 that things really started moving. Anything from Loop Head to Beeves was 'sea' and therefore the responsibility of the Ballast Board (later Irish Lights); anything above Beeves was local responsibility.
The new Board immediately set to work. A thorough programme of dredging was commenced, the most dangerous rocks were removed and lights were introduced. Big time. By January 1865, the first six 'solid beacons' had been erected by Burgess and Sons for a cost of 'about £1,000.' These were at Sod Island, Logheen Rock, Crawford's Rock, Spilling Rock, Ballast Rock and Cock Creek. The last-named was described as a perch, the rest as beacons. They were described in one newspaper as 'handsome looking objects of wrought iron and they contain lanterns, the lights for which are not yet provided.' The costing was approximately £1,000 for the job lot of six.
Working on nineteenth century lighthouse time - which ran a lot slower than normal earth time - it is unsurprising that it took six years for the lights to be exhibited atop the beacons and perch. By this time of course, more perches and beacons had been added.

The light on Sod Island was 12 feet above the high water mark and had a fixed light that could be seen at a distance of five miles. The iron perch itself was 34 feet tall, painted white and was situated on the ledge extending southward from the island. It was an oil lamp, lit at dusk and extinguished at dawn by a lamplighter trusted to do the job conscientiously, for which he was paid a pittance. Most of the lamplighters were fishermen whose payment  in no way reflected the responsibility of the job. In the case of Sod Island, the McInerneys were the family in charge of the lamp with Tom 'The Saint' McInerney performing the duties for many years. He got his monicker not for his piety but because he lived on Saint Island. Although, to be fair, he did sort of walk on water, striding across the mudflats to Mass every Sunday! For many years, indeed, he was the only inhabitant of Saint Island and when he died, so did human residency there.
Slowly though it was realised that the lights needed upgrading. Background lighting from street lamps, Shannon Airport and Mungret Cement Works rendered the river lights difficult to pick out. And so, the lamps were slowly replaced by unwatched acetylene lamps and the role of the lamplighter was extinguished. The last two to go were Horse Island and Sod Island in the early 1950s.
My earnest thanks to Mick Worland of the Bunratty Search and Rescue team for the pictures of Sod Island. Without the pictures, even I would think twice about reading the article!

Photos courtesy of Mick Worland of Bunratty Search and Rescue