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!!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece Peter - I'll link it on the forum so the members can read it.