Sunday, September 20, 2020

Roonagh Pier, co. Mayo

Will you meet me on Clare Island?
Summer stars are in the sky
We'll get the ferry out from Roonagh
And wave all our cares goodbye.

Front and rear lights at Roonagh

The above lines are, of course, from the Saw Doctors' wonderful song, Clare Island, and were on my lips the whole time that we visited the eponymous island earlier this month. And yes, we got the ferry out from Roonagh, a small pier at the end of a long road from Louisburgh.
Roonagh harbour is lit by the usual triangle and inverted triangle, forming the lights to lead you safe into the small harbour, lit by very pretty blue lights. But it was not always so.
Roonagh has always been the departure and arrival point for the islanders of Clare and Inishturk Islands, though nineteenth century sailing directions speak of it as a place to be avoided in a westerly wind and a bit of an oul' harbour that nearly dries at low tide. Nevertheless, when the Brits were in charge, a 'heavy boat' plied a regular line to both islands, big enough to carry cattle. However, from the time they left in 1922 to 1958, no motor boats were able to use the 'dark pier' between November and April. It was curraghs only. What have the Brits ever done for us, eh? 
In 1955, when the ESB were laying electrical lines in Roonagh, they even installed a pole with a light on top but the Council didn't bother to apply for the current to be connected for nearly three years. Eventually in November 1958, two lights were installed on the pier at a cost of £154.
By 1976, these lights had deteriorated so badly that they were worse than useless and had to be replaced.

Roonagh Pier at low tide. I wouldn't like to be the ferry boat pilot.

The new century saw the very short old pier extended by another 30 meters, meaning that boats wouldn't have to queue two or three abreast to gain a place at the quay, a situation exacerbated by two rival ferries competing for prime spots at the steps. However, the lighting was still causing problems and things came to a head on the evening of December 20th 2011 when the 'Pirate Queen,' owned by Clare Island Ferries struck a rock on entering the harbour. A subsequent investigation determined that the front leading lights were not working and nine of the twelve lights on the pier were burnt out. The accident happened two and a half hours after sunset.
As in all things, it takes an incident to get things done. A few months later, the new lighting system was installed at a cost of £56,250.

Roonagh pier nicely lighting up a storm January 2014

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