Wednesday, October 14, 2020

(My) Great Lighthouses of Ireland

Depending on what part of the country you live in, this post will delight you or annoy you, so I will stress beforehand that the following list is entirely my own subjective opinion. It is neither incorrect nor correct. You will doubtless disagree on many of my choices and your view is every bit as valid as mine. 
The premise of this list is CIL's 12 Great Lighthouses of Ireland, which, as I have mentioned before, should really be 12 Lighthouses of Ireland that have Tourist Potential. They are not the twelve greatest lighthouses of Ireland, as anyone outside CIL will agree. One of them isn't even a lighthouse. Others - Cromwell Point and Blackhead come to mind - are very picturesquely situated but most of our lighthouses, by their very nature, are anyway. And of course, lighthouses in Ireland are not limited to those under the auspices of the Commissioner of Irish Lights.
So, in no order of merit, but starting at Fair Head and circumnavigating the country clockwise, this is my list of Ireland's twelve greatest lighthouses, with a brief reasoning for its inclusion.

1) Chaine Tower (county Antrim)

A relatively new building (1888) in lighthouse terms but I love the way the designers tapped into the Irish DNA when drawing up the plans. Not originally designed as a lighthouse - a memorial and a daymark for boats entering Larne Harbour - but it beautifully links back to our ancient Irish past.

2) South Rock (county Down) 

Thomas Rogers may have his detractors, and rightly so, but his pride and joy must surely have been this magnificent lighthouse, dating back to 1797 and probably the oldest wave-swept lighthouses in the world. (Bell Rock in Scotland lays claim to being the oldest working wave-swept lighthouse.) Despite the fact that it has been inactive since 1877, it is apparently in excellent shape and could easily be pressed into service if technology fails us.

3) Drogheda Lights (East, West and North)

Three lights for the price of one and demonstrating that lighthouses need not be stone or iron monoliths. Dating from the 1840s, these three lights (there were originally four, but one was never lit) resemble three giant sand-hoppers waiting in the dunes. They are full of character and quite unique in Ireland. They light the entrance to the River Boyne.

4) Poolbeg Lighthouse

Somewhat squat and dumpy, this iconic red lighthouse, sitting at the end of an incredibly long breakwater out in the middle of Dublin Bay has seen off and welcomed home millions of people since it was first built in the 1760s. An aerial view gives a true sense of its spectacular location. A brisk stroll out to it will blow away any cobwebs you might have and you can see at least six other lighthouses along the way.

5) Wicklow Head

Once again, three lighthouses for the price of one but in this instance, all three are very different. It's great fun working out the angles between the high lights and the low light and even more so trying to find the foundations of the missing low light! And all, I say with complete bias, located in the best county in Ireland.

6) Hook Head

The vast amount of history of this place is truly remarkable and a guided tour here is a tour of the last 1500 years. Okay, some of the claims are slightly exaggerated but you cannot fail to sense the shadows of our ancestors in every nook and niche of this invincible stone tower.

7) Dunmore East

I was hesitant to include Dunmore East (1825) because of its proximity to Hook Head but in the end, I chose it for its beauty. Architecturally, it is the jewel in Ireland's lighthouse crown, with its fluted Doric exterior shown off by the natural stone. There is nothing like it on our coasts. Alexander Nimmo, take a bow.

8) The Fastnet

As Poolbeg is to Dublin, so the Fastnet is to Ireland. Probably the most iconic lighthouse in these islands (with Bell Rock and Eddystone) and one of the greatest in the world, the story of its construction will leave you speechless. A boat tour from Schull or Clear Island is well worth getting seasick for.

9) Inishtearaght

The one lighthouse on the list I have not been to, or even seen, Ireland's most westerly lighthouse sits, perched like a puffin on a tiny bit of cliff on the far side of the furthest of the Blasket Islands. It is Europe's westernmost lighthouse, outside of Iceland. One can only wonder how safe the keepers felt when a great Atlantic storm was raging. It took six years to build in the 1860s and it isn't hard to see why.

10) Beeves Rock

I love this most underrated of lighthouses. When the tide is high, it looks like a duck sitting on the water, a house seemingly built in the middle of the Shannon estuary. Only at low tide does the rock appear. Must have been a short working day building it. How many nearby houses dating from 1855 are in such good condition, I wonder? 

11) Slyne Head

Difficult to view, except from a distance, there are two lighthouses on Slyne Head, one unpainted and abandoned, the other painted jet black. Black seems to be a rare enough colour in marine navigation globally, but in Ireland, we love it. Slyne Head, Ballycotton, Poolbeg (once), our lightships - all painted black. I imagine Alcock and Brown saw it clearly enough when they flew in from Newfoundland though. The journey to and from it for relief keepers was an odyssey in itself.

12) Moville

Okay, I had to include one spider light and I plumped for Moville rather than Dundalk or Spit only because the north coast would not have been represented otherwise. Spider lights - or screw-pile lights - probably had the smallest keeper accommodation of all our lights and were once quite plentiful around our coasts, particular on the Foyle and in Belfast and Cork harbours. Now only four remain and Passage Point doesn't appear to be long for this world.

And that is my list and I'm fully aware of the many great lighthouses I have left out. No place for Fanad or Tuskar, the Upside Down light on Rathlin, Calf Rock (get there if you can), Ballycotton, Balbriggan, Clare Island, the Maidens. The list goes on. All showing what a rich diversity of maritime heritage we enjoy around our shores.

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