Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Candlestick Light, Howth (long lost lighthouse)

At the risk of sounding like Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a falsehood repeated often enough will eventually become the truth. Take Robert Reading and his six lighthouses that he applied for a patent for in 1665, the first state-sponsored lighthouses on our shores. All lighthouse books and articles tell us about Hook Head, the Old Head of Kinsale and Charles Fort. They tell us that there was a very short-lived lighthouse at Islandmagee and there were supposed to be two at Howth - one on the land and one to show ships over the bar. However, they tell us, the one over the bar was never built.

Of course, with no physical evidence for this lighthouse, this 'fact' was repeated again and again. And the longer it was repeated, the more sources agreed on it and the statement was accepted as the truth.
Lest I appear sanctimonious about this, I must point out that I have repeated this myself on my blog on several occasions. Even worse - and this is a real case of Chinese whispers - I took the phrase "to show the ships over the bar" to mean that the lighthouse was to have been built in the water. (Bill Long in his "Bright Light, White Water" appears to suggest the same, saying that "some sort of a crude perch and a buoy" replaced the original plan for a lighthouse.) It was only when I read an article on Jstor recently by Donal T. Flood (Dublin Bay in the Eighteenth Century from the Dublin Historical Record 1978) that I saw what a good argument he made for a) the light actually existing and b) it being situated on land.
To quote from Donal T. Flood's article,

Now, I am aware the wording (quoting the parliamentary committee) is slightly ambiguous. Possibly, it could mean simply that not having built the light that had been patented in 1665 was detrimental to Trade. But, I would tend to agree that specifically quoting thirty-two years would seem to imply that some sort of light was there until around 1671.
So where was it? Well, in order to guide ships 'over the bar,' it would need to be placed in a line with the Baily lighthouse. The bar was a rather inconvenient sandbank that had settled across the entrance to Dublin port. At low tide, a little yellow plastic duck might just have been able to sail over it. Boats invariably anchored outside the bar until just before high tide before entering the port. By day, this was marked by a buoy but at night there were no markings and many a vessel suddenly found they'd strayed too close to shore. 
Below is a detail from the Collins map from 1686 at the top of the page. The old lighthouse at the summit of Howth Head is shown top right. The infamous Barr with its Buoy is shown bottom left. Now, if you imagine a straight line from the Lighthouse to the southern end of the Barr, it would go through the 'd' of the word 'Candlestick' on the southernmost promontory of Howth, slightly north of Drumleck Point.

Detail from 1686 Collins map of Dublin Bay

Of course, this is conjecture. I have read that Cor Castle was once suggested as the site of the second light. The lower light merely should be somewhere along that imaginary line. However, it seems significant that out of all the places that must have dotted the south east Howth peninsula, the only two deemed worthy of recording were the 'Light-house' and 'Candlestick.' As a candlestick is basically a lighthouse in miniature, 'Candlestick' may well have been the nickname given to this early light. It was of course not necessary that the Candlestick Light should be viewable from the Summit Light and vice-versa. It was merely important that a boat in the harbour should be able to line them up.
Donal Flood goes on to detail the journey of a playwright called John O'Keeffe in the summer of 1768. After hiring a boat in Dublin, they alighted at Howth (probably at Red Rock Harbour, on the south coast near Drumleck Point.) They then ascended the cliff and enjoyed lunch "near the great iron pan, from which the coal fire blazed at night." Donal Flood claims this was the now-defunct pan that had been used as a brazier nearly one hundred years previously. The pan on top of the Howth Head lighthouse was relatively small by 1768, so, Flood argues, O'Keeffe must have been referring to the Candlesticks pan. It's possible of course but I'd be happier if O'Keeffe had written "from which the coal fire had once blazed at night."

Candlestick Bay watercolour by Alexander Williams

Further confusion was added to the fire when, in 1760 Roque published a map of Dublin Bay. Obviously borrowing from previous maps, he added 'Candlestick' where it had been but, unable to find what 'Candlestick' was, he added an 's' and attributed the name to a small group of rocks also known as The Needles just off the coast. As these rocks are ludicrously insignificant, the error is obvious but, once again, the mistake was repeated over and over until it became the truth. 

The Needles by Edward McFarland 1853 (Baily Lighthouse in the distance)

Coal for both the Candlestick and the Summit Lighthouse would have been landed by boat at a place called Bottle Quay, very little of which remains. It is a fair distance from Howth Head and also the Candlesticks. Howth harbour had not been built by then and Bottle Quay was possibly the nearest. On foot of the Parliamentay Commission's recommendations of 1703, Lord Howth was directed to build a new quay on his land in order to facilitate coal for both lighthouses. Lord Howth procrastinated, maybe justifiably. He was slow in receiving payment for the new quay and slow in receiving reparation for damage to his lands. Eventually, though, Redrock Quay, was built and coal for the lighthouse on the summit was landed there and transported up the steep incline. 

The remains of Bottle Quay

Redrock Quay

Ordnance Survey 1st edition map. Bottle Quay is top left. Redrock Quay is the small promontory directly south of Candlestick House. Flood suggests that Candlestick House may once have been a coal depot for the two lights. Then again, it may simply have been named after the defunct light.

As for the resurrection of the second light, more prevarication prevailed. Various proposals to increase the depth of water at the Bar were touted, considered, considered some more and finally shelved. Work began on the Great South Wall and by the 1730s a lightship had been established where the Poolbeg lighthouse now stands and there was no longer a need for a second light.
Incidentally, the name Candlestick would seem to imply that the brazier would have had some sort of column on which it sat. If the brazier / pan sat squarely on the ground, it would not look remotely like a candlestick, even to pox-ridden seventeenth century eyes. So it probably sat on a great lump of rock or maybe a concrete pillar. Though, as my wife would doubtless tell you, I have been wrong in the past.

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