Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Four Keepers of the Seven Legged Beast, county Waterford


Passage Point Perch possibly in the 1930s when it was in good health. Shamelessly filched from the Tides and Tales Facebook page as it is the only picture I could find of the light in its heyday.

I recently purchased Andrew Doherty's latest book of local history and reminiscences "Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales." It is a book I could easily have read at one sitting but I have been determined to make it last, so I have been limiting myself to one chapter per night. It really is a wonderful book and makes me want to write about the local tales of my own homeland but sadly, we moved around so much as children that home is wherever I lay my hat.
Anyway, finishing the chapter 'Long-legged Spider Light" about the Passage Point Pile Light, I learned that the lighthouse was very likely automated in 1914. (I say, 'very likely' because, following Andrew's sources, I was able to find a newspaper report stating that a new brilliant Aga light was to be ordered immediately to render the light automatic. Unfortunately, I cannot find a subsequent report to say it had arrived. But we'll assume so. For now)
This means that we now have the complete list of Passage Point's keepers. There are only four of them in 47 years, one of whom only lasted for three years.

After much to-ing and fro-ing between the Waterford Harbour Board, the Irish Ballast Board and the Trinity Brethren (who, for some reason, I always associate with the Dark Arts), the beautifully constructed barrel on top of a perch (above) was finally dismantled in 1867 and a brand spanking new seven-iron-legged pile lighthouse was erected in its stead. This was first exhibited on 15th August 1867 and, of course, somebody had to mind the fixed red light from sunset to sunrise.
The interviews had taken place in January of that year and one Michael Power, of Keyser Street, Waterford, was unanimously elected Principal Keeper. He was 22 years old at the time.
The position of assistant keeper was down to the two 'young men' (as opposed to the elderly Michael Power!) named John Barry and Edward Connors and the two were questioned by the Waterford Harbour Board and the 21 year old Edward Connors won out, consigning John Barry to be come the Pete Best of the Passage Point keepers. Michael Power's salary was £50 per year, Edward's exactly half that.
By May the following year, Michael Power was not a happy bunny and wrote to the Waterford Harbour Board, as reported in the Waterford News and Star: -

The compassion of the Waterford Harbour Board was next sought by assistant keeper Edward Connors, as reported in the Waterford Standard on 15th December 1875:-

Sadly, there is no indication as to how long the Board let the matter lie over. Nor is there any report that Mr. Clibborn got the wishbone stuck in his throat at Christmas as recompense for his snide remark. I imagine he had never spent sixteen hours on a Winter's night inside a tiny box above a raging river.
Whatever their causes for complaint, Power and Connors (sounds like a firm of whiskey bonders) stuck to their task for a further twenty years, until Michael Powers caught pneumonia and died two weeks later on 22nd September 1895. He was 51 years old, married and living in Passage East.
It appears that nothing was done to replace Michael for four years until Edward Connors applied to the board for superannuation on the grounds of ill-health, as reported in the Munster Express of 15th April 1899. The Harbour Board doctor said that Connors suffered from cardiac weakness and he considered his present occupation injurious to his health. Connors had been appointed assistant lightkeeper in 1867 at £25 per annum, which was subsequently increased to £46, and, since the death of Michael Power in 1895, had been the sole lightkeeper at £5 per month. The Board agreed to the request and awarded him £2 per month as a pension.
Edward Connors retired to Leckaun near Killea with his very young family

By 1911, he had fathered a further two children, despite his weak heart. He finally died in 1929 of senile decay.
At the same meeting that accepted Edward's retirement, one James Donnelly, 56, a fit, quiet and steady man, and a Harbour employee, was appointed the new lightkeeper at Passage Point. The same doctor who had reported that Connors had a cardiac weakness and could not perform the strenuous duties of a lightkeeper now reported that Donnelly, while incapacitated from work requiring much exertion, was well able to fulfill the duties of a lighthouse keeper. Donnelly was appointed on a salary of £4 per month "with the use of the dwelling-house in Passage." Obviously the Harbour Board were beginning to soften.

Detail of House No.9 Passage East 1901 Census

Sadly, James' heart wasn't up to the job for he died of heart disease on 21st March 1902. The same harbour board doctor signed his death certificate.

Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus was nothing compared to the new spirit in the Waterford Harbour Board, as reported in the Munster Express on 19th April 1902:-

And if Facebook had been around at that time, this report from the same paper would doubtless have gone viral:-

John James Molony was 23 years old at the time and did the job by himself for at least nine years and possibly until automation arrived in 1914. The 1911 Census describes him as a 32 year old single lighthouse keeper, living on his own at House no 50 in Passage. If anybody knows the site of the lightkeepers' dwelling in Passage, I would love a picture!!
It is difficult to imagine that, for twenty years, Edward Connors, James Donnelly and John James Moloney managed the light on their own. The keeper had to be present from sunset to sunrise, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A week in the depths of winter could be 112 hours long. One presumes there would have been some form of temporary attendant brought in by the Harbour Board, maybe one of the pilots, to give the poor lads a break.

Passage Point Lighthouse today (pic: courtesy Caroline Ryan and Andrew Doherty)


  1. So interesting, Thanks for sharing

  2. Great read. I went to school in Passage NS and never realised there was a "dwelling" on the point!