Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Rotten Island, county Donegal

When this blog started, many moons ago, it was a simple 'visit a lighthouse, take a photo or two and add a bit of info' sort of a blog. For better and worse, it has become much more historically minded and the need to have visited has gone. So it is something of a breath of fresh air to get out and actually visit an Irish lighthouse I had never seen.

So, an unexpected free day at the start of September, saw me up early and driving across the country to south-west Donegal to bag the last of the easily baggable lighthouses. I could have taken a boat tour and got pretty close to Rotten Island but the distance from the mainland seemed minimal. Basically, I got to Bruckless and, with the help of Google Maps, headed for the Atlantic View B & B, which ended at a stony beach. Parking up (making sure I left a gap for any boat-laden cars to get through) the lighthouse was visible from the beach (see next photo) The tide was low so I walked up the beach towards the lighthouse, eventually coming across a gentle slope up to the cliff top and then simply headed towards the island. I was actually surprised how close I could get to the island.

Rotten Island was of course named after the Sex Pistol's singer and was established in 1838. (There is another outlandish theory that it was named after Naomh Rotain, who hosted a hermitage there) The CIL website mentions that three workmen were drowned on 15th September 1836 (exactly 185 years ago, I have just realised) returning from a day's work on the island.

1905 photo taken during a CIL visit (photo National Library of Ireland)

Killybegs was, and still is, a hugely important fisheries port. I was surprised to see the number of brand spanking new trawlers lined up on the quays and boats frequently passed by the lighthouse. Nearby St, John's Point lighthouse - post to come! - marks the southern entrance of Donegal Bay and Rotten Island marks the inner channel to Killybegs. Working in tandem, these two lights have had a relatively trouble-free existence, compared to many other lights on the west coast of Ireland.

The lighthouse was designed by the renowned George Halpin snr and was built of cut granite, painted white. It cost £8850 14s 10d. The character of the light was fixed but this was changed to flashing in 1910. It became unwatched in 1959 but the new lighting system was not popular with the maritime community, so it was changed to electric in 1963. This was achieved by simply stringing a telegraph wire across from the Carntullagh Head on the mainland, as per the photo below.

Electricity came to the island in 1963! See also the small landing stage on the landward side of the island. The 1905 photo above suggests another landing place on the channel side too,

Being such a tiny island (5 roods 12 perches, if anybody understands mediaeval acreage) the only people who lived on the island were the lightkeeper and his family. Being a small island and a local light, wives would presumably have acted as assistant keepers. Accommodation would also be provided for visiting tradesmen, contractors, technicians, painters etc. There is a record of a Florence Connell being born on the island on 29th May 1910, daughter of Corkman John Frederick Connell and his wife Florence (nee Pavlosky) It is entirely possible that Florence may be completely unique in having been born on the island, as most mothers would presumably have taken the short trip to the mainland to give birth, one thinks.

In 1901, the lightkeeper was one Charles Boyle (59), his wife Mary (49) and two sons Patrick (20) and Charles (18). Other keepers include Thomas Lydon (1881), Alphonsus O'Leary, George Rogers, Martin Kennedy, John  Wall, Jack Campbell and Paddy McHugh among others. William A Hamilton was the last keeper, locking up in 1959. His wife Mary, was one of the last female assistants in the country. Apparently, subsequent to the light being made automatic, a small portion of the lantern was cut away, so William, who was appointed the attendant on shore at Lough Head, could see that the light was operational!

One other keeper I came across was Harry Diver, who was assistant keeper in 1935. Obviously he was outside the normal husband - wife lightkeeper partnership on Rotten Island. Poor Harry, only 16 years old at the time, endured a most traumatic experience when his brother and a friend drowned whilst ferrying him to his place of work.

From the Londonderry Sentinel 5th September 1935

Another snippet I came across was from the Derry Journal 28th March 1938 on the centenary of the lighthouse, Apparently an oak clock, that had been a feature of the new lighthouse in 1838, was still keeping time and had never been repaired. I wonder where it is now.

1st edition OS map of Rotten Island and Carntullagh Head.

Monday, August 30, 2021

ILV Granuaile


A short film of the ILV Granuaile by the brilliant Nick fro Holywood who produces the Irelandscapes series of films. Film shot August 2021 off the coast of coast of Antrim.

A beautiful short film, many thanks to Nick, for the above video, taken off the Antrim coast of the Granuaile which has been in the service of Irish Lights since 2000, the latest in a long line of ILTs, stretching back to the 1860s, when Irish Lights stopped getting a lend of the Trinity House tender and got their very own one.
The Granuaile is the third such tender of that name. A very academic search of Wikipaedia reveals a list of previous tenders: -

Princess Alexandra (1863–1904)
Tearaght (1892–1928)       
Moya (1893–1905)    
Ierne (1898–1954)        
Alexandra (1904–1955)        
Deirdre (1919–1927)       
Nabro (1926–1949)       
Isolda (1928–1940)        
Discovery II (1947–1948)       
Valonia (1947–1962)        
Granuaile (1948–1970)        
Blaskbeg (1953–1955)        
Isolda (1953–1976)        
Ierne II (1955–1971)       
Atlanta (1959–1988)      
Granuaile II (1970–2000)        
Gray Seal (1988–1994)

     I'm not convinced this is a full list, even though it was taken from an old CIL site. But Irish Light Tenders are not my primary focus of interest, so any help / corrections would be most welcome. There was a tender called the Alert in the 1800s and I'm currently trying to find out whether the Flying Foam was an Irish Lights vessel in the 1870s. Meanwhile, here's a few gratuitous photos of former tenders: -

The Alexandra 1906

Gray Seal

The Atlanta

The Princess Alexandra and the Moya c.1903 off Skellig Michael

Granuaile II with the Coningbeg Light Vessel (photo copyright Jack Higginbotham)

The Umbria

The ill-fated Isolda

The first Ierne at the Fastnet c 1904

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Goat Island revisited


Nine years since I passed this little phallic beauty on a murky evening on my way to the Fastnet, I viewed it again from the western end of Long Island on a gloriously bright morning in late May. No, it isn't a lighthouse but oh, there were many calls for it to be lit back in the day, led by the Skibbereen Eagle and the Cork Constitution.
Due to the incredible amount of shipwrecks in Roaringwater Bay due to the too-high placement of the 1818 light on Cape Clear, the Ballast Board finally got off their collective arses and decided to do something about it. What they did was to place a light, not on the Alderman Rocks at the entrance of Crookhaven Harbour, but on the north side of the harbour on Rock Island, where it neither lit the Alderman Rocks, nor could be seen by transatlantic vessels heading east or west. At least, according to the papers, who were scathing in their criticism of the siting of the light.
So vitriolic was the criticism, that it only took the Board a mere 14 years to try and remedy the situation. JS Sloane, Chief Engineer with the Ballast Board, George Halpin jnr, Robert Callwell and a host of bigwigs surveyed the area and agreed to place beacons on Lesser Goat Island and the eastern end of Long Island.
The Cork Constitution wasn't impressed. Aside from calling for an iron lighthouse on Goat Island, they contended that "a beacon on Goat Island will be of no service, as it so happens that most people can see an island in the daytime but at night, when a guide to the entrance of a harbour is required, there should be a light which everybody could see, and not a beacon which nobody could see." 
Probably due to the extreme difficulty of landing on Goat Island, the Ballast Board pressed ahead, inviting contractors to tender for the two beacons, despite the fact that one of them was un-land-on-able. Presumably, a beacon could be built and left, but a light would require twice daily tending. But the placing of the Alderman Rock beacon had the Skibbereen Eagle on the warpath.

In May 1863, it was announced that local man Thomas H. Limrick Esq., had been selected to build the two outstanding beacons. Unfortunately, a lawsuit between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and their tenants prevented him from using stones from a quarry just outside Schull to complete his task. The Eagle was in caustic mood: -

But by 1864, the two beacons had been erected, the one on Goat Island costing £428 18s 2d and the Copper Point (Long Island)  coming in at £237 16s 1d. The Goat was 15 feet tall and weighed some 250 tons. Presumably Cape Clear was correspondingly 250 tons lighter. The Skibbereen Eagle, let us say, was enamoured neither by the architecture nor its usefulness.
In 1961, the beacon was found to have shifted nine inches due to severe storms. 40 tons of gravel were used in its repair, as there were, presumably, no rocks left in West Cork.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Fannet lighthouse and a candidate for the Darwin Awards

The original lighthouse at Fannet Head in Donegal, serving from St. Patricks Day 1817 to 1886 when the tower was knocked and the new, current tower erected. It was a twin of the lighthouse on Mutton Island in Galway

Okay, this post is not really lighthouse related but its a good story and it made me laugh, despite myself. And there's no harm reiterating the Health and Safety lesson.

On 23rd September 1848, the Hampshire Telegraph reported: -

A few days ago, as William McCall was fishing near Fannet lighthouse, he caught a small sole fish and, finding it troublesome, put its head into his mouth for the purpose of killing it when, singular to relate, the fish extricated itself from its hold and leaped into his throat. His brother, happening to be near, endeavoured to relieve him but without success. Death from suffocation put an end to his sufferings in a few minutes.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Mr Lynn, heroic Tuskar lightkeeper ... or was he?

The Tuskar Rock lighthouse c.1906 from the Commissioner of Irish Lights archive in the National Library of Ireland

  A few days ago I posted this snippet up on Facebook from the Wexford Conservative 1835

You see, this is my interpretation of the story and it differs very much from the author of the article, not that I'm in the habit of arguing with people who are long dead.
There is no way that Mr. Lynn would have used his own boat to row from Tuskar to Rosslare and back to fetch provisions. Every offshore lighthouse had a tender "belonging to the lighthouse" paid for by the lighthouse service and tendered out to one particular individual, invariably a local boatman. This boatman would row over to the lighthouse with a hand-picked crew - normally between two and six - on a pre-arranged day, once, maybe twice a week to hand over provisions, mail etc. Occasionally, there would be adhoc requests - if clothes were needed on the rock, say, the keeper's wife might ask to go ashore and the local boatman would oblige, naturally, or the Ballast Board wouldn't have renewed his contract.
So when the newspaper talks about 'Mr. Lynn's boat', they really mean the 'lighthouse boat.' Certainly in the twentieth century, keepers were not allowed to have their own boats at offshore lights. Going out in their own boat would have meant leaving the rock and that was a no-no.
So, let us assume Mr. and Mrs. Lynn were travelling in the light tender. They would have had at least two big strapping men doing the rowing, maybe more, and the chief boatman would have been in charge. There probably wouldn't have been a spare set of oars for Mr. Lynn to help out so its doubtful that there was any 'unprecedented struggling' on Mr. Lynn's part. The real heroes would have been the rowers.
So how did the newspaper get it so wrong?
Well, the lightkeeper was a highly-respected member of the community. He wore a uniform and had responsibilities. The rowers were simply part of the great unwashed. For example, in a drowning case  in Lough Foyle, the body was found by "Captain McLoughlin's manservant." A man transporting girders to build the bridge at Tarbert in 1840 was known simply as "a poor man." A mass drowning at the Calf Rock in 1869 was referred to in the papers as happening to Assistant Lightkeeper Richard Howard and six men. No names needed. 
I may be doing Mr. Lynn a great disservice here, though I secretly suspect it is "his men" who are being disserved.
At least the kids were saved.

The Tuskar today

Monday, August 9, 2021

Ballydehob lighthouse, county Cork

I'm the sort of person who lives a holiday before they actually go on it. I like to prepare for the unforeseen. It all stems from driving five hours up to Lisbon from the Algarve one time, to do something different, and I'd done no research and the internet was only accessed from the pc, and we got to Lisbon and didn't know what to do or what the sights were. So we had our lunch in a bus station and drove back again, much to my wife and kids' disgust.
Ever since then, I have researched thoroughly my destinations, in case I miss something dead interesting and kick myself later. So, at the end of May, just prior to our annual walking break - this year it was based in Ballydehob in West Cork - I was looking at an Old Ordnance Survey map of the area (the Last Edition 1888 - 1913) and what should I come across, barely a half a mile from where we were staying? - 

To be fair, not only had I never heard of a lighthouse in Ballydehob, I'd never even suspected that the very picturesque but sleepy West Cork town ever had one. If I had been surprised at coming across a long-lost lighthouse at Glandore, further along the coast, I was doubly so to find evidence of one at Ballydehob. I mean, Lighthouse Point! It had to be something. A lamp on a pole? A small lighthouse, like Glandore? 
So, one evening, after a wonderful day exploring Knocknaphuca and the incredible Three Castle Head, I had about an hour to spare, so I decided to head off and try and find any trace of this lighthouse, which was in Greenmount, on the westerly side of the approach to the harbour itself. It seemed as if the way to get to it was to take Walter Young's farm track to its end and then somehow make my way down the coast, terrain unknown. I'd crossed the road to see Walter earlier on in the day - he owned the house we stayed in - but he had been out.
Walter came out when he saw me passing and I explained my quest, not thinking for a moment that he had ever heard of this long-demolished lighthouse. To my surprise, he knew about it. His father, who had lived to a ripe old age and was apparently the go-to man for local historians, had brought him there once, when he (Walter) was a boy. There was precious little of it left then, so there may well be nothing left of it now, he said.
What sort of a lighthouse was it, I asked?
Ah, it wasn't a tower, or anything like that, he replied. It was just an ordinary house. The people living there used to leave a lighted candle in the window to mark the channel between the shore and the rocks (the Illaun Crubeen) That way, the fishing boats and other boats didn't have to wait until daybreak to access the harbour in Ballydehob.
The way to reach it, he said, was probably at low tide. Follow the farm track to its end, then get to the shore and make your way along the shore. The land down there passes from his to his neighbours but he didn't think there was any access any other way, except by boat.
I thanked him and continued down the farm track. Unfortunately, the terrain near the coast was not the greatest. Three weeks of rain had turned it into a marshy and treacherous swamp. I had no idea if the tide was in or out but there was plenty of water. Solid ground was at a premium and I kept on sinking over my boots into squelchy muddy water. 
After around forty minutes of trying to get down the coast, I came up against a built-up dyke, surmounted with hawthorn hedges both planted and chopped down. I reckon this was the boundary between the two farms.. There was absolutely no way through it and no way around it either. And so, I gave up and went back the way I came.
So, the investigations continue. Finola and Robert, the creators of the wonderful Roaringwater Journal have said they will keep an ear out for me. I, meanwhile, am seriously considering investing in a kayak like Dan McCarthy in the Irish Examiner.

Addendum - I am indebted to Tom Vaughan of Oakwood Aerial Photography down in Ballydehob for the following two photographs showing Lighthouse Point from the air. Is it only wishful thinking or can I really see three white blocks down there?

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Daniel Kirwan and the Tower of Hook

Before he retired, lightkeeper Tux Tweedy, the last of his profession to serve at the famous Hook Head lighthouse, did a great deal of research into the history of that ancient edifice. Among other things, and with the help of CIL archivist, Frank Pelly, he compiled a list of keepers that served there, the earliest of which was a man called Daniel Kirwan, whom Tux dated to c.1810.
The Commissioner of Irish Lights has a comprehensive list of keepers dating from the early part of the twentieth century but the further back one goes in lighthouse history, the scarcer the names become. The names of keepers from the early part of the nineteenth century are rare indeed - I have only come across a handful  - and so Tux's list is extremely important in the annals of our maritime beacons. 

Hook Tower c.1830

I recently came across a two-part article entitled "A Visit to the Tower of Hook" in the Wexford Independent from the 8th and the 12th April 1865. It is a very engaging (and very long) piece in which the unnamed author, from Wexford town, pays a visit to Hook Head, and encounters two men, John Colfer ("the patriarch and oracle of the place") and Bat Fortune, who relate to him the stories of old from the peninsula. One of these concerns the aforementioned Daniel Kirwan (spelled 'Kerwan' by the author.)
Colfer tells the man that when the Ballast Board took over control of the lighthouses around our coasts (he gives the year as 1781 but it was in fact 1810, which fits in with Tux's date) the first keeper they appointed was Daniel Kerevan or Kerwan. He was a native of Kilkenny and "he became, in after years, celebrated over the province of Leinster as "Doctor Dan," from the number of cures affected by him with herbs, in the use of which he was much skilled. Kerwan filled the office of light-keeper for upwards of fifty years when, from his great age he was superannuated; and died about twenty years since, beloved and respected by the simple and kind-hearted people by whom he was surrounded."
This is quite interesting. Prior to the Ballast Board taking over the country's lighthouses, they were under the authority of the Revenue Commissioners and the general opinion seems to be that, because the keepers were paid a pittance, they supplemented their income in a host of other ways, smuggling, illicit alcohol production etc, while maintaining the light soon became a very poor second item of consideration. The keeper at the Hook was mentioned as 'brewing potions,' rather than tending his light.
The other thing is, if Daniel Kirwan died 'twenty years since', and was pensioned off prior to that, and served more than 50 years as a keeper, then the date of 1781could well mark his arrival at the Hook. When the Ballast Board took over, all the keepers had to receive new instruction - those that were unsuitable or unwilling to change were pensioned off while only those who received proper certification were allowed to stay on. Presumably Dan survived the Ballast Board putsch!

Hook Tower c. 1790

Dan Kirwan's stint as a lightkeeper is linked to that of a man called Tuthill or Tuttle. Colfer says that when Henry Loftus bought the peninsula from the Redmonds, which would have been around 1650, the first man he brought in to man the lighthouse was called Tuthill. Bat Fortune was a descendant of his but the only male descendant still alive was George Tuthill, who worked the Tower Farm, near the lighthouse. Bat tells the author that George's ancestors manned the light when it burned coal and wood and that George's father was born in the Tower. George lost a son near the lighthouse when he tried to drown a cat that had been killing his pigeons; the cat clawed his face and the boy fell into the sea and was drowned.
Bat Fortune makes one further reference to Daniel Kirwan in the piece. The small inlets, or 'chans', around the lighthouse all had names and one of them was called 'Dan's Chan.' When the author asked why, he was told "Old Dan, the lightkeeper, returning one night from Churchtown, where he had been to see some of his patients, for he was a wonderful man at curing almost every disease and all with herbs. But, as I said, he was returning to the Tower, when he met the 'people' (fairies) coming up from the direction of Bawley there beyond and they got around him and whirled him away so that he recalled no more till he found himself next morning asleep and as comfortable as if he was on a feather bed down in the 'chan,' so we call it 'Dan's Chan' ever since."
I'm delighted to read this because I had always imagined that waking up in a ditch in my youth was due to the copious amounts of alcohol I had poured down my throat during the evening. Whereas, it seems, it was down to the fairies.

The Tower of Hook with its three red stripes at the start of the 20th Century

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Adopt a lighthouse scheme


The above extract is taken from the Sheffield Evening Telegraph of Christmas Eve 1926. It would seem that the Missions to Seamen had organised an 'Adopt a Lighthouse' scheme in early 1926, whereby as many large towns all across the United Kingdom should take the physical and spiritual welfare of the Trinity House keepers in hand, sending literature and other goods and a hamper at Christmas. I don't believe it was a very long-lived scheme. The nearby Leeds branch wanted Eddystone Lighthouse as its builder, Smeaton, was a Leeds man but they got Round Island off the Scilly Isles, which slightly disappointed the Lady Mayoress as she had intended to visit the light, presumably at the Council's expense!
18 English, 9 Scottish and 10 Irish rock lighthouses were adopted in this way, with the hope that this would be increased to a total of 52 (including lightships) over time. The Wicklow branch got the Lucifer Lightship. Reigate got the Tuskar. And that's all I could find out about it!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Getting up close and personal with Copper Point

Copper Point lies on the very eastern tip of Inis Fada (Long Island) and it marks the entrance to the harbour at Schull. I had passed it by twice, once on the Schull to Cape Clear Ferry and once on the Fastnet boat cruise from Schull in 2012 but there is nothing like getting right up to a light and, in this case, I did actually end up hugging it! This post is basically an excuse to show some current photographs of it.

Access to the lighthouse is over the grass, across the stepping stones and then blindly follow the rope until you hit the big white thing

Long Island (be careful when you google it because apparently there's another albeit less well-known Long Island in New York) gets its name for its relative length (5kms) to its width (under 1 km) There were apparently 300 people living there in the 1800s but now the number  barely reaches double figures. Most of the inhabited houses are clustered around the little harbour on the north side of the island, barely a five minute boat trip from Colla pier on the mainland. (There is a daily ferry service in the summer - we were the only visitors but it was a Monday just after lockdown was lifted)
There is a road the entire length of the island, with roughly half of it surfaced. The unsurfaced tracks are grand. We went after a particularly wet period and had to gyrate over a few boggy bits  but the views south to Sherkin, Cape Clear and the Fastnet and to the north to Mount Gabriel were fantastic. It is a wonderful place to spend a day completely away from modern life.

The lighthouse approach with the boat landing place on the left

Accessing the lighthouse is simple enough. A hop, skip and jump over stepping stones leads to a ridge of rock with a rope handrail bringing you to the tower. We were there in the morning, so most of the photos were in silhouette. There is a small landing place for the attendant but to get around the tower to the east, sunny side, requires a bit of careful negotiation, hence the hugging!
The lighthouse here owes its origin to the decision to place a light high up on nearby Cape Clear in 1818. Being often shrouded in mist and low cloud, Roaringwater Bay became a magnet for shipwrecks waiting to happen. Transatlantic traffic, not seeing the warning light, would head blithely full-steam ahead into the myriad of islands off the south west coast off County Cork and more often than not would end up on the rocks.

Copper Point, lightless, in 1903, part of a collection of lighthouse inspection photos by CIL in the National Library

Things weren't helped when the Ballast Board - under instructions from Trinity House in London - erected a lighthouse at Crookhaven but placed it on the wrong side of the harbour, so it, allegedly, could not be seen by eastbound traffic until they were actually past it. I say, allegedly, because some mariners ventured a different opinion.
In the years following its erection there were memorials from all and sundry, as well as newspaper editors calling on the position of Crookhaven light to be changed (it never was) and also for lights at Little Goat Island (the first small island encountered)  and Copper Point at the entrance to Schull Harbour. Thus, the Stephen Whitney, mistaking Crookhaven for Kinsale, foundered on Long Island, with the loss of 96 people. Thus the Charlotte, "misled by the Crookhaven light" also in 1847, was only saved from foundering on Long Island by the bravery of the fishermen there who towed her to safe anchorage. There were further calls at regular intervals for a beacon on Goat Island and a light on Copper Point.

The landing place looks quite new. The light itself is accessed by an outside ladder

Trinity House sent Captain Roberts to survey the area in 1860  and eventually, on 6th May 1862, the Cork Constitution announced that John Swan Sloane, Chief Engineer to the Ballast Board had been visiting the area and plans had been drawn up to place beacons on Little Goat Island and Copper Point forthwith.
On the 18th June that year, the Ballast Board issued a notice looking for contractors to build the beacons. Rather than cast-iron structures, they were to be built of local stone. Crucially, both beacons were to remain unlit. The Copper Point tower is 46 feet high, tapering towards the top, a bit slenderer - if that is a word - than the Baltimore beacon. I am sure I'm not the only person who thinks it looks like a milk churn.

Of course, the press had a field day. The Ballast Board had now spent thousands of pounds erecting three totally useless navigational towers viz. the misplaced Crookhaven light and now two beacons which were not needed during the day and were completely useless at night. This was only slightly assuaged by a suspiciously opportune report in the Cork Constitution of 8th January 1866, that all on board the Leander would surely have met watery graves, had they not suddenly seen the beacon on Copper Point 'by the light of the moon' and were able to safely make safe harbour at Schull.
But the controversy rumbled on over the years. Calls for a light were renewed in the 1890s after a spate of wrecks. It was not until the 1950s, after representations from local fishermen, that the matter came up for serious consideration. With Irish Lights' far-famed speed of action, a light was finally erected on top of the beacon on 1st June 1977.
In February 1981, Copper Point was officially designated a lighthouse proper, though it declined to attend the inauguration ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin due to 'mobility problems.'

In the north-west part of the island, where there are good views of both Coney Island (yes, really) and the two Goat Islands, there are two mounds of stones, looking rather like the navigational beacons found in the Boyne, at Inis Mor, and plenty of other places. As to the what, where, why, when and who, I am completely ignorant. They may not even be navigational beacons but the remains of old houses.