Friday, January 1, 2021

Beacon Lighthouse No.1

I have been sitting on this lighthouse for a number of months now (not literally, of course, for it has long ceased to be) waiting for some long-promised information to be sent to me. However, though I have not given up hope, the chances of me dying before the information arrives are rising with each passing month, so I think it best to put pen to paper with what I have. (I hasten to add that a) I am really grateful to the person concerned for his offer of help and b) to my knowledge, my death is not imminent)
The watercolour above is of a beautiful wooden lighthouse. To me, it looks slightly north European, Belgian or North Germany, maybe. Of course, it must be remembered that I am an idiot. The painting is by a famous maritime artist known as Alexander Williams and it hangs in the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. It was painted from somewhere along the South Wall of the River Liffey between the old Pigeon House Fort and Poolbeg Lighthouse, looking north west across the river. The lighthouse stands at the spot where the North Bank lighthouse currently stands.
At this point I must mention that the source of the information in this post comes from Cormac Lowth, Dublin's leading maritime historian and author who very generously gave me both his time and knowledge in patiently leading me through the history of Dublin Port.

The sketch above is a preparatory drawing by Williams for the painting at the top of the page. He decided evidently to unclutter the maritime craft in the vicinity of the lighthouse when doing the watercolour. The lads in the front are 'drop-net fry fishing' which I think involved dropping a weighted net into the river and then hauling it up again.
But back to the wooden lighthouse. In the mid 1800s, the River Liffey had but two lighthouses - one at the entrance (Poolbeg) and one at the approaches of the city (North Wall Quay) In between the two were a series of perches on either side of the river, marking the channel for boats. An example of one of these perches can be seen on the right hand side of the Hayes sketch and painting below, done from roughly the same spot as the Williams' aspect. In fact, this may have been the very perch that preceded the Beacon lighthouse. It appears to be sitting on rough rock, as does the lighthouse in the Williams painting at the top of the page. The Beacon lighthouse was built in between perches nos. 3 and 5, on the site of perch no. 4.

The 1880s saw a sudden bout of lighthouse building in the Liffey. The Alexandra Breakwater light was erected, the lighthouse at the end of the North Bull Wall also went up and, on 28th June 1882, the light of the disappointingly-named Beacon Light No.1 was established. It was an occulting white light exhibited 40 feet above the high - water mark, flashing once every three seconds. This was changed in 1885 to once every four seconds. It had actually been finished by March 1881 but it took a while for the optical apparatus by J. Edmundson & Co. to be installed.

Of the lighthouse itself, I have found very little. According to the Williams painting, it was a wooden structure built on stilts. Presumably the keeper's dwellings sat above the high-water mark and it appears some sort of internal ladder or staircase led from there up to the lantern. There was a gallery and what seems to be a second external light next to the turret. The red flag was the starboard side indicator when entering a port (black for the left hand side) This has since been changed to green for starboard and red for port. On the top of the turret was a weather vane. In 1886, a fog bell was added, striking three times every thirty seconds.
It was designed and built under the supervision of Sir John Purser Griffith, chief engineer to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, who had served under Bindon Stoney.

Dublin Port map showing the five lighthouses at the end of the nineteenth century

All went well apparently until Monday 3rd February 1908 when the Marquis of Glasgow (the ship, not the lighthouse-hating member of the Scottish aristocracy) clattered into the lighthouse while leaving port. The building was completely shattered and a temporary lightship was towed to the site and left in place until a new lighthouse was put in place later that year. The new light and fog bell had the same characteristics as the old one and was also designed by Sir John Purser Griffith. 
Once again, I have struggled for information on the new lighthouse, now officially called The North Bank lighthouse. Again, it was a stilted structure with a square brickwork tower, painted with red and white horizontal bands. Its occulting white light was exhibited from a height 50 feet above the high tide mark.
This second lighthouse lasted until 1940 when it was replaced by the current North Bank lighthouse. The foundations had been severely compromised and the whole structure was in danger of falling into the water. The new lighthouse, which was automatic, in contrast to its two predecessors, was built and then divers with explosives finished the job on the old lighthouse that nature had started.
Incredibly, despite it lasting until 1940, I have yet to come across a picture of this intermediate lighthouse.

The current North Bank lighthouse

No comments:

Post a Comment