Saturday, March 20, 2021

Dunmore East



Dunmore East lighthouse 2014

For some strange reason that I haven't been able to fathom, my Google Newsfeed, when not telling me there's going to be some melodramatic weather ahead, keeps slipping in lighthouse articles. The World's most iconic lighthouses; Sierra Leone's most remote lighthouses; Milton Keynes' oldest lighthouses, that sort of thing. A recent one was "Ireland's prettiest lighthouses."
Now I'm well aware of the saying about beauty and eyes and beholders but Poolbeg pretty? It's iconic, for sure, but pretty? I always found it rather squat and dumpy. Blackhead, county Antrim? Yes, its nice enough, but nothing to make it stand out in the prettiness stakes. The article contained most of the so-called Great Lighthouses of Ireland, most of which are pretty due to their location, rather than any prettiness in themselves.
Ones that stand out for me are Donaghadee in county Down, Beeves Rock on the Shannon, Little Samphire Island in county Kerry and Ballycurrin on Lough Corrib. But the prettiest, by far, and like the others mentioned, didn't make the list has to be Dunmore East.


Engraving of Dunmore East by T. Dixon (1824 - 1842), with Hook Head behind. Not only is the light very classical but the pier doesn't look so bad either. Does anybody know what the contraption at the end of the pier is? Looks like something to do with tides.

The pier was famously built by the renowned Scottish engineer, Alexander Nimmo, whom I always see in my mind's eye as a Caledonian Derek Nimmo, which shows my age. He reputedly erected the five pillars at Tramore on the two headlands though others dispute this. It was built to facilitate a new mail packet route between Dunmore East and Milford Haven (it was superceded by Waterford in 1835). The tower was finished in October 1824, and was inspected by the Ballast Board in March 1825, when a few small improvements were noted and implemented. Finally in October 1825, the lamp was ready to be established. This clipping is from late summer 1824



The dwellings for the lighthouse were very cleverly incorporated into the raised parapet of the pier and protected from the sea by the boundary wall. However, on an inspection by Nimmo in January 1826, the dwellings were found to be damp and the keeper living away up in the town. The necessary improvements were made and the keeper moved in. The protection of the boundary wall was doubtless  a great advantage to Redmond (possibly Hugh or Josiah) as an 1838 letter to the Waterford Chronicle reveals.


It would indeed be very churlish to suggest that Redmond was the Spectator and I certainly wouldn't even broach such a suggestion.
The tower itself is a Grecian Doric column made of granite (Ref John S. Sloane - others say sandstone!), whereas the pier itself is made of red conglomerate or pudding stone. The reflectors were from the firm of Boulton and Watt and they were raised or beaten to the parabolic curve by Mr. John Thuillier, a name now more associated with Kinsale than Waterford.
The cast iron lattice work of the balcony is only found at one other Irish lighthouse (Haulbowline) although it is quite popular in Scotland


Photo of the harbour 1870 - 1890 Eblana Collection National Library of Ireland


Robert French photo 1880-1900 showing detail of the dwelling house National Library of Ireland


 The lighthouse in 2014

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Copeland Islands - Lighthouse History and Keepers' Dwellings


The second Irelandscapes Lighthouse History documentary by the enigmatic Nick from Holywood county Down. Gives the history of the lighthouse(s) on the Copeland Islands and interviews with local fishermen and light attendants, backdropped with some wonderful footage.

Post amended 28th March 2021 in light of correction received from Joanna May (see bottom of page)


Mew Island light c.1940. Note the three disused sunken gasometers behind the tower. The lighthouse only acquired its white band in 1954. (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

Although the lighthouse at the end of Donaghadee pier was constructed in 1836, it was not until 1863 that the powers that be decided to erect a house for the keeper. To be fair, they acquired a plot of land in 1841, situated next to the Coastguards Cottage, but they promptly filled it up as a depot for stores, while the keeper lived in a rented house in the town.


The house was designed by John Swan Sloane, Chief Bottlewasher of the Ballast Board, and the contract was awarded to Mr. Nimick of Holywood and cost, with walling and gates, £843 8s 4d. As explained in Nick's video, it must be one of the few original Irish Lights dwellings still occupied by a lightkeeping family.


The lightkeeper's cottage, with the regulation red gates, near the beginning of the pier in Donaghadee harbour, behind the coastguard station. Picture shamelessly stolen from Nick's Irelandscapes video at the top of the page.

As for the keepers and their families at the light out on the Copeland Islands, there had been accommodation provided for them on Lighthouse (Lesser Copeland) Island but when the lighthouse went up on Mew Island in 1884, a block of five houses was erected at the same time, about a mile north of Donaghadee harbour on the main road to Groomsport. (They are still there, though in private hands since October 1957, just before the A2 hits the sea on the right hand side of the road opposite the Golf Club.) See correction at bottom of page


  The front of the lightkeepers cottages on the Warren Road. Picture taken from the shoreline Easter 1938. The road between Donaghadee and Groomsport would be on the far side of the buildings.(Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

The five dwellings comprised three terraced houses facing out to Mew and two larger houses adjoining either end, facing north and south. As well as these, there was also constructed a large stores, a boathouse and a small quay with a winch and slipway. Reliefs were carried out from this quay, which was strictly private.


Lightkeeper's dwellings for Mew Island at the top left of the map, complete with their own quay. Detail below.


Of course, not everybody was happy with Irish Lights hogging the quay. One James Black in 1908 was particularly miffed by the notices going up!








Relief boat arriving back from Mew Island c.1940 (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

Radio telephone came to Mew in 1951. Prior to this, there was daily communication between the shore dwellings and the Mew Island via semaphore. The keeper on land gave news of wives and children and the keeper on the island transmitted his reply from the lantern. In addition to the semaphore, the keeper ashore also tended and observed the three lighted beacons in Donaghadee Sound - Deputy, Foreland and Governor.


Keepers Eugene Fortune and P. Heneghan at Mew Island c.1940 (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)


Keepers E. Fortune, G. Evans and J. Lavelle, Mew Island, late 30s (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)


The Foreland buoy, tended by the Mew Island liberty keeper, now stands at the entrance to the Mizen Head Visitors Centre in county Cork. (I must apologise for the spotted dog. His name is Tommy Bowe and he has photobombed photographs of mine from Hong Kong to Vancouver and all places in between)


I was delighted to receive a response to this post from Joanna Doyle, who comes from thoroughbred lightkeeping stock, going back to the early nineteenth century. 
I have written above that the Mew Island dwellings at Warren Road have been in private hands since 1957, taking my information from the CIL webpage for Mew Island - 
"The Keepers' shore dwellings at Donaghadee were discontinued and sold in October 1957 and the Keepers then lived in homes of their own, travelling to and from Donaghadee when their tour of duty on the island commenced or finished."
Not so, says Joanna, and she should know. Her mother and grandparents lived at the dwellings at least until 1966 and I would certainly dare not contradict Joanna's mother!!!


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Josie and Mary Corish, Eagle Island and Blacksod Lighthouse



Painting of Eagle Island by Beechey in 1885. Incredible how he managed to paint in that swell. The East Lighthouse - the one destroyed - is on the right, therefore we are looking west and that could well be Blackrock in the background.

On 29th December 1894, an incredible storm caused widespread destruction all over Ireland, not least all along the west coast. On Eagle Island, off the Mullet peninsula, giant waves smashed over the lantern of the East Tower, 220 feet above sea-level, causing widespread damage. The families cowered in terror in the base of the tower, and it was not until the following morning that the families in the West Tower realised their plight. The result was that the East Tower which, like its comrade, had stood since 1835 was too damaged to repair and the families were moved to newly-built lodgings on the mainland at Blacksod.
The night of the storm is vividly described in a famous letter written by Polly Ryan to her sister but I recently came across some letters from Mary Josephine and Agnes Gertrude Corish, two daughters of lightkeeper James Corish, which throw some light, not only on their experiences that night but also on their new house in Blacksod.
To set the scene, the Weekly Irish Times had a Literary Club for adults and children run by a guy called Kincora. Children joined the club by paying subscriptions, after which they wrote letters to Kincora, some of which were printed. The best letter each week got a medal.
Mary Josephine (Josie) and Agnes were both members of the club. They were born at Rathlin Island in 1883 and 1885 respectively, their father, Joseph, and grandfather, Peter, having been lightkeepers. I print some extracts from the girls' letters to Kincora below to give you a flavour.

Eagle Island East, Belmullet, county Mayo (IT 4th August 1894)

Dear Kincora ... It is hard to find anything to write about on a rock on the bleak west coast, seeing no-one only the boatmen who attend twice a week, which they usually do in summer, but in winter as many times in the month is thought good. There are a few funny young gentlemen on the island at present. I may tell you some of their tricks next time ...  Josie Corish

Dear Kincora ... I am sure that she (Isabelle Moynihan, a pen friend) would think everything strange and wonderful if she could spend a week on Eagle Island and a week would be long enough on a place fit only for the wild sea birds. It is said a pair of eagles used to build on it in olden times. My little brother John has got a sailor suit on him today for the first time. He is very proud of it and looks quite a man ... Agnes Corish

Eagle Island East, Belmullet, county Mayo (IT 15th December 1894)

Dear Kincora, Since I wrote last we had the first of our winter storms. It was a long one, lasting nearly a month and all that time we had no word from the mainland; so we were delighted when we saw the boat coming out this day week and a new neighbour for us in her, so that we will not be lonely now. The weather here for the past week has been lovely, more like spring than winter ... Agnes Gertrude Corish

Eagle Island, Belmullet, county Mayo (IT 12th January 1895)

Cards from Josie and Agnes Corish with subscription on Josie's card for 2s 6d. Will write themselves shortly, when recovered from effects of late storm. J.M. Corish (probably their father)

Eagle Island OS map (1st edition) above, and last edition, below. 

Corclough (IT 2nd February 1895)

Dear Kincora ... We had a dreadful storm on Eagle Island on the morning of 29th December. It was my eldest brother's birthday, so he, as well as all of us, will not soon forget it. It was something dreadful. It left us houseless. We (that is, the women and children) are ashore since the 5th January. Dear Kincora, I would like to tell you about the storm that night, but it would be impossible. None of us ever expected to see the morning, we spent such a night of terror. Unless you saw the state of the houses and the outside premises, you would not believe it. The men think it was a tidal wave; it was not one, but several of them. And the large storm-wall that stood so many storms is cracked down near the large lighthouse ... Josie Corish


From Josie's address (above) it appears that the Corish family were lodged in Corclough after their evacuation. There is a row of four Irish Lights dwellings there. It is situated around 15 miles from Blacksod Point, north west of Belmullet on the road to, well, Eagle Island. Their stay at Corclough (aka Corclogh) doesn't appear to have been long as the next letter is addressed Blacksod.

Blackrock Dwellings, Blacksod (IT 13th April 1895)

Well, after our narrow escape on Eagle Island, we are at last settled in Blacksod or rather, in Blackrock Dwellings. I have a little friend here, Sarah Isabel Widdicombe    We all go to school every day and that is fine, the four eldest of us, also Isabel. The school is two miles from us and the chapel three ... I hope you have not had the influenza, dear Kincora. I don't hear of it down here at all. ... Josie Corish

Blacksod Point, Belmullet (IT 13th April 1895)

I suppose you have heard we were shifted to Blacksod from Eagle Island. We have five hens, three of them are laying. We see a lot of little lambs when we are going to school; they are lovely little things. It is a lovely place in the summer. I found a lot of buttercups today; the primroses are in bloom now, we find them coming home from school. My father went out to the rock today and another man came in ... There are blackberry bushes growing here. - Agnes Gertrude Corish

Blacksod Dwelling House for the families of keepers on Eagle Island and Blackrock c. 1905
(picture from the CIL collection in the National Library)

Blacksod Point Lighthouse, Belmullet, co. Mayo (IT 18th May 1895)

Josie and Agnes Corish and I are sending you a box of primroses for the sick children in the cots. My examination in the school is to be in June and I am working very hard and I hope I will pass... I get lovely little shells on the beach and I made a box of them, it was very nice. I can see three churches from here but the nearest one is nine miles distant. It is called Binghamstown Church. Josie and I take off our boots every evening and wade in the tide and the water is not very cold so soon we shall bathe. There is a nice castle four miles from here at a place called Kelly Bay and there are lots of nice flowers there. There is a Coastguard Station quite close to us and there is a telephone from it to Belmullet now... Please say what you think of my writing. Sarah Isabel Widdicombe 

To which Kincora tactfully replied, Your writing is good but you must be more careful with your grammar, which I had to correct.

Blackrock Buildings (IT 13th July 1895)

... There was a horse went mad last week, we are afraid of him as he is out on the road when we pass. Thursday (the 1st of July) was more like a day in November than in summer. We had some very heavy showers going to and from school ... Agnes Corish

Blacksod Point Lighthouse, Belmullet, co. Mayo (IT 13th July 1895)

Prize Letter

I am going to give you a description of Inniskea Islands. The south is divided from the north by a narrow channel of water. There are a great many inhabitants who live chiefly by fishing and they go out to fish in little boats called canoes in the roughest weather. There is also a school on it and a great many children go to it. The people keep sheep and they spin their wool into yarn and then get it woven into flannel and they dye it blue for the men and magenta for the women. The north island is not so large as the south. There is a school built lately on it but there is no teacher appointed for it yet. There is also a police barrack. The police were sent there to prevent the inhabitants making potheen on the islands. Inniskea Islands are four miles from the mainland and it is very difficult going to and from them in winter time and often there is no communication with the mainland for weeks at a time. You will be glad to know I was successful at my examination at school and passed into a higher class.  Sarah Isabell Widdicombe

Blackrock Buildings, Belmullet, co. Mayo (IT 13th July 1895)

I would rather be on Eagle Island than on Blacksod. The Eagle is covered with seapinks after the storm that did such damage. There are seapinks here also but not as nice as they were on Eagle Island. The weather has been lovely here the past three weeks ... I have seven hens and sixteen chickens ... The bishop will be here in three weeks time. He comes every three years. I am preparing to be confirmed and, along with all our other lessons, we must learn the Catechism.The examination is just over and anyone that does not make 100 days in the year will not be examined. The priest gives a tea-party to the children that pass. There is a telephone at the coastguard station about 200 yards from us. We often send telegrams to Belmullet, it is very handy. I got a duck's nest the other day among a lot of rushes and my brother went down next morning to count the eggs and they were gone. The pigs came up and ate every one of the eggs while the duck was away feeding. My mother and father were going on Sunday to see an island called Inniskea but they did not go as it was going to rain ... Mary Josephine Corish

Blacksod, Belmullet (IT 31st August 1895)

...The other day I was upstairs in mother's bedroom; I was sitting on a little box when suddenly a little bird flew in through the window and I ran and shut the window and caught it; it flew in after flies. We got plenty of mushrooms. We have plenty of carnations growing here; they are not very well out yet. My little brother Louie is very mischievous; today he went down to the sea and came up drenched with wet. There was no one to mind him because we were at school. We felt very lonely after Isabella S. Widdicombe went away from here. We are expecting two strangers - one for Blackrock and one for Blacksod Station. At this time, a number of girls are on the shore picking periwinkles off the rocks; they send cargoes of them away to Westport. There was a big fair in town yesterday; it is considered the best fair of the year.

Blackrock Buildings, Blacksod, Belmullet, co. Mayo (IT 21st September 1895)

... Our school was opened yesterday, the 9th of September; we had three weeks vacation; I enjoyed my holidays pretty well. The weather is very disagreeable for the last two weeks. I think it is not very good weather for the harvest, although the people about here are all cutting down their corn... I did not see any letter from Isabel Widdicombe since she went to Carlingford. I miss her very much going to school; we were always together. Josie Corish

Blackrock Buildings, co. Mayo (IT 21st September 1895)

Josie and I were confirmed on the 26th of last month. There was a great iron machine with arms for the purpose of working the semaphore, landed here at Blacksod Pier some months ago; the coastguards have charge of it; I think it is to be erected on a very high hill called Tarmon, a short distance from here where you can see all the country around you for miles. They were removing it today with horse and cart, so I suppose they are going to put it up at once. I am sure when it is up it will about 45 feet high. The 16th of next month will be my little brother Louie's birthday. Agnes Gertrude Corish

Blacksod Point, Belmullet, county Mayo (IT 19th October1895)

I must tell you this week about how suddenly the storms come on about here and what risk the men run who have to be on the sea in boats. The police boat was returning to Inniskea (an island 4 miles from the land) when, just after passing the lighthouses, a thunderstorm broke over the place and it was thought by all who saw the boat passing she was upset. After the storm cleared away, she was seen mounting the waves without mast or sail between this and Achill. The Inspector-General from Dublin and the Inspector, Mr. Wallace, from Belmullet, were returning from Inishkea about the same time. The Inspector-General landed with enough to do at Fallmore, one and a half miles from this. Before Mr. Wallace could land, the boat was blown away from the shore and, with great danger, he landed among the rocks close to us, when he and the Inspector-General drove to Belmullet. The boat they came in from Inishkea was Mr. Philip Lavelle's. When he and his two brothers who were in the boat saw the danger the police in the other boat were in, they went to their assistance and they both, after hard work, got in safe to the pier, when they got a hearty cheer. Mr. Lavelle and the police, (who were Sergeant Hanniffy and Mr. Crowley) shook hands. Mr. Crowley, who had no cap, tunic or boots on, said, "Thank God we are safe and it is the best little boat in Ireland." We were glad to see them safe for we know them well. They then went to the lighthouse where they were treated kindly by Mr. Keenan and were able to return to Inniskea on Saturday after the narrow escape they had... Agnes Corish

Blacksod Lighthouse c. 1905. CIL photo in the NLI collection