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!!!

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