Friday, June 11, 2021

Glandore Harbour lighthouse

Grohogue Point at the entrance to Glandore Harbour, now lighthouse-less.

There are few pleasures in life greater than finding a tenner in the pocket of a jacket that you haven't worn since last September. So, in a similar vein, I was delighted, last month, to discover, in the quagmire of the folder named 'Lighthouses' on my pc, a clipping, misfiled, detailing the carry-on at the annual meeting of the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board in 1912.
Glandore Harbour looks to be a fantastically beautiful place slightly west of Galley Head lighthouse in county Cork. I have never been but Google Street Map is a great invention, even though its a bugger to read road signs on. The harbour is home to three major settlements, Union Hall, Leap and Glandore (in clockwise order) and a pile of magnificent scenery.
Glandore itself was a busy enough fishing port back in the day. Mackerel was the main catch - it was salted and exported to England and America in barrels.
So, I started looking into the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board, not expecting to find out much. Probably a lantern hanging on a pole, which they had fancifully termed a lighthouse. As my wife would doubtless tell you, it was not the first time I had been wrong about something.

Map of Glandore Harbour showing the position of the lighthouse. The sailing directions tend to say 'avoid Adam and hug Eve' as a rough guide to getting up the harbour. Leap is just off-map top left.

The lighthouse is shown on the last edition OSI map (1888 - 1913)  and the British Pilot for 1917 states  - "During the fishing season or from April 15th to May 31st and from September 1st to January 31st, annually, a fixed light with white and red sectors is exhibited from Grohogue Point on the eastern side of the entrance to Glandore Harbour." So, not a lantern on a pole then.

Detail from the last edition OSI map showing position of lighthouse. Grohogue Point is the southern promontory of Prison Cove which I am told is now the haunt of naturists.

It appears that the driving force behind this lighthouse was one Colonel Spaight, the official local bigwig, who was approached by fishermen and local boat-owners in the latter half of 1896 to lobby him for a lighthouse at the entrance of the harbour. Non-local fishermen seldom availed of the wonderful harbour for want of a light; and indeed the local fishermen "frequently felt this want also in the long, dark nights of October and November, when all had to remain tossing about on an open ocean until the advent of the light of day," (the Colonel's words, not mine, as reported in the Skibbereen Eagle on the 10th April 1897.)

The first public meeting of the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board was held on October 5th 1896 and the light itself was established on or around 12th April, the following year, probably some sort of record for Irish Lights. Unusually (well, this is the first time I have come across this) the light would only be lit during the fishing season, 12th April to 24th November and not 365 days a year. Not being of the fishing persuasion, I didn't in fact realise that there was a fishing season.

Subscriptions were raised from a variety of local and not-so-local companies, such  as Cork Distillers, Bennett & Co, Clonakilty, and Belfast Ropeworks. A committee was set up to appoint a lightkeeper and Richard White was selected from a list of six candidates, apparently a popular choice with the local fishermen. He was a farmer in Carriglusky, and his farmstead lay around a mile from Grohogue Point.

Richard White born 1862, the only keeper of the Glandore lighthouse, wearing the jersey of the local Kilmacabea G.A.A. Club. He married Mary Keohane from Barley Hill in February 1896 and had a large family, most of whom were girls. He was a farmer and a fisherman, as well as a lightkeeper, and was a fluent Irish speaker too.

Patrick Hurley who is a great-grandson of Richard says that the family story is that the Townshend family of Castletownshend paid for the lighthouse and Trinity House, presumably through Irish Lights, paid the keeper's wages. I'm assuming they supplied the light too. 

The Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board seem to have met annually thereafter, usually in December. The proceedings, faithfully reported in the Skibbereen Eagle and the Southern Star, normally consisted of the Chairman reporting on a highly successful lighting season and what a great boon to the the local fishing fleet the lighthouse was. The fishermen, he said, recognised the value of the lighthouse and were generous in their voluntary donations to the lighthouse fund.

Slowly over time, the message changed slightly. It was still a great light, sure, one of the best on the coast of Ireland (which may have been stretching things a bit) but the voluntary subscriptions were not being paid as they had been. True, the fishing season had been bad and hardship had been encountered but a 10 shilling contribution for a whole year's fishing was a pittance that could be afforded by so many.

In 1899, for example, the Chairman reported that they had been hoping to extend the light further into the winter season but the funds did not quite stretch that far. However, he was sure the fishermen would rally round to ensure this happened.

View from Grohogue Point looking out to Adam's Island. At one time, a wooden boxlike structure would have obscured the view.

In 1907, it was announced that the Autumn fishing season would run from 1st September to 31st January every year and the light was to be improved, even though fishermen had reported being able to see it from 12 miles away. This was probably to include the red sector as per the British Pilot description. Gales in December 1910 might well have decimated the Kinsale fishing fleet but for the Glandore Harbour light, which led them to safe waters. The following year, it was proposed that the 'temporary' wooden structure would hopefully be replaced by a more solid stone building.

At the December 1912 meeting, it was reported that, despite the greatness of the light, not one fisherman or boat owner had paid their paltry 10s voluntary contribution for that year and they had no powers to enforce the payment. The Chairman appealed to all and sundry to please help to maintain the light as the large catches of mackerel were down in no small part to the wonderful lighthouse. 

An identical address was made in March 1913 almost pleading with the fishing community to support the light. And then - nothing. That is the last mention I could find in the papers of the Glandore Harbour Lighthouse Board. It is presumed that the wooden structure succumbed to one storm too many and there was no will in the community to replace it. As mentioned, a description of this light appeared in the British Pilot in 1917 but that could well have been a copy and paste job from the previous edition.

So what kind of a light was it. Well, thanks to Patrick Hurley, we actually have the plans which are apparently on display in Casey's pub in Glandore, which seems like a good excuse to visit. The brass lamps, according to one source, used paraffin and the object beneath the lantern, I am reliably informed, is not a honey pot with a drizzle stick, as much as I would like that to be the case. Patrick's sister is also fairly sure that their grandmother, Mary Ann (Molly) - one of Richard's children - told her that there was a hammock in the hut.

Plans of the Glandore Harbour lighthouse. It seems to show a square wooden structure with a long bench, nearly seven feet long, that would obviously serve as a bed. 

Richard Cummins, former lightkeeper, suggested this Italian lighthouse as a similarly shaped replica of the Glandore light

Thirty years ago, Patrick Hurley took a trip down to Grohogue Point, wondering if there was any evidence of there having ever been a light there. It was probably a good eighty years since it has succumbed to the gale that killed it. Incredibly, he found not one but two indications of the light, so I'm assuming Grohogue Point is not  a huge tourist attraction.
The first of these were the four concrete foundations that would have anchored down the wooden struts

That might have been expected but, lying in the grass nearby was a part of a Fresnel lens, probably the middle section! Amazing to think it lay there undisturbed for eighty years. Not being a scientific sort of person, I sent the photo to Richard and he confirmed that it formed part of a lens, possibly a 6th order Fresnel lens , which indicates it was a genuine bona fide lighthouse in the day. Apparently the family used to have the lantern from the lighthouse  but somebody stole it. What a memento that would have been.

And so, the research into this short-lived, long-forgotten lighthouse goes on. Maybe Irish Lights will have further information when their cataloguing of their archives is complete.

My sincere thanks to Patrick Hurley and Richard Cummins for their help in preparing this post and also to the admins of the 'Leap, Glandore and Union Hall, the World' Facebook page for facilitating my request for information.


  1. Facinating as usual Pete, and what great research too.

  2. What a great story. You uncovered an amazing amount of information.

  3. A lighthouse for Castlehaven harbour was molten in 1893 according to the Congested Districts Board of 1893.