Monday, February 21, 2022

Youghal listen up, ya hear?

Once upon a time, whenever I travelled down to Cork, I would invariably head west when I hit the Dunkettle roundabout, heading for the beautiful grandeur of the Sheep's Head or Mizen peninsulas. It is only through my lighthouse interest that I have ever ventured into East Cork to see the pharological specimens at Roches Point, Poer Head, Youghal and Ballycotton. People sometimes ask me why I love lighthouses and the answer I usually give is that it gets me off the beaten track to wonderful places I would otherwise have never visited. 
It is actually thirteen years since I visited the lighthouse at Youghal, which is quite criminal for someone whose hobby borders on the obsessional. (And, at the risk of boring my Irish readers to tears, any mention of this place must include the explanation for non-natives that the town is pronounced Yawl, as in the boat. Hence the poor attempt at a pun in the title.)

A few years ago, I wrote about the old lighthouse at Youghal which rivals Hook for pedigree and was kept for centuries by the nuns of St. Annes. (I bet the nuns and the monks of Hook had deathly boring arguments at ecclesiastical conferences about the merits of their respective lighthouses) When the ruins of this ancient light were knocked down in the early 1850s, such was the positioning of the tower that it was decided to build the new lighthouse at practically the exact same spot. Being a coastal, harbour light, situated in the middle of a small town, it doesn't really have an exotic, romantic past, with the lightkeeper left alone with the elements and his solitude. Its actually  my kind of light - one where you could nip down for a pint whenever you wanted.

Since I was down there last, though, there have been two developments that have put this often overlooked light on the tourist map.
The first is the renovation of the old lightkeeper's cottage, which reached the final of the Home of the Year competition in 2020. Completely revamped inside by local lass, Saoirse Fitzgerald, it was many people's choice to be the outright winner of the competition but got pipped at the post by a Dublin attic. The airy lightness of the rooms allied to the stupendous views have turned it into a much sought after, albeit quite expensive (for me, anyway), Airbnb. When you think of the number of lightkeepers' cottages lying roofless and derelict around our coasts, any preservation of our lightkeeping heritage must be applauded.

Secondly, there is an initiative by Cork County Council, who took over the lighthouse in 2014, to develop the tourist potential of the site. According to an article in the Examiner in 2021 (and thanks to Andrew Doherty for drawing my attention to it) works are expected to include the construction of a viewing balcony in front of the lighthouse allowing for panoramic views of the harbour, the creation a ‘courtyard’ around the lighthouse and the inclusion of interpretive storyboards on the site. Of course, I'd push for a guided tour of the tower and balcony myself but then, I often want more than I can have! At least the Council recognise the heritage of the lighthouse. I doubt it will make people come to Youghal but it will be something for them to do when they're here.

I came across this poem in the Irish Examiner of March 23rd 1901. I'm a bit OCD so I'm not mad about the half-rhymes and the questionable rhythm but I like what she was trying to do. It's called The Lighthouse at Youghal by Katherine Tynan: -

At Youghal by the sea,
    The lighthouse lights the dark;
    Streaming through rain and murk
Over the angry sea.

The Atlantic breakers roar
    With curled crests, like a bull;
    Or the long rollers roll,
Slapping the doomed shore.

Here, in the long ago,
    The white nuns kept the light;
    Climbing the stairs by night
To set its star aglow.

And many an old sea king,
    Tracking upon the sea,
    His enemy's argosy
Hath marked, uncovering.

And bid his anger cease,
    And let his enemy sail
    Under the radiance pale
Into the harbour's peace.

At Youghal by the Sea,
    No more the white nuns are
    Keepers of the star
That lights the perilous sea.

But still, through scud and foam,
    And over the shrieking gull,
    Tjhe light streams yellow and full,
Crying, "Come home, come home!"

O but the call is plain
    For many a mariner,
    Far from the home, and her
Who sets a light i' the pane.

This will spent sailors sight,
    Scourged with relentless seas,
    Praise God for lighthouses
And sing a song in the night.

And when their sails of snow
    Drop o'er the round world's rim,
    They watch, with eyes grown dim,
The lighthouse last to go.

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