Thursday, July 28, 2022

The MV Valonia

This, sadly, is the best picture I could come up with (from one of the early Beam magazines) of the MV Valonia, which served in Irish Lights from 1950. This diesel-engined motor vessel was purchased from Trinity House as a replacement for the Nabro, which had served as relief vessel for lighthouses on the Cork and Kerry coasts. Captain J. Oscar O'Hehir, formally Captain of the Granuaile  (the first one), was chosen to be her first skipper. 

Other skippers during her ten-year tenure included Captain J. Coma, Captain Dermot E. Cormack, tragically drowned at Castletownbere in 1954, the exotically-named Captain Plato Harrison and Captain Herbert Greenlee.

Four years before the Valonia was sold to David MacBrayne, the Hebridean ferry company, a mysterious incident occurred on board the vessel, in September 1958. The story was related in the Irish Lights staff magazine, date unknown. The first nine words of the report, in particular, made my hair stand on end.

I am still trying to figure out how the captain signed himself, "the late Plato Harrison"

Irish Examiner June 29th 1960

The following potted history of the Valonia can be found on the Ships of Caledonian MacBrayne website, written by John MacLeod

Almost the last and most desperate of the ad hoc wooden wonders acquired second-hand by David MacBrayne Ltd. began her career as VALONIA, in 1947. Built as a pilot cutter in the English Channel for the Corporation of Trinity House, London, Valonia served largely around the Isle of Wight and, as Channel traffic grew, became too small. She was in 1951 sold to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, Dublin, who deployed her on similar duties and, in 1961, sold her again to MacBraynes.

The Company had the little ship refitted by Timbacraft Ltd. of Shandon for the passenger, mail and light cargo service from Portree to Raasay and Kyle. (On delivery they quickly abandoned thoughts of deploying her on the Small Isles run, for which she was not really suitable.) LOCH EYNORT, as she was renamed, entered service in 1962 and, free of the burden of runs to Mallaig, was able to offer morning cruises from Kyle.

In fact, LOCH EYNORT did very little for the Company in the decade as a unit of the fleet. In the summer of 1965 she did not sail at all – apart from a brief period on relief duty – and spent most of the time on the Gareloch. Plans were prepared for major reconstruction of her passenger accommodation, but never carried out. In early 1970, while CLANSMAN was absent on CSP charter to the Firth of Clyde, LOCH EYNORT was used to provide a basic Mallaig-Armadale service, with LOCH SEAFIORTH giving one supporting run daily with vehicles. She also tendered to KING GEORGE V when that proud ship visited Mallaig, on HIDB charter, on 22nd May.

By the end of November 1970 LOCH EYNORT was again laid up at Shandon, like a useless summer butterfly, and scarcely sailed again for MacBraynes. She was sold in October 1971 to Francis Kirk of Newbury, Berkshire – later Brixham – for use in film work and as a private yacht, named SKELLIG.

At Oban

At Armadale

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Scotchport, county Mayo

The lighthouse tender Rose in the storehouse at Scotchport (courtesy Sean Walker)

Scotchport, on the Mullet peninsula in county Mayo, is kind of off the beaten track. It is also off the unbeaten track. There is so little there that it doesn't even appear on Google maps. Well, it does, but under the name "Wavesweeper Sea Adventures," which may well be the Irish for Scotchport but is more likely the coastal location for a family tourism enterprise based in Belmullet.
It isn't really a place that you would pass by accident. Coming from Belmullet, you go through the village of Corclough West and continue until you hit the coast. The road to your right leads to Dún na mBó (where there is a blowhole) and the Eagle Island viewing point. The road to the left passes Scotchport and curls back around to Termoncarragh Bird Reserve and graveyard, which, if either was your destination, would have been more easily accessible from Corclough West.

The road to Scotchport

Scotchport is a small bay with an island partially blocking its entrance. This island protects the bay but it also means that, even on a relatively calm day, the narrow inlets either side of the island are transformed into a frothing mass of turbulent white water, angry at the obstruction. On the stony beach facing it, there is a boat hut, two small plaques, an upturned currach and a rusty winch. "Nothing to see here. Move on," they seems to say.

Last edition OS map showing the bay at Scotchport with the Storehouse. Eagle Island is two miles further north.

But, on this desolate, windswept spot, there is a story to tell. It is the story of a band of men who, over a period of 130 years braved some of the roughest seas in the world in tiny boats. The first line of the larger plaque reads:-

"Dear Lord
Be good to me.
The sea is so wide
And my boat is so small"

This is a prayer which must have often been in the minds of the men whose names are inscribed on the plaque. There were longer journeys undertaken by rowers to service lighthouses around our coasts but few as fearsome as this two-mile trek. The proximity of Eagle Island to the join of the European and American continental shelves means that the sudden shallowing of the seabed forces the ocean upwards into towering waves. One of the two lighthouses on the island, 200 feet above sea level, was completely destroyed by a storm in December 1894 and, viewed from the mainland, it is one of the best places to get storm photographs today.
The plaque continues

"In memory of the Crewmembers
Who rowed the "Rose" and
The "St. Mary" to and from
Scotchport and Eagle Island."

followed by the names of twenty-six brave souls, for whom the terrifying journey to and from the island, with both men and provisions, was a regular occurrence.

James Donoghue                                        Harry Williams
Martin Donoghue                                       Pete Williams
Anthony Gallagher                                     Patsy Kilker
John Gallagher                                           Tom Keane
Martin Gallagher                                        John Keane
Anthony Gallager                                       Johnny McAndrew
Mickey Dixon                                             Martin McAndrew
Jamesey Dixon                                            John McAndrew
John Dixon                                                  Paddy Tom Carey
Anthony Dixon                                           John Reilly
Martin Rua Dixon                                       Pake McIntyre
Anthony Rua Dixon                                    Mike Gaughan
Seamus Mor Shevlin                                   Anthony Gallagher

Ar dheis De go raibh ma agus
Solas siorai do n-anamacha"

The two plaques (unknown source)

As can be seen, many of the surnames are the same, fathers, sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles. It was the same at Slyne Head and Dursey Sound and, I suspect, with most lighthouse reliefs. 
Eamon McAndrew is the grandson of John Gallagher, one of the last owners of the tender and he very kindly gave me a copy of the biography of the boats, which is so concise and precise that I reproduce it here verbatim: -

The original boat contractor for Eagle Island lighthouses was Martin Donoghue of Termoncarragh. (The two lights on Eagle Island, incidentally, were established in 1835 and Scotchport appears to have been selected as the point of embarkation for the relief boat since that date)

The contract required trips to the rock every two weeks, weather permitting, plus a trip on the next suitable day. The boat often went out when conditions were unsuitable and occasionally was unable to re-enter Scotchport.

The Irish Light’s boat contractor’s responsibility included bringing lighthouse keepers’ food and materials from Belmullet to Scotchport and bringing those items by boat to Eagle Island West Lighthouse.

Eventually, men and materials were lifted onto the island by means of a hoist using a boatswain’s chair to lift people, and nets for materials, which made the operation easier and much safer.

Calm day at Scotchport

When Martin Donoghue got killed in an accident involving a horse and cart at the crossroads in Corclough West, the Commissioners of the Irish Lights continued the contract with Martin’s grandson Anthony Gallagher of Corclough West – although Anthony was only fourteen years of age at the time. Anthony was required to travel to CIL head office to sign the contract. (This would have been around the 1860s)

Anthony Gallagher remained the boat contractor until his son John Gallagher took over upon Anthony’s death in 1926. Anthony had been a lynchpin in many of the major events in the life of the lighthouse including landing on the rock two days after the storm of December 1894 when Eagle Island East was destroyed and later abandoned. This was the catalyst for the keepers' families being evacuated to the mainland and later housed in Corclough West. The last boat built for Anthony Gallagher was the 'Rose of Scotchport’.

The Rose at Scotchport c.1915 (courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

John Gallagher had the ‘Queen of Scotchport’ built in the late 1920s for the relief contract. The ‘Queen’ was destroyed on rocks in rough seas at Bun na Sconsa, west of Gladree, (the rocks visible to the North of the Mayo County Council car park) when it broke free from her moorings. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. If seas were too rough to re-enter Scotchport, the boat would head North to Och Lathaigh, Aughadoon to make land. 

The Queen of Scotchport arriving at the island in 1932 (courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

As a result of the destruction of the 'Queen’, John had the ‘Saint Mary’ built by Mr. Patten of Saula, Achill Island in 1936. The cost of the boat was £300. Some of the timber used in the construction of these boat would have come ashore, which has probably led to the boat’s longevity. The design of the boat is based on the traditional Achill yawl. The boat was originally designed to be rowed by means of oars by four men. Two others completed a six-man crew.

The St. Mary at Eagle Island in the late 1930s (courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

John Gallagher died suddenly in 1951, (his death certificate gives his occupation as 'boatman' ) following which his widow – Mrs. Nora Gallagher became the boat contractor until the helicopter service commenced in 1969. John and Nora’s son Anthony remained involved in the operation of the boat, while their son John Patrick joined the lighthouse service. In the 1950s a seagull outboard engine replaced the oars.

The St. Mary in the late fifties (courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

Occasionally the ‘Rose’ was brought back into operation when the ’Saint Mary’ was being repaired, until the ‘Rose’ was left permanently in the store.

Shortly after the boat relief was replaced by the helicopter service, the 'Saint Mary' ceased to be used and was stored in the Irish light’s store in Scotchport. In 2009, it was returned to the Patten family of Achill for renovation and is now occasionally used for deep sea angling - but only in fine weather.

The St. Mary at Scotchport in the late sixties, just prior to the helicopter service being introduced (courtesy Eamon McAndrew)

For me, there are two things that seem incredible about that story, apart from the fact that perfectly sensible men were willing to brave the wild Atlantic in such small boats. The first is that the 'Rose' survives. Her exact date of birth is unknown but it must be well over 100 years old and a wonderful piece of our maritime heritage. Its preservation must lie mainly in the fact that it lay practically untouched in the watertight Irish Lights boathouse at Scotchport since 1930. In more recent times though, a local adventure sports group managed to obtain a key to the boathouse and started leaving the door open  and hanging wetsuits over the side of the boat. Thankfully, local man, Sean Walker - whose family are real men and women of the sea - organised the restoration of the boat by sending it to Achill in October 2021 before the deterioration became irreversible. It is hoped to put the Rose on display somewhere in the future.
The second thing that I find amazing is that an outboard engine was only introduced as late as the 1950s. Prior to that, the six man crew used to have to negotiate the heavy swells by oar-power alone. It just leaves me in awe of these incredible men, well-deserving of the plaque on the stony beach. 

The Rose after refit at Achill (courtesy Sean Walker)

The storehouse on the beach appears to have stood since 1892, when its construction was put out to tender by Irish Lights. The notice to builders mentions the construction of a New Storehouse which gives the impression that there was an old storehouse but this is not mentioned on the First Edition OS map. The lights on Eagle Island were established on 29th September 1835 and Scotchport was mentioned by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as being the nearest port to the island, so it is fair to assume that the relief boats had always left from here, making some kind of boathouse or hut likely in the early years.

Seaward-facing side

Landward-facing gable

The storehouse itself is an incredibly beautiful stone building with red window surrounds and was obviously built by master craftsmen, having stood watertight for 130 years. One is fearful that Irish Lights, not having any further use for it, might sell it or knock it or simply allow it to decay, which would be a terrible shame.

The rusty winch at Scotchport, which was used for hauling the boats in and out of the water. The stony beach is difficult to walk on, let alone haul a heavily laden boat in and out of the water, so the winch was a necessity

The second plaque on the beach remembers a drowning tragedy in which two local men lost their lives in 1911. 

Charles Williams was 32, unmarried and a local farmer's son. Martin Gallagher was 23 and the son of the Anthony Gallagher, the boat contractor. They had been mackerel fishing in a dodgy currach and it capsized. Both men were strong swimmers but the habit of tying the fishing lines to their legs was their undoing. Details of the previous act of heroism by Charles Williams is detailed below.

Newspaper clipping from The Connaught Telegraph 9th September 1905

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Haulbowline lighthouse - what a cracker!

Haulbowline lighthouse (photographs by Jane Rankin)

My son, when he was a young boy, used to say things like "Imagine if that bridge fell down" while we were going under it, or "Imagine if that tower block fell down" as we were driving by. (I'm assuming he doesn't still say it but I may be wrong)
Looking at the beautiful Jane Rankin pictures on this page of Haulbowline lighthouse at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, I can't help thinking, "Imagine if that lantern fell down." It would certainly take the look off it.

Of course, lighthouse lanterns are not in the habit of falling into the sea, so such a scenario is extremely unlikely. Or is it?
Fellow lighthouse enthusiast Lee Maginnis lives nearby and has a great affinity for this particular lighthouse. He recently noticed that, just below the lantern, a large crack has started to appear in the stonework. (It is more noticeable in the photograph below where it is front on) God bless his eyesight.
Seeing as those lanterns weigh a ton (well, a lot of tons actually) and not wishing to see his favourite tower running around like a headless chicken, he has contacted Irish Lights, just on the off chance that it might be something serious.
Irish Lights have replied with thanks and are going to send up a drone to have a look.

Haulbowline actually always puts me in mind of a kangaroo, with its little half-light in a pouch in its belly (photograph Jane Rankin)

 A drone's eye view of the lighthouse (not Jane Rankin) Notice the mountains behind sweeping down to the sea.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Ross Coastguard Station, Killala Bay


This is Ross Coastguard Station situated on a wonderfully elevated site overlooking the approaches to Killala in north Mayo. The photograph comes from the Wynne collection in the NLI, who estimate the date as around 1880. Wynne himself died in 1893.
The station was built in 1864 but seems to have replaced an older station a short distance away. With many islands at the entrance to Killala, it was an ideal spot for the coastguards to set up shop and keep an eye on the local trade.

Killala Bay with the CGS roughly in the middle

1st edition OS map, showing the original angular coastguard station on the western side of the peninsula. When the new station was built in 1864, it moved to the eastern side of the peninsula and was a lot rectangularer, which is my first ever use of that rather unpronounceable word.

The station was either designed by, or the design was approved by, a guy called Enoch Trevor Owen, Assistant Architect to the Board of Public Works. The plans below are on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage site.

If anyone has read this far, they might idly be wondering why I am digressing into the area of coastguard stations. Or maybe they are wondering what they are having for dinner.
Well, apparently, a small fixed red light was exhibited from the window of the watchtower. The northern end of the sector, says the British Pilot; Sailing Directions for Ireland 1917,  "leads about four hundred yards southeastwards of the perch on St. Patrick's Rocks and the southern limit leads a little southward of Killala Bar Buoy."
It seems that the light was established in 1878 and the "character and type of illuminating apparatus" is given as "C..........." whatever that means.
The year of the demise of the coastguard station is unknown but it was probably around the time of the War of Independence. Coastguards at isolated stations were generally seen as working for the British Empire and were thus extremely vulnerable to guerilla attacks. Many stations got burnt down at this time and there may have been a residual element of local resentment at the coastguards' interference in 'a bit of harmless smuggling' in their being a target.
Ross Coastguard Station is probably not a lighthouse in so far as the building was not purpose-built, but rather simply had a light incorporated into an existing building. But I am assuming somebody had to 'keep' the light shining between 1878 and 1920. So, a list of potential keepers on the 1901 Census, includes

William R. Walker, 45 - Chief Boatman
George Campbell, 32
Thomas Horrabin, 36
Philip Kent, 35
William Gray, 37
Frank Bird, 43 - Commissioned Boatman

In 1911 the census shows

William Saunders, 39
John Jones, 40
Charles Fassam, 35
John Bullen, 45
Benjamin Perry, 38
George Brint, 44

All the above were married men with families and were born in England. I heard it tell that Irish coastguards were generally stationed in England and vice-versa, ostensibly to lessen the chance of collusion with smugglers.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Lighthouse Tavern Inver, co. Mayo


It has been a good while since we were able to have a pint in a 'Lighthouse' pub. On one of the few nice days we had on our recent visit to the area, we just happened to chance upon this large and spacious and practically empty pub in the village of Inver, across Broadhaven Bbay from Ballyglass lighthouse, which isn't visible from the pub. At the risk of sounding like the Pub Spy guy I remember from the Sunday World forty years ago, it was a lovely creamy pint and a very affable and friendly barman who served it.

Other lighthouse pubs to be found on this site include

Bull Rock

I would also swear that I had posted up a picture of lighthouse pubs at Howth and Loop Head but do you think I can find them?

There is also Lavelle's Eagle Bar at Corclough on the Mullet penisula. Doesn't have 'Lighthouse' in the name, but obviously called after nearby Eagle Island, on which the only buildings are the two lighthouses.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse (2)


So there we were, sitting in Teach John Joe's in Eachleim near the foot of the Mullet peninsula, enjoying the midsummer fire and the creamy pints, when the proprietor, who we shall call John (because that's his name), an avid golfer, got a call inviting him to play a round of golf at the world-famous Old Head of Kinsale golf course. 
He was unsure what to do. His clubs were up the road at Carne, the weather forecast was not promising and it would mean getting up at silly o'clock for the five-hour drive down the N17 with its unique stone walls and green grass.
On the other hand, such an opportunity doesn't cross a golfer's path every day and in no time at all, he had left one of the locals in charge of pouring the pints and was haring up the road for his clubs.
"Tell you what you can do for me," I said, when he arrived back, and explained to him about the old lighthouse and its inaccessibility to non-golfers. I had some previous photos of the really old 1667 brazier burning lighthouse but nothing of the comparatively short-lived (1814 - 1854) tower lighthouse. John was more than agreeable, though I doubted that the torrential rain forecast would help the quality of the photographs.
But, as you can see, he came up trumps and two nights later, two elderly men were hunched over the bar trying to transfer one set of photos from one phone to the other!

The original coal-burning lighthouse continued on and off until 1st January 1804, when a temporary lantern was erected. It ran on 12 oil lamps and reflectors and showed a steady light, rather than "flash and disappear like the Light from Coals." 
Then in 1814, the Ballast Board established a stone lighthouse with a traditional tower, at a cost of £9,459 4s 9d not far from the cottage lighthouse, naturally with the oil lamps. To quote the Irish Lights website, "Its design was similar to the new lighthouse under construction at Baily, Howth Head, that is a forty two foot (12.8m) high tower with a concentric Keepers' dwelling around its base. The new lighthouse was designed by the Inspector and built by the Board's tradesmen at a cost of almost £9,500. The fixed white light was established at a height of 294 feet (89.6m) above high water on 16 May 1814. The light comprised twenty seven Argand oil lamps each with its own parabolic reflector and in clear weather it could be seen at a distance of 23 miles (37.0km). The tower and outer wall of the dwelling were whitewashed, thus making the station conspicuous during daytime."

And there she remained for less than forty years. Not only was she built too high on the headland but she was a good half a mile from the tip of the headland and visibility was a big factor in the calls for her replacement. On 1st October 1853, the current lighthouse was established and the tower of the 1814 light dismantled. 
In the writing of this post, it occurred to me that I don't actually have a drawing or a painting of the 1814 lighthouse. Surely there must be one around somewhere.
Meanwhile, John had very kindly taken some photos of the current lighthouse from his unique position on the golf course.

Historic photographs c. 1905-6 in the National Library. The stripes were originally red.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Wyse Point, Dungarvan, Waterford


The above photograph was sent to me by Andrew Doherty, of Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales fame, and evoked a very strange sense of Deja-vu in me. I probably haven't thought about it in over 55 years but when I was very small, there was an object very like it in our house. I think it was black and the top unscrewed and then one of the adults did something and there was a smell of paraffin and the top was screwed on again and we had a light. Why we had it, I don't know, nor what became of it. As I said, I've never thought about it until now.

The lamp and the plaque above are on the wall of the sailing club in Dungarvan. As it says, it was exhibited at Wyse Point, one of two white leading lights there. From the British Islands Pilot Guide 1917, it seems that these fixed lights led ships through the channel from the Pool. Then two fixed red lights led up to the green light on the bridge at Dungarvan. I'm hopeful this will mean something to somebody.
Lamplighters were employed in all major (and indeed minor) harbours to go out every evening and light these lamps. They were normally local fishermen, eager to supplement their earnings with the pittance the Harbour Board paid. Where the lamps were on land, such as at Wyse Point, it wasn't so bad, but in places like Dundalk, Drogheda and Limerick, where boats were required, it was a thankless and dangerous job.

Of course, any post mentioning Dungarvan is legally obliged to contain gratuitous pictures of the small but perfectly formed lighthouse at Ballinacourty Point. Above from 1906, part of the CIL collection in the National Library. Below from 2008, part of the Goulding collection on my hard drive.