Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Mullaghmore lighthouse - was it ever built?


The above Failte Ireland photograph shows Mullaghmore Harbour in north county Sligo, a beautiful and peaceful spot very unfairly known to most people as the place where the IRA blew up Mountbatten's boat in 1979, killing Mountbatten and two children. I was only ever there the once when our own children were small and we spent a glorious. afternoon on the long, sandy, practically empty beach. It is apparently a favourite beach for surfers also, though I don't recall them at the time of our visit.

Photo from buildingsofireland.ie

There is no lighthouse at Mullaghmore, unless it is one only visible to members of the wizarding community, of which I am not a member. The pier, most sources say, was built between 1820 and 1840 by the local landowner, Lord Palmerston, an absentee landlord who later became Prime Minister of Great Britain twice. Evidently he was not well loved by his tenantry, though I doubt he lost a lot of sleep about it. Many of the local population were forced to flee to America on the coffin ships during the famine, the state of them, half-naked and diseased, on arrival, prompting the Canadian authorities to write a scathing letter of condemnation to his lordship. Our old friend, Alexander Nimmo was the harbour's architect.

Photo from buildingsofireland.ie

Anyhow, I came across a file (CSO/RP/1828/1449)in the National Archives in Dublin recently, containing two letters. The first is basically a forwarding letter from the Ballast Office, advising His Royal Wonderfulness that his application to build a lighthouse on his newly-erected pier had been accepted:

Ballast Office, Dublin
20th September 1828

 My Lords,

 I have the honour by direction of the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin to transmit to you for the Information of His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant, Copy of a Letter received from the Elder Brethren of Trinity House London sanctioning Lord Palmerston to erect a Light House on the new pier lately built by His Lordship at Mulloghmore (sic) Harbour in the County of Sligo, which you will please to submit for the concurrence of His Excellency.

I have the honour to be, My Lords, your very humble servant,

                                                          John Cossart, Secretary

Photo from marinas.com

The second letter in the file is the letter of sanction from the Elder Brethren in London referred to in Cossart's letter:

Trinity House, London
5th September 1828
I have to acknowledge receipt of your Letter of the 25th Ultimo transmitting by direction of the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin, Copy of a Letter received from the Agents of Lord Palmerston, applying for permission for His Lordship to erect a Light House on the new pier lately built at Mulloghmore Harbour (more sic) in the County of Sligo on the Coast between Sligo and Donegal Bay, together with a Copy of the Inspector of Light Houses report on the subject and signifying the request of the Corporation that the same may be submitted for the Consideration and Concurrence of the Elder Brethren.
And having accordingly submitted the same to them, I have it in command to acquaint you for the Information of the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin that the Elder Brethren have no objections to offer to the erection of a Light House in the situation before mentioned, provided in the Exhibition of the Light the precautions so properly suggested in the report of Mr. Halpin the Inspector of Light Houses be carefully observed.
And as it appears the Harbour of Mulloghmore (yet more sic) is very small and dry at Low Water that, as a further necessary precaution, the Light be shewn as a tidal light and not exhibited except at those times of Tide during which there is a sufficient depth of Water to permit the safe approach and entry of Vessels of such draught as those which are accustomed to use the Harbour.
I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient servant,
                                                          J. Herbert

The above letter could of course been abridged to "Got your letter. The boys say yes. Oh, and its a tide light," but of course public bodies would never use one word where fifteen would suffice, hence the garbage.
Sadly, there is no further correspondence and I can find nothing to suggest the sanctioned lighthouse was ever built. I can find no reference to it, nor does it appear on the Ordnance Survey First or Last Editions. Was it ever built? 
It is interesting to think that permission was required from London to erect a small light at the end of a small pier. Maybe they were worried it would confuse shipping, though the nearest light at that juncture would have been Clare Island to the south and Arranmore to the north. 
A little further north in Bruckless, near Killybegs, a guy erected his own light to guide boats into the little harbour there in 1822, though nothing more was ever heard of it. I wonder if the Elder Brethren came wandering over the headland there, waving their sticks shakily in the air and demanding removal of his unsanctioned monstrosity?

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The case of the disappearing lightship


This is the Irish lightship Guillemot, built in 1923 in its pride of place in the harbour at Kilmore Quay. This photo taken from Google Street View.

Now watch what happens on Street View when you move ten yards down the road towards the junction: -

The lightship has mysteriously turned into a set of picnic tables. Excellent recycling but how on earth did they do that? David Blaine? A hole in the space / time continuum? Is it done with mirrors?

I need a pint.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The case of the Slyne Head photograph


(Photograph copyright Pauline Mickelsen)

"What do you make of this photograph, Watson?" asked Holmes suddenly, thrusting the sepia rectangle into his friend's hand. As Holmes paced nervously around the study playing Whoa-oh-Black Betty on his Stradivarius, Watson turned the picture over, turned it back again, drew out a magnifying glass, examined the picture and handed it back.

"Says 1905 on the back, Sherlock," he murmured. "Bunch of guys on a rock by the sea in 1905. Oh and there's a small boat too. Is that singular?"

"Well, it's sure as shit not plural, Watson," replied the other, with a deprecating stare. "Is that all you could come up with?"

"One of them seems to have a stomach ache as though something's lodged in his - what's that canal that runs from your throat to your arse?"

"Alimentary, my dear Watson. Are you sure you're a doctor?"

"Well, what do you make of it, clever-clogs?" retorted the good doctor, slightly miffed.

Holmes threw his priceless violin out of the window and sat down on the chaise-longue.

"There is writing in the bottom left hand corner," he said at last, retrieving the magnifying glass from Watson's ear. "It says Slyne Head."

"Where on earth..."

"Slyne Head marks the northerly entrance to Galway Bay in Ireland, Watson. Two lighthouses were established there in 1836. One was discontinued in 1898. The three lightkeepers are the only inhabitants of the island. Yet, I see there are twelve people at least present here..."

"I only saw eleven, Holmes."

"Somebody took the photograph, my slow-witted friend. Twelve people. I am guessing that three, maybe four of them are lightkeepers. And by their dress and their demeanour, I imagine the three men in the boat and the one climbing the steps are the relief boatmen."

"None of them are wearing a dress, Holmes."

"One of the boatmen must be a King," snapped Holmes, ignoring him completely.

"But ,,"

"Not an actual king, you fool. Kings didn't row relief boats, not even as a hobby. No, the King family had the tender for the Slyne Head lifeboats for over 130 years. They will only give it up when the helicopter is invented."


"Now, the two men on the landing quay on the right are wearing keepers' caps, as is the man second from the left. I suspect that these three are the keepers, One of them may even be Lionel Edward Mentary."

"Good Lord, Holmes. How do you figure that?"

"L. E. Mentary, my dear Watson. Of course it might not be him. Some of them might be Gregorys, as the lady who gave me this photograph has ancestors who were named Gregory and were lightkeepers. A George Gregory was the elderly keeper at the Baily the night that Queen Victoria sank in 1853..."

"Queen Victoria?"

"The ship, Watson. Try and keep up. And Edward Gregory was the keeper who fell ill on Slyne Head in 1859, ultimately resulting in the strange demise of relief keeper John Doyle. Possibly poisoned by his wife Anne Gregory."

"Oh, I remember. You never solved that one, did you, Holmes?"

"Maybe they had sons who became keepers?" mused Holmes tetchily. "It was the done thing in those days."

"But who are the other men in the casual headgear?" asked Watson. "And why does the man by the winch have no head?"

In response, Holmes strode to his library and pulled out a large tome. He flipped through a few pages. "I knew it, Watson!" he exclaimed in triumph. "1905. Tour of Inspection by the Irish Lights Board. Here's a photograph from 1905 of the Inspecting Committee looking at the new houses for the keepers being built in Clifden, courtesy of the National Library. Note the number of flat caps in the party. Now look at the first photograph."

"Good Lord, Holmes," gasped Watson. "At least two of them are wearing flat caps!"

"And I suspect the man who took this photograph was the eminent scientist and photographer Robert Ball," shouted Holmes. In triumph, he reached down to the open valise lying on the floor and snapped it shut. "The case is closed!" he declared.


"Oh, okay, put it up on your damned social media, if you like. See if anybody else can add anything, names of the keepers or the boatmen, or even general information about the Slyne Head relief boat."

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Balbriggan lighthouse, county Dublin

I have no qualms about featuring Balbriggan lighthouse again. The sea lights, run by Irish lights, garner a lot of publicity (and rightly so) but the smaller harbour lights only really generate local interest. Balbriggan was once employed by Irish Lights but, on the introduction of Rockabill to the workforce in the 1860s, was tactfully informed that her job was no longer available but there was a position going as a harbour light, might suit a retired lighthouse.
It is of course the second or third oldest working light on our coasts (after Hook Head and Poolbeg, though the latter was much altered in 1820) after being established in 1769, making it over a quarter of a millennium old, another reason to garner more kudos than it does. 

Photograph by Eoghan Brady

Many lighthouse enthusiasts will know of a book called "Bright Lights, White Water" by Bill Long published in 1993. For many years, it was my lighthouse bible and it still is in many ways, a mixture of lighthouse history and anecdotes from the lights. Over time, I have come to realise - as one Irish Lights person once told me - that the book is riddled with errors, small and large, though I still find it eminently readable and great fun.
Anyhow, in the section on Balbriggan, Bill makes the statement that this lighthouse was the only one operated by a man of the cloth. The Rev. George Hamilton kept the light for almost 50 years, he says, and in 1820, moderations to the building were carried out based on George's experiences.
Now, I've never come across an Irish lighthouse themed pub quiz but if you are ever asked who was the only lightkeeper who was a clergyman, I give you grounds for challenging the answer of 'Balbriggan.' As local people know, the Hamilton family bought Balbriggan in the early 1700s, handing it down through the generations. The third generation was George Hamilton, who, aside from his duties as a baron and landowner, was also an MP and a clergyman. He built the pier in the 1760s and the lighthouse at the end of it and, I am led to believe, did a lot of good things for the town, though I'm sure all the improvements helped boost his own coffers too.

Call me cynical but I doubt very much if Reverend Georgie MP rushed back home after Evensong, signed a few white papers and then sprinted down to the harbour to light the oil lamps in the lighthouse. Maybe I'm doing him a disservice and he signed important state papers in the lantern room to save a bit of time? But I doubt it. Hopefully there is a clergyman lightkeeper out there somewhere, though I'm not sure the two occupations are compatible.

The above photo is from around 1950 apparently, though the clothing suggests a much earlier date. 

Sometimes I despair of the way that lighthouses are left to go to rack and ruin. Balbriggan is a fine example of what is possible with a bit of TLC. The photo at the bottom of the page is one I took from around 2007, roughly 15 years ago. Vandalised, worn and tired, it seemed to be on the way out. The photo at the top of the page shows it today - as if it were brand spanking new, with a brand new dome - Wicklow Harbour Board, please take note!! - and a lick of white paint. It looks absolutely fantastic and fair play to the local council and local interests in making it happen. Another 250 years is on the cards!