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!


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