Monday, September 19, 2022

The Guide Bank Lighthouse, Little Island, Waterford

Photo Andrew Doherty

Harbour lights, in general, get much less coverage than the CIL lighthouses, probably because they employ awful PR consultants, who simply take the money but don't produce the gigs. Yet they each deserve to be recorded in the annals of maritime navigational history before the inevitable happens and they are replaced by rectangles on sticks.
The Guide Bank light is situated on the approach to Waterford port on the very eastern point of Little Island. Here, the river Suir rejoins itself after splitting in two to circumvent the island. The northern channel - known as the Queen's Channel - is the normal route as it is straighter and simpler, though smaller craft can negotiate the longer King's Channel. Prior to 1818, the Queen's Channel was often shallow enough for Kilkenny people to cross from the northern shore, a state of affairs that the Waterford people could not tolerate for long.

E-Oceanic chart

The Guide Bank light is located at the end of a 700 foot training wall which effectively divides the two channels. It is a 5 metre high cast iron tower, painted black with a white band. The natural flow of the river is actually down the unfavoured King's Channel and mariners must be careful not to let the helm swing with the currents to port. The Guide Bank is a front light, with the rear light, set on the grounds of Faithlegg, fixed to a less-interesting white pole.

The Faithlegg rear light

As early as 1872, the Waterford Harbour Board engineer declared that he had held talks with the Commissioner of Irish Lights in Dublin regarding the erection of a light on the Guide Bank. The latter, he said, had absolutely no objection to the erection of a lighthouse at the location and he left the matter with the Harbour Board as to how to proceed. Two years later, during an inspection, Irish Lights declared themselves satisfied with the cleanliness of the buoys but were wondering where the much-needed Guide Bank light was.

Photo Andrew Doherty

By 1877, the realisation of the project was nearly at hand, notwithstanding the sarcasm of one Mr. Slattery ...

The reference to the Clyde Commissioners is noteworthy. The Clyde Shipping Company - the first steamship company ever established - had started a weekly service to Waterford in 1859 and would later take over the Waterford Steamship Company and its three ships. Having invested so much in Waterford, naturally their opinions would be listened to, and a notice to mariners was issued, announcing the establishment of the light on (or after) 1st April 1878

The Glasgow connection to the light was not limited to Clyde Steamship Co. pushing for it. The tower was actually built by Robert Duncan's Partick Foundry, who could also turn their hand to shipbuilding and agricultural machinery. While deliberations had been going on about the lighthouse here, a detailed plan of a lighthouse on the Clyde was submitted to the board for their consideration. Sadly, due to my incompetence, I haven't been able to identify the light in question

Photo by Andrew Doherty

There was a case before the courts in 1882 when the Reginald, owned by the Waterford Steamship Company, ran aground on the Guide Bank near the lighthouse and did what was allegedly £50 worth of damage to the stone fitting of the bank. One of the witnesses called was a John Habberlin who was "in the employ of the Harbour Commissioners attending the lights." This is the only lightkeeper / lamplighter I could find for the Guide Bank.

John Habberlin and those who came after him probably rowed over to the light to do so and tied up there. Photo Andrew Doherty

In the mid-1920s, there was a spate of vandalism to the light, which kind of puts a hole in the oft-stated assertion that this is only a modern-day phenomenon.

Eventually the old light was replaced in 1932 by a new light, though the light source is unclear. It could well have been gas, as Andrew Doherty of the wonderful Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales blog, somehow managed to get access to the inside of the tower a couple of months ago and very thoughtfully sent me on photographs, many of which appear on this post. Inside there are two large gas cylinders which obviously lit the light at some stage though there is currently a LED light powering it.

Photographs by Andrew Doherty. Incidentally, these photographs show that the inside of the tower is accessible to humans, which thereby fits my definition of a lighthouse as a purpose-built building containing a light as an aid to maritime navigation which is large enough to fit a person inside.

Another Andrew Doherty photo showing the Kings Channel (left) and the Queen's Channel (right) and the 700 foot-long Guide Bank.


  1. Great piece Pete, thanks for taking the time to write it. I never called that channel the Queens Channel, always the Ford, historically a crossing point at low water until it was first dredged in 1815

  2. And that's why the local historian always has the edge over the non-local!! Thanks Andrew. I stand corrected.

  3. Haberlins lived in Belview which is now Waterford Port.

    1. That's good information many thanks for that. The 1901 Census implies its definitely a Kilkenny name.

  4. Looks like Lenny O Neill and John Jaques signed the names on the inside of the door, both characters and gone.RIP.

    1. I was wondering if anybody would recognise the names!!

  5. Looks like Lenny O Neill and John Jaques signed their names on the inside of the door, both characters of the river and land, may they both rest in peace.