Friday, October 28, 2022

Pictures of one (maybe two) lost Belfast lighthouses


Detail of a painting View of Sydenham, Belmont and Glenmachan 1864 by Nicholas Joseph Crowley

Due to a restriction on numbers allowed at Black Head lighthouse, the recent ALK visit was split into morning and afternoon sessions, which gave me the morning free in Belfast. What to do? Shopping, maybe? Then I remembered I was Super Lighthouse Nerd and I spent a couple of hours at the Public Record Office in the Titanic Quarter researching old documents, after which I decided to go down to the old Belfast Harbour Office across the river. Places like that, I thought, often have old paintings on the wall and maybe some of Belfast's old lights - the Seal Channel light, or Garmoyle, maybe - could be represented.

Belfast Harbour Office on Corporation Square

The great thing about the Harbour Office is that it has one of those revolving doors at the entrance but its made of wood, not metal or plastic. Well, I found it great, anyway. The lady at reception informed me that the building was full of old paintings but only the foyer and a small room off it were open to the public. Slightly disappointed I ambled off, turned a corner and there on the wall was a painting about the size of my living room at home, entitled View of Sydenham, Belmont and Glenmachan 1864 by Nicholas Joseph Crowley.
I have written about the history of the East Twin light before - particularly here - so a quick resume bullet points is all that is required.
  • In the first half of the nineteenth century, Belfast harbour was a swamp with an old channel winding through it.
  • The Harbour Board commenced dredging to straighten up the channel. The dredged stuff formed East Twin Island, which was basically a line. An early map shows a lighthouse at either end (I'm guessing one light for going up the channel, one for going down)
  • The west side of this line was then joined up to the city and the line was widened. This became a public park, renamed Queens Island. 
  • The shipbuilders gradually took over the park.

Map taken from Griffiths Valuation (OS 1st ed) showing East Twin when it was but a line, with a Light Ho. at either end

The above map transposed onto a modern map, showing the rough position of the original strip of land.

There will be questions on all this later, so I hope you have been paying attention. Okay, so back to the Crowley picture. The aspect is basically from the county Down side of the Lagan to the county Antrim side.

As you can see, there is the East Twin Island in its infancy, before it was cruelly de-islanded. There is definitely a lighthouse there on the right hand side (eastwards) I think it is a hexagonal structure, though it may be octagonal and it looks like it is made of wood. A Ballast Board report of 1864 of harbour lights, lists a green light at the north east end of East Twin Island (the hexagonal structure) and another green light at the southern end. I attach a few photographs of the same picture from different aspects: -

So, absolutely delighted to get a look at the original East Twin Island lighthouse. To be honest, it seemed to be on the same style as the later photographs taken with the Titanic in 1912, which is nice to see.
But then, of course, the eye was drawn to the left hand end of the island, the city end, where there should have been another lighthouse - 

It says that a green light showed from this spot and, when you think about it, it would make sense to have a keeper living on the linear island. He could tend the light in his own house and then amble the three cables down to the other end of the island to light the other one. It looks a very solid structure and certainly large enough, possibly too large for a keeper's house alone. This is the spot from where a causeway was initially built to join up with the city. 
Its not often that my hunches turn out right but I'm pretty confident that I've bagged two lost lighthouses for the price of one!!
Incidentally, the Ballast Board report of 1864 was somewhat scathing of the rates of pay for keepers at Belfast: -

I would bet all my vinyl Ramones albums that the Belfast Harbour Commissioners' response was to nod their heads sagely and then forget about it.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Glanleam Gallaun (Valentia Island)

Part of a series made by Dumnac Goulet, location sound designer, in collaboration with poet Faye Boland, in August 2022 on Valentia Island. This poem was written by Faye and tells the story of history and markers on the island of Valentia, Co. Kerry. There's a nice little link back to ancient times at the end of the poem.
(Actually, I'm a bit disgusted, because I took a great photo at Galley Head, with the ancient watchtower of the fort on Dundeady Island juxtaposed with the lighthouse behind. Two watchtowers of different eras. Clever, eh? But the video / poem above trumps it easily)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Chaine Tower, Larne

Chaine Tower (apologies for the greyness of the photographs. It really was rubbish weather)

On the last day of the ALK tour, we had to be in Ballycastle for the boat to Rathlin Island for 10.30. I decided to forego the coach for my own car, as it would mean I'd be able to start home for Dublin much sooner afterwards and so, on a really, miserable, rainy 7.30 am I left beautiful East Belfast. It was way too early for what is a one hour drive but I was allowing for early morning Belfast traffic, visiting Chaine Tower and driving the Antrim coast road.

From the early 1830s, the merchants and shipowners of the thriving port of Larne had been clamouring for a lighthouse at the entrance to Larne Harbour, either on Ferris Point on Islandmagee or on Sandy Point on the opposite side of the harbour entrance. George Halpin, the inspector of the Ballast Board (later Irish Lights) recommended the former and the Ferris Point light was established in 1839.
In the 1860s, the port and harbour was acquired by the eccentric James Chaine, the local Member of Parliament who lived at Ballycraigy House at Muckamore. Chaine, who used to race the local railway train in his horse and carriage and had a house full of clocks all showing different times also put a lot of money and energy into developing the harbour. It was mainly down to him that the ferry to and from Stranraer – a route still going strong – was first established.
JC died in 1885 and was buried in his yachting attire at a point especially selected by himself on Sandy Point. He was also buried in an upright position – again, at his own request – so he could watch the steamers coming in and out of the harbour. 

A memorial committee was set up and wrote to Irish Lights – as it had now become – asking if they would consider building and maintaining a round tower at Sandy Point which would act as a lighthouse. And if they wouldn’t build it, would they maintain it. Irish Lights said it was a local matter and declined.
Undaunted, the memorial committee went ahead and built a beautiful replica unlit round tower at Sandy Point Bay, which would serve as both a navigation mark and also a memorial, while at the same time tipping their hat to the ancient Irish round towers of old. Not having to put their hands in their pockets, Irish Lights gave their blessing and the tower was completed in January 1888 through public subscription. The notion that it blocked the dead MP’s view of the steamships probably never came up!!
Eight years later in 1896, letters of complaint regarding the inadequate marking of nearby Hunter’s Rock led to Irish Lights approaching the memorial committee to ask if, erm, they could turn the tower into a lighthouse. The memorial committee graciously agreed on three provisos: -
a)     That the outside was not altered
b)     That the causeway was maintained, and
c)     That it was to be used solely as a lighthouse.
Irish Lights agreed and two lights were established on 1st July 1899, one of them half way up the tower to mark the Hunters Rock, which technically breached the first proviso but nobody seemed to mind. An extra assistant keeper was added to the workforce of the Maidens Lighthouse and a house rented for him in Larne. This keeper was specifically responsible for the Chaine Tower.
The tower is 28 meters high and a light shone through a window 22 meters up.
The light was made unwatched in 1905 and the extra keeper dispensed with. The Principal Keeper at Ferris Point across the harbour entrance was given the job of keeping an eye out to make sure it was working okay.
The light itself was converted from gas to electricity in September 1935, the second Irish lighthouse to go electric, after Donaghadee the previous year. It is known locally as the Pencil and flashes white and red, depending on the direction of the beam.
In order to add a little colour to the page, I am going to include three photographs from a previous visit to Ferris Point, from where I photographed Chaine Tower from across the water. Once upon a time, a small ferry ran between the two lighthouses, run by the same Hood family that serviced the Maidens lighthouse for generations.

It is said that Chaine Tower lighthouse is of a design unique in Ireland but the two leading lights at Narrow Water on the Newry River pre-date it by several years

Ferris Point and Chaine c.2010

Ferris Point and Chaine c. 1905

The Hood ferry service at Ferris Point, pre-war

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The three lighthouses at Donaghadee(dee)?


For the first time, The Association of Lighthouse Keepers decided to hold their AGM in Northern Ireland, followed by three days of lighthouse viewing, with special access to lights not often open. Most of the membership of the ALK were never actually keepers - it is actually open to anybody with an interest in lighthouses. I fulfilled this criteria, I joined and I got three days of lighthouse gorging off the coasts of counties Down and Antrim at the beginning of October.

The first lighthouse we visited was Donaghadee, about which I'd written before, most recently here. Pier end lighthouses are generally smallish - Ardglass, Wicklow, Rosslare - but, like Dunmore East, Donaghadee is very tall, 56 feet of limestone painted white, designed by the legendary John Rennie, who also had a hand in the Bell Rock, Howth and Holyhead lighthouses. It had the distinction of being the first Irish lighthouse converted to electric in 1934.

I have previously written about mistakenly calling the town Donna Dee and how it had taken me a long time to get to call it Donna Ha-dee. Sadly, during this visit, I overheard two people calling it Donna Ka-dee-dee, and I'm afraid this will never leave my head.

With their links to Irish Lights, the ALK managed to get us all access to the tower, lantern and balcony, though only about four at a time, as space up on top was limited.  The views there were magnificent, stretching out to the Great Copeland Island, Old Lighthouse Island and Mew, not to mention the coast of Scotland, within swimming distance away. They say that you can sometimes see the Isle of Man from there, though the view is much better if you actually go there.

As some of you may know, rooting out lost Irish lighthouses is a particular interest of mine. There seems to be a general acceptance that lighthouses prior to 1665 were restricted to Hook Head and Youghal; and since 1665 to Irish Lights aka the Ballast Board. This is mainly due to lack of evidence. A lighthouse is mentioned in a Corporation book in Carrickfergus in 1648 but nowhere else. The Cuckold light apparently operated in Kinsale in the seventeenth century but again, there is no corroborative evidence (that I can find)

A few months ago, I ordered a book from the library called Six Miles from Bangor - the Story of Donaghadeedee and the Copeland Islands by WG Pollock. It's a great little history of an old maritime community and I was struck by a couple of passages:

So, two former, lost lighthouses calling out to us from the dim and distant past. One, adding to my gut instinct that there were more than two lighthouses in Ireland pre-1665, has no further information other than its existence. The other, we are told, was wooden and small and was lit by tallow candles, possibly something like the lighthouse that once stood where the Mew Island optic now stands on the Titanic Mile in Belfast. At least the research will keep me off the street corners for a while longer.

A distinguished old man wistfully ponders the beauty of the Copeland Islands from the balcony of Donaghadee. Or maybe he's wondering how far away the nearest toilet is. (Photo courtesy Lee Maginnis)

Reports of the ALK trip to Donaghadeedee could not be written without mention of Cané who not only ascended to the top of the tower but also joined us on the boat trip to Mew Island, though I would question whether his ALK membership fees are fully paid up. Nevertheless, he was a delightful and erudite companion for the day, notwithstanding him being a Glenavon supporter.

Incidentally, for those people who notice these things, the afternoon began clear and bright and the cloud cover slowly increased over the following few hours!!

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Staying at Galley Head

Two years ago, I sailed past the 60 year old mark, despite my desperate calls of Full Speed Astern to the engine room and, as happens at landmark birthdays, the family clubbed together and bought me a three night stay at one of the Landmark Trust lighthouses around the coast. Due to some virus, which went largely unreported in the newspapers, the break was deferred until this year, so, in mid-September - a time well-known for glorious sunny weather - we decamped down to Galley Head for three nights in West Cork.

To my shame, I had never found Galley Head particularly interesting. It seemed a nice-looking light perched on the edge of the cliff but nothing ever seemed to have happened there, except maybe a visiting Sultan had suggested to the local bigwig that the light should shine over some of the land as well as the sea. But by the time we sadly drove off down the winding lane three days later, the lighthouse slowly shrinking in the rear-view mirror, I had fallen in love with the station and, as my wife will tell you, I'm not a romantic person.

It's difficult to put a finger on the reason why. I had stayed in Fanad a few years ago and found it a brilliant experience but it hadn't affected me in the same way. Maybe it was because of the isolation. Fanad is open to the public during the day. Galley Head isn't. Basically you are on your own, day in, day out, behind the two locked gates that stretch down nearly the whole headland. No nearby lights are visible, except across water and the feeling of splendid isolation was tangible.

Maybe because we were absolutely blessed with the weather. Brilliant blue skies during the day and a canopy of stars at night. Apparently, the people a week before us stayed in a thick fog and saw nothing. In Fanad, we came back from the pub and stayed indoors. At Galley Head, we came back from the pub and stayed outside. The five revolving beams of light fascinated us. Sounds ridiculous but I normally only visit lighthouses during daylight hours and had never seen the beams. (Years ago, staying on the Sheep's Head, we could see the beam of the Fastnet sweeping over the Mizen at night) So we couldn't figure why the beams weren't visible on our approach to the headland!

Maybe its because I had a copy of Gerald Butler's "The Lightkeeper," a brilliant autobiography in which Galley Head looms large both in Gerald's childhood and in his later years. Maybe too we got the mother of all tours from the great man himself during which he pointed out all the interesting facts and stories about Galley Head, firmly dispelling all my preconceptions - he pointed out the nearby Doolic Rock and all the shipwrecks on it that led to the establishment of the light; he gave chapter and verse on the light itself and why it was considered the best in the world at the time; he described in detail the great scientific argument between Wigham and the Douglasses on the establishment of the light, a story which I'm hoping to turn into a musical "Oh, the Galley Head light is beamed around the world..."; he described the vagaries of living in the house as a child and the clifftop descents; how Pa Crowley took up all the white stones of the Eire 27 sign after the war and used them in his garden; the little landing spot with the steps that was used by Irish Lights to land stores; the vertical tiles on the gable wall of the house. And on and on it went!

Maybe its because you could wake up in the early morning and see the great light flashing through your bedroom window (you couldn't do that at Fanad) And then go outside and make sure that all was well at the Old Head of Kinsale and the Fastnet beneath the large crescent moon. And watch the early morning sun bathe the tower in a pinkish or peachish hue.

Maybe simply staying at a lighthouse gives you an affinity to it, a feeling that this was how it was like 150 years ago (even though the reality of it was, I'm sure, far different) and that somehow you are touching base with the past.

Or maybe it's because of all the above. All I know is, it was as close as I'll ever come to a religious experience. I'm a Galley Head convert.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Caseys and Blackhead Lighthouse, co. Clare

This post is entirely due to an extremely fortuitous visit to the Ionad Deirbhile Centre in Eachleim on the Mullet peninsula, a body doing fantastic work in raising awareness of the Erris area in terms of local history, genealogy, architecture, archaeology etc etc. So successful are they, that the centre is currently undergoing a huge expansion at the moment, to be opened next May.
The thing is that, many years ago, somebody kindly donated to them a number of old copies of Beam, the magazine of Irish Lights, no longer in production. A few copies are available on the net but many are extremely hard to get hold of and they contain a wealth of information mainly written by Messrs. Pelly and Costeloe which is not available anywhere else, as far as I know.
So the information in this post comes from Volume 14. No.2 and was written by M.P.L. Costeloe. It has been copied by both Bill Long in "Bright Lights, White Water" and by Irish Lights on their Black Head, county Clare webpage. And now by me (with a few additions and pictures courtesy of John Breslin)

Blackhead lighthouse is situated at the southern end of Galway Bay, a sparsely populated part of the county Clare coastline. It is architecturally not a world-beater but its location, set in an almost extra-terrestrial limestone landscape looking over to the Aran Islands and the south Galway coast, is spectacular. Mind you, it is difficult to think of a lighthouse not built in a picturesque setting, except maybe North Wall Quay in Dublin Port.

Before the Second World War, Galway was a major port of call for transatlantic liners, which would all lie up off that stretch of the coast and discharge their passengers by tender to the city. The sea captains put pressure on the Galway Harbour Commissioners to erect a light there. The Galway Harbour Commissioners, aghast at the thought of having to spend money, asked Irish Lights to erect and maintain the light. Irish Lights replied that erecting the light could be arranged but, as it was clearly a local, rather than a national, light, the Galway boys would have to maintain it. Reluctantly they agreed.

In October 1934, Irish Lights entered into a verbal agreement with Joseph Casey of Murrough, Ballyvaughan - the owner of the land - for the purchase. Joseph had taken over the running of his farm from his father, John, and his eldest son John, born in 1912, was in line to inherit in turn. The area of land required was 30 feet from the roadway towards the sea and was to be obtained for £5 to £7, provided no fences were erected and the boundary would be marked by concrete posts.

Towards the end of August 1935, Mr Tonkins, Engineer-in-chief with Irish Lights, interviewed John (Jack) Casey for the position of attendant. He then recommended him to the Galway Harbour Commissioners, suggesting a wage of £12 per year with another £2 if he painted the lighthouse. Salary to start when the light was first exhibited (which happened on 21st February 1936). Although the light was unwatched, John Casey still had to cycle three miles per day to turn the light on and another three to return home.

Spot the working man! Jack Casey, the first lightkeeper at Black Head, alongside the bigwigs of Irish Lights and the Galway Harbour Board at the handing over of the light from the former to the latter. The two ladies are Jack's sisters, Hannah (left) and Tess.

Sketch map of the basic cartography of Black Head

Cue World War Two and of course the transatlantic liners stopped coming to Galway, unwilling, for some strange reason, to run the gauntlet of U-Boats to make safe harbour. And, on resumption of peace, they never returned. With no light dues coming in, the Galway Harbour Commissioners couldn't withstand the financial burden of spending tens of pounds a year maintaining a lighthouse and basically told Irish Lights that they would discontinue the light if Irish Lights did not take it over. At length, they agreed.

As Irish Lights were now the owner/occupiers, they interviewed the incumbent, Jack Casey  for the position of attendant and were delighted to offer him the post of assistant keeper, at the rate in force for that class of lighthouse. This happened to be £30 more than the impecunious Galway Harbour Board had been paying and JC must have thought all his birthdays had come at once when they informed him that they would install a 15 day clock gas valve, to save him cycling three miles to and from the lighthouse twice a day every day as he had done for the previous 19 years.

Jack Casey. He announced in November 1980 that he was retiring from the position of lighthouse attendant at Black Head, recommending that his son Joe took his place. Irish Lights asked him to stay on for another month for administrative purposes. He officially retired on 31st December 1980 after attending the lighthouse for 45 years. He died in 2011 aged 99 years.

Jack's son, Joseph Casey took over the mantle of lighthouse attendant on 1st January 1981 and himself spent nearly thirty years attending the light. His son Raymond is the current attendant. That makes almost 90 years in the hands of one family.