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

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