Friday, December 30, 2022

Good news for the Lightship Kittiwake. Probably.


The LV Kittiwake late December 2022

For a long time now I have been boring the arse off my readership with occasional reports about the Kittiwake Light Vessel, one of the last two such boats still located in Ireland (The Petrel, in the care of the Down Cruising Club up in Strangford Lough is the other one) See previous posts here, here, here and here
The Kittiwake (1959) was one of five new light vessels commissioned by Irish Lights in the 1950s, to replace the composite steel and wood vessels that had manned the stations along the east and south coasts of Ireland for the first part of the century. The others were the Gannet (1954), the Osprey (1955), the Shearwater (1955) and the Skua (1960). All were built by Philip and Son of Dartmouth, who also supplied light vessels to the English coast, they were all 134 ft long and the frames and decks were made of steel. They also had deep bilge keels to offset the dreadful rolling that the older light vessels suffered.

The Kittiwake in Dun Laoghaire 2007

On Tuesday 14th July 1981 at 05.10, the watched light of the Kittiwake was put out for the last time and was replaced on the South Rock station off Cloughey in county Down by the Gannet which had been converted into an automatic lightfloat. The Kittiwake was towed to Dun Laoghaire where she was a familiar sight on the Carlisle Pier until 2008, when she was moved up to the Liffey outside the O2. She was bought by Harry Crosbie who intended to turn her into a cafe / restaurant on dry land on the North Wall Quay. The Dublin Docklands Development Association refused the application, saying the boat belonged in the water.

A few years later, she disappeared, though it was generally agreed she was in the Alexandra Dock, which is out of bounds to the general public. There was a report that the DDDA had purchased her back from Harry Crosbie but nothing else happened and it was assumed she was just going to rot away until scrapped.
However, this week comes a video and a news report that the Kittiwake has been hoisted out of the dock and will be moved on a giant skateboard to a new position in the Heritage area of the basin, where it will go on public view. (My thanks to John Archer for alerting me to this)
Great news, eh?
Well, yes, except that Harry Crosbie claims he still owns the vessel and wants it returned to the water or he'll sue. The DDDA say they bought it from NAMA and it would certainly be strange if they were proceeding without full ownership.
There's no indication if the Kittiwake will end up, after restoration, on dry land or in the water. If the former, I can well understand Harry Crosbie's frustration. Personally, I don't really care, so long as this piece of maritime heritage is preserved.
Link to the Irish Times video

The lightvessel Petrel (1915) at Ballydorn, Strangford Lough October 2022

Addendum - I received the following photograph from Alan Kavanagh, whose work overlooks the docks, unlike mine, which overlooks the inside of a warehouse. He says the Kittiwake has been moved about a bit over the past few months, probably to build up her fitness for her leap out onto the dockside.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Bomore Point lighthouse, co. Sligo

Bomore Point lighthouse? Well, if you're not from Sligo in general or Rosses Point in particular, it is probable that you are not alone in never having heard of it. In terms of self-publicity, it makes Drogheda North light seem like the Fastnet. In fact, I suspect a straw poll of Rosses Point residents would show scant knowledge of this structure that stood proudly between two incredibly popular beaches for many years.

Detail from postcard above

One group of people who would recognise it would be the old keepers who manned Oyster Island lighthouse. There were always keepers out on the Black Rock lighthouse and they rotated with the Oyster Island keepers. However, the latter were also responsible for the unwatched lights on the north of Coney Island (x 2), the Metal Man, Bomore Point and the Rosses pile light. 

Irish Townland and Historical Map Viewer O.S. last edition, showing Bomore Point, top middle; Oyster Island, bottom right; Coney Island lights, left middle; and the Metal Man, in the centre of the three land masses. The Rosses Pile light would be roughly where the word 'However' is located in the paragraph above

With the exception of the Oyster Island light (and Black Rock) all of these lights came into existence during a blitz of navigational improvements in October 1908. At Coney Island, two green lights - one fixed, one flashing - were established, the lower on a tressle table, the other on top of a white hut. The Metal Man got a red flashing light to act as a leading light with the Oyster Island light. Lower Rosses (the pile light) had a triangular light with green, white and red sectors. 
Bomore Point, like the two on Coney Island, was a cylindrical light, mounted on top of a white hut - probably identical to the upper Coney Island light. It showed red, white and green sectors and was occulting, every ten seconds.  According to Bill Long in Bright Light, White Water, the light was moved onto the edge of the adjacent golf course in August 1951 and eventually discontinued in June 1964.

At a height of 23 feet above high water, the Bomore Point lighthouse was situated  on a rocky outcrop that divided the two main Rosses Point beaches. These beaches are incredibly beautiful and were, and still are, extremely popular in the summer months. As such, it is surprising that there are not better pictures of it around than the postcard above. If anybody has photographs of Bomore Point or either of the two Coney Island lights, I would love to see them.
The light is nearly sixty years gone from its position looking across Katey's Strand but, incredibly, it is still in Rosses Point, hiding in plain view outside Fenton Ewing's "Harry's Bar," from where it looks out over Oyster Island. Reading between the lines and with absolutely no evidence at all, I suspect this light - and possibly the Coney Island lights too - was rescued from a future in the scrapyard by enterprising locals and kept safe for posterity. I'm sure the Statute of Limitations has long since past and Irish Lights won't come looking for their light back!!

Another thought strikes me. The Great Lighthouses of Ireland initiative focusses solely on those lighthouses that have tourist potential, whether the keepers' dwellings are for let, or tours are available or, as is the case with the Great Optic on the Maritime Mile in Belfast, simply for people to come and look at it.
I would therefore like to formerly nominate Bomore Point lighthouse to be the next light to be inducted into the Great Lighthouses elite pantheon, even though it would probably piss Black Rock off bigtime.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The first Inishtrahull keeper


The old Inishtrahull lighthouse (photo John McCarron)

Every month, I attend St, James' Hospital in Dublin to donate platelets. It is far from a selfless act. It assuages my guilt that I do very little for the community and I can go on being a mean bastard for the rest of the month. Anyhow, taking advantage of the free city centre parking, I have taken to nipping down to the National Archives about 20 minutes walk away to do a bit of lighthouse research. Yes, I know, dead nerdy. Anyhow, on my last visit I ordered a file of letters relating to one Robert Irvine, the first Inishtrahull keeper. The reference is CSO/RP/1823/689. I have transcribed all but one of the letters but, sadly, it is far too large (over 2500 words) to reproduce here. So I shall just give a brief resume.

Scotsman Robert Irvine arrived in Dublin with a fistful of money and a cargo of herring around the time of the above notice and applied for the job. He got it and, shortly afterwards, on April 12th, was told to immediately report to his new post. Not wishing to bring his herring and his fistful of dollars with him, the Secretary of the Ballast Board (the above Mr. Bigger) agreed to take the two commodities and invest them until as such time Irvine wanted them. He also wrote out a promissory wrote for Irvine explaining that he owed him roughly £140.
So Irvine sent off and, on arriving, sent back a list of his expenses for the journey, which is a brilliant commentary and something I have never come across before.

So basically, it seems Irvine was the PK and on arrival on the island he wrote back to Bigger asking him to liquidate his stocks and send him up the money. This Bigger did and a while later Irvine asked for the balance of his money, as he had a friend in dire need in Derry who needed it. At the same time, he listed further expenses he had incurred, which was great fun trying to decipher.

(Incidentally, the only one I didn't get was the one Corvock at 2s 6d)
Irvine's final letter was written on 22nd July 1813, three months after commencing the job. In it, he thanks Bigger for sending up the balance of the money and the two of them were now all square. He also acknowledges receipt of his quarterly salary. And then .... nothing.
The reason that Irvine's four letters come to light is that one of the other letters in the file is from 1823, written by a Robert Gallagher of Malin to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, seeking £72 from the Ballast Board. This sum he had given to Robert Irvine in July 1813 on being shown Biggar's promissary note and being assured by Irvine that the Ballast Board was good for it.
The Lord Lieutenant's secretary sent it to the Ballast Board. The Secretary at the time, John Cossart, wrote to Bigger and Bigger replied with the four letters from Irvine, plus a covering letter explaining the situation. 
The transactions between himself and Irvine had been outside the Ballast Board remit and were purely personal, he said. In July 1813, Irvine said he was going to Coleraine and never returned. Bigger had also received a letter from a gentleman in Cavendish Row seeking recompense for lending Irvine money. Bigger had replied to him that his transactions with Irvine were complete and he needed to take it up with Irvine, who had never been seen or heard of again.
All in all, its a fascinating set of letters full of little nuggets of information. The journey from Dublin up to Donegal is wonderful for its detail. You had to hire a coach and a coachman and hired guards. Sounds like the Wild Wild West. The fact that Irvine sails into Dublin - "a complete stranger" Bigger calls him - and gets the job just like that is quite astonishing. The private transaction between the keeper and the secretary of the Ballast Board would never be countenanced nowadays. 
Irvine may not have set out to be a rogue but there is little doubt he wormed money out of Robert Gallagher and at least one other man on false pretences. I can picture him sitting up above on Inishtrahull thinking, "You know what? I could probably buy half the Inner Hebrides with the money I'm sitting on."
I just hope he got home and lived his life out in luxury and didn't get murdered for his money and his body thrown into the sea.  

One of the old "duelling" houses at Inishtrahull (photo John McCarron)

Stop Press - The legend that is Frank Pelly got in touch to inform me that a keeper called Michael Heffernan received his quarterly pay at Inishtrahull on April 1st 1813, preceding the 'first keeper,' Robert Irvine by nearly two weeks. The light was first exhibited on 17th March 1813, a week before Bigger's call for a keeper. Evidently Michael Heffernan was the assistant keeper, possibly one of the workers on the construction site.

Monday, December 19, 2022

A ghoulish tale, just for Christmas


Over the years, my library of lighthouse books has increased considerably, although I always try and borrow from libraries if I can, as I'm a miserable sort of a person who wouldn't spend Christmas. Also, the fact that if you buy something and its not relevant, you feel you've wasted money. But, as I say, my library is now well-stocked and all I now need to do is learn to read.
I'd been trying to get a hold of Born on the Edge of White Water by Leonard V Stocker (Pen Press Publications 2004) for a while now. The Stocker name is an old one in Irish lighthouses. Edward Stocker was at the Hook in 1830; his son, Henry Aquila Stocker, was PK on Tory when the Wasp foundered in 1884; another son Charles was on the Calf Rock in 1870 and so on, down through the generations, marrying other keepers' daughters etc. 
There were three Leonard Victor Stockers, all in three generations. Lenny snr (1869-1953) was born at Oyster Island; Lenny middle  (1897 - 1986) was born at Wicklow Head; and Lenny jnr (born 1944 and still going strong) was born at the Bailey. It is the latter who is the author of this book.

Leonard V Stocker snr (above) and middle (below)

Roughly a third of the book is devoted to Len jnr growing up on lighthouses and there are plenty of good anecdotes of his time at Black Head, Mine Head, Greenore and Arranmore Island. Be warned, there are also a goodly number of uncomfortable anecdotes too. The remainder of the book is devoted to his father's retirement to Dublin and running away from home to England.
There is one passage though that caught my eye. As some of you may know, I brought out a book earlier this year about fatalities at Irish lighthouses and warned that, because the Irish Lights archive is still out of bounds, the list may have been incomplete. This is a story that the author recalls his father (Lenny middle) telling.

“When I was a young keeper,” my father continued, “I was stationed on a barren rock lighthouse. It was about 1918, I think. There were three keepers on the rock station – the principal keeper, the assistant and a supernumerary keeper. As a supernumerary, and the new boy in my first year in the job, I was not yet in the confidence of the two older men, who had served more than thirty years each.

‘Besides the keepers, on this occasion, there were three painters. One of the painters I hadn’t seen for a few days but didn’t take that much notice. We were on our fifth week and seven days overdue for our relief. The weather was the worst that anybody could remember and I was bored and started to have a nose around the stores, when a large captain’s chest caught my eye. Though I’d been in that store many times before, I couldn’t for the life of me remember seeing the chest. I stared at it for ages, wondering what treasures it might contain until eventually my curiosity got the better of me. I lifted the lid and was struck dumb by the contents. Inside was a corpse with the whitest face I’d ever seen, snow white it was, like the walls of the lighthouse. Heavy air oozed from the corpse I had stirred, bringing to light some hideous crime that had for so long been hidden.

‘Convinced I’d discovered a murder from the past, I was out of there quicker than a robber’s dog and running blindly through the narrow passage before collapsing at the principal’s feet, still shaking with fright.

‘After a few minutes, I got my breath back and told him what I’d seen. He couldn’t restrain himself from laughing.

‘‘Calm down,’ he said. ‘It’s only Harry the painter. He died last week from a heart attack and we had to salt him down as we do with the fish to preserve the body until the weather improves and the relief boat can get here. We thought it better not to tell you after all them ghost stories and yarns we’ve been spinning.’”

Of course, since then, I have been trying to discover who the poor ex-painter was through the online civil record death certs. A big job but it can be narrowed down. First of all, he is somebody of adult working age, whose first name is Harry or Henry. Secondly, I reckon that 1918 should be about right. Lenny middle was born in 1897. If he joined Irish Lights at 21 and was a first year SAK, 1918 or 1919 would fit the bill. And thirdly, the barren rock station with terrible weather - Blackrock, Slyne Head, Tearaght, Bull Rock, Fastnet, Tuskar - with corresponding Registration Districts of Belmullet, Clifden, Dingle, Castletown, Schull and Wexford. 

But so far, nothing. I'll keep trying but if there are any former keepers who have heard that story before and have an inkling about where the incident took place, I'd be delighted to hear from them.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The first Buncrana light


My thanks yet again to the multi-faceted John McCarron, sculptor, painter and local historian, for digging up a new photograph of Buncrana lighthouse, first established at the end of the pier in the southern end of Lough Swilly on 15th January 1876. When I first found out that the Buncrana light was actually the 1849 Newcastle co. Down light, rescued from the sea and recycled, I got in touch with Buncrana, who put me on to John, who has since done sterling, selfless work helping me with the histories of Buncrana, Dunree Head, Inishtrahull and all things Inishowen maritime.
The photograph above is, as stated, from the Lawrence Collection in the National Library and dates to around 1890. It seems that that crane photobombing the photo was very much a permanent fixture on the pierside, probably used for dredging and/or loading/unloading. 
It very much complements another photograph from the same collection, taken from the Lough ; -

I don't know what the technical term is, but the cast-iron lighthouse has a hood - or is it a balaclava? - controlling the direction of the beam. Painted white, it bears a resemblance to both the ill-fated Bray lighthouse and also, and especially, the Sherkin Island lighthouse, both constructed towards the end of the 1800s. The latter two lights, though, have a balcony, which Buncrana lacked at the time.

Bray lighthouse

Sherkin Island lighthouse

James Tocker who was the foreman of works for the Ballast Board and Irish Lights for thirty years, was responsible for overseeing the building of many of Ireland's lighthouses including the first Fastnet and the ill-fated Calf Rock, both of which, I realise now, were also cast-iron and had a relatively short shelf life. But the demise of the Newcastle light was down to grave deficiencies in the construction of the pier and when erected in Buncrana, it lasted another 133 years.
One of the early keepers was David Moore Kennedy (Keeper 85 in the pantheon of Irish Lights) who appears to have begun his career in the company at Buncrana as an SAK on 1st March 1880. Strangely, he remained in the position for 9 years 6 months before being promoted to Assistant Keeper at Rotten Island, off Killybegs. It is probable he was a local man who did the job (probably as a second job) to boost his income before deciding that the pay was better as an AK. Most SAKs got promoted after a year or two.
It was probably he who agitated for a bit of an oul' shed to shelter in while on lightkeeping duties. Evidently, it didn't last very long - there's no sign of it in any of the old photographs.

The keeper in both 1901 and in 1911 was Jeremiah Logan, aged 62 and 72 respectively, quite unusual for his age rising exactly ten years in the decade between censuses. At the time, it was a fixed, white, oil light with a red sector but on 4th November 1916, it was converted to acetylene, a move which generally meant automation for the smaller harbour lights around the country. Jeremiah's death cert in 1919 calls him a 'retired lightkeeper.' The 1917 US Hydrographic List of Lights describes the character of the light as occulting, with white and red sectors. The light underwent a further change in 1951 when it was converted to electric. By this time, there were two red sectors to the light, one warning of the dangers of the Inch Spit; the second shining brightly over White Strand Rock.
At some stage in its existence, probably during the first light character change, the lighthouse got itself a little balcony and a white hat. In later years, the tower was painted black.

Photographs from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

For some reason, they decided to replace this light in 2009. It is difficult to call your children ugly but its replacement could have been a little bit more, erm, aesthetically pleasing. The old Buncrana - and Newcastle - light was then 160 years old and, knowing our attitude to conserving our maritime heritage, could easily have ended up being sold for scrap.
Thankfully, Peter Gurrie and the lads and lasses at the Buncrana and West Inishowen Historical Society got their hands on it and, with the help of the good people at Crana Engineering, refurbished it and relocated it to the very popular Grianan Park overlooking the Lough, where it roams free, chats to the locals about the days when the boats were ten deep on the pier and is occasionally put out to stud.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Another keeper in trouble ....


To my mind, "attempting to cause disaffection" sounds like something that was made up on the spot. "What are you going to charge me with?" "Erm, not saying nice things."
It would seem to me that by December 1916, the vast majority of the population would have been completely disaffected with British rule and if this makey-up law had been applied evenly, the courts would have been running 24/7.
Richard O'Donnell was Assistant Keeper at Blackhead at the time. He had been born in Dublin, son of experienced keeper John O'Donnell. He had previously served at Dundalk and, before that, Eagle Island where he married one Ellen Gallagher, daughter of the man who had the contract to transport men and provisions out to that inhospitable light. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Ballycotton lighthouse fog-bell


Ballycotton lighthouse and fog bell back in the day. CIL photo album in the NLI

The coast of east Cork is notorious for dense fogs, so much so that the only Irish Lights station without a lighthouse - Poer Head - was established there in 1879 and survived through to 1970. The lighthouse at Ballycotton had been established in 1851 with a flashing white light that could be seen for eighteen miles in clear weather but was obviously rendered useless in thick fog.
Cue the Reverend George Sackville Cotter Hingston, local Protestant curate, who became a veritable thorn in the side of the Ballast Board in his agitations for a fog bell at the station. A letter to the Cork Constitution in March 1855 lays the blame for the wreck of the Choice (a barque loaded with barley) the previous month firmly on the lack of a fog bell on the station. He also relays another story whereby a wreck on the island itself during a snowstorm was narrowly averted by the lightkeeper (Mr. Nolan) and his assistant shouting at an approaching boat at the tops of their voices!
A letter from George Halpin (junior) in the same paper assures the reverend gentleman that "the subject has been under consideration, and I trust that a bell will be erected there during the approaching summer."
One might have thought that lessons would have been learned from recent history. In 1853, 83 people died when the PS Queen Victoria sunk off The Baily lighthouse at Howth during a snowstorm. One of the reasons was the lack of a fog bell. Seven years earlier, another Board of Trade enquiry had recommended that a fog bell be established at the Baily. The Ballast Board explained this hadn't been done because other projects had taken priority.
(Incidentally, the Assistant Keeper at the Baily at the time of that disaster had been one Denis Nolan, probably the same Mr. Nolan who was in charge of Ballycotton in 1855.)

By June 1956, there was still no sign of the promised fog bell and the Cork Constitution wasn't happy.

By the 5th August, after another near miss, the paper was apoplectic, obviously not realising that the Ballast Board operated on a 'Sure, whenever" principle.

However, in this latter instance, the Shipping Gazette chipped in and muddied the waters a bit

Four days later, the Ballast Board issued some good news: -

which naturally invoked a predictable tirade, of which I only copy the first part

According to the Irish Lights website, there was presumably some delay in getting the equipment moved to the island but eventually at the start of December 1856, the Cork Con was able to break the incredulous news that the fog-bell had been installed.

The bell had been cast at Mr. Sheridan's Eagle Foundry, Church Street, Dublin, as were the great bells at Dun Laoghaire East Pier, the Baily and, eventually, Roches Point. An inspection of Ballycotton lighthouse in 1859, three years later, noted that the station consisted of a Principal Keeper at £64 per year; an Assistant Keeper at £46 per year and a Fog Bell Winder at £36 per year. It added that "the weight of the machinery that rung the bell had a fall of only 12 feet and required to be wound up every three-quarters of an hour."
Maybe this was why the fog bell wasn't operating that same year?

Things obviously took a turn for the better for the fog bell lasted another 50 years, when it was replaced, on 30th December 1909 by a reed horn fog signal, which later morphed into the rather unlovely contraption above.