Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The short career of lightkeeper Edward Doran


The East Twin light 1946. The house was built in 1925, shortly after the events in this post. The original light was a large triangle.

Many lighthouse enthusiasts will be familiar with the IRA raids on Irish lighthouses in the late 1910s / early 1920s. Remote and difficult to protect, light stations such as Mine Head, Roancarrig, Hook and even the Fastnet, were raided by Republicans. They were mainly interested in the gun cotton which was used to fire the fog cannons but they wouldn't turn up their noses to personal hand guns and rifles, binoculars, telescopes etc. Such was the regularity of these raids, that the lighthouses had to withdraw their fog signalling service until normality was resumed.
One armed, sectarian raid on a lighthouse, though, did not fit into the above template.
Redmond 'Edward' Doran was a Catholic and keeper of the two East Twin lighthouses in Belfast Harbour.  In one of the houses, he resided and the other it was his duty to maintain. Although boats sailed past the two lights constantly, it was a remote and lonely spot, accessed by a long walk up a narrow lane. He had a wife and two young children.
And then one day, he received a visit from four armed men. Basically, they gave him twelve hours to leave his home and his job or else they would shoot him. Doran may have been a Catholic but he was evidently the wrong sort of Catholic. He had served in the British Army during the Great War and "always floated the United Jack from the lighthouse on festive occasions in connection with the Empire," according to an RUC report.
He made a statement about what happened next .

"I rang up the Harbour Master’s Office, then I proceeded to the Harbour Office myself. I stopped in the office until 6.30pm, then I returned with the Police in the Motor Boat to the Light House. At that time the police stopped with me until I got my Blankets. They also escorted me and my wife and my two children to the Old Pilot Boat where I had to take refuge for the night. The youngest child was only two months old at the time.

'The following day I proceeded to the lighthouse after working hours. I gathered all the wearing apparel possible to get. I had to take them to the Harbour in a rowing boat. I had to take them to Lurgan at my own expense.

'The remainder of my furniture was left in the Lighthouse.

'Three months afterwards I returned for my furniture. I was escorted by the Harbour Police with a Motor Lorry. When we got there, my furniture was Partly in a disused Military Hut and part of it in the Lighthouse, occupying my position.

'Afterwards I corresponded with the Harbour Master. He communicated with me and he let me know that my position would be kept safe until the Disturbance would pass over.

'Owing to the disturbed state of the city, it was impossible for me to return to my employment at the time. So when the Disturbance passed, I applied for my position and I was told that there was a man in it. Permanent."

A Harbour Board memorandum however claims that his loss of a job wasn't all down to a breach of faith by them: -

And an RUC report says that he was offered a lighthouse position but he refused it.

The permanent lightkeeper appointed on 16th February 1922 was, in all probability, Samuel McKibbin, who, with his wife Ellen, lived at the lighthouse for the next forty years until it was dispensed with in the 1960s. Sam and Ellen are the couple in front of the house in the picture at the top of the page.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what became of poor Edward Doran. Hopefully, the Harbour Board found some suitable position for him and his family didn't starve.

Stop Press!!! I received an email from one Martin Doran at the end of May 2023 to inform me that the family didn't starve. Furthermore, after the trials and tribulations, Edward, his grandfather - or 'Pops' as he was known - went on to live a long and fulfilled life in Lurgan. Good man, Edward!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Rock Lighthouses of Britain and Ireland


Rock Lighthouses of Britain and Ireland (Fastnet on the cover)

Way back in the halcyon days of 1983, when lightkeepers still roamed the earth, a young man named Chris Nicholson brought out a remarkable book called "Rock Lighthouses of Britain." Instantly regaled as a classic and the seminal work on the subject, it was remarkable in both the detailed research on all the lighthouses featured and the stunning photographs, many of them never seen before.
Such was its success that it has been reprinted - a very rare thing for a lighthouse book and one that lesser writers such as myself can only yearn for - more than once and two further editions were brought out in 1995 and 2006, both with updated information and even more stunning photographs.
Despite this achievement, the book had one slight drawback to Irish lighthouse enthusiasts like myself. Only featuring maritime navigation off the coasts of one part of the archipelago, the main part of our shared island group - Ireland - was ignored. It did not affect the readability of the book but it should have sparked somebody into bringing out an Irish edition of the book. It didn't. So, seventeen years since the last edition and forty years since the first, Chris - no longer a young man, except in spirit and enthusiasm - has brought out "Rock Lighthouses of Britain and Ireland."

2006 edition

The book arrived at the start of the year. I'm glad the postman knocked as I would have feared for the laminate on my hall floor if he had managed to squeeze it through the letter box. Believe me, this is one heavy book. Over 300 A4 pages. It was probably a wise decision to make it softback as a hardback could have resulted in all kinds of back strains.
If I had been preparing to flick through a myriad of stunning photographs in a few minutes, I was wrong. There is a lot of text, a huge amount of detailed research put together with the same attention to detail and painstaking labour as the subjects of this book, though I doubt Chris was in danger of being washed away by a freak wave in putting it together.
The book features twenty of the rock lighthouses around our combined coasts, each included, not just for its skill of construction or its isolationist beauty, but because each had a story to tell. Yes, the incredible engineers - Winstanley, Smeaton, the Stevensons and Halpins etc - all faced similar challenges but the details of each read like a compendium of Stirring Stories for Boys. These are gripping tales of despair and triumph, heroism and tragedy. I regularly had to stop and wipe away the salt spray from my glasses, so vivid was the prose. All of which builds up into a book that you only want to put down due to aching arms. (Hint - read it at a desk.)

First edition 1983

The twenty lighthouses selected are presented in chronological order (except one) beginning with the incredible saga of the Eddystone and ending, somewhat incongruously, with the Irish island of Rockall (sorry, folks!) which, despite no longer having a light on it, has a story worthy of inclusion. The one exception is the South Rock lighthouse, whose story is placed at the end of the book because of its "remarkable place in the history of British and Irish rock lighthouses," to quote Chris. It is actually the oldest wave-swept lighthouse still standing in these islands (despite the claims of Bell Rock!), yet frequently goes under the radar, even among Irish lighthouse aficionados.
The lighthouses featured are Eddystone, The Skerries, The Smalls, Longships, Longstone, Bell Rock, Tuskar Rock, Skellig Michael, Skerryvore, Bishop Rock, Fastnet, Muckle Flugga, The Calf Rock (and the Bull), Wolf Rock, Dubh Artach, Chicken Rock, the Flannan Isles, Rockall and the South Rock. (Irish lighthouses highlighted) Whereas I previously knew a little about a lot of these beacons (and nothing about some), Chris brings their complete wonderful stories to life, from conception to automation, in an eminently readable fashion and, as mentioned previously, to a degree of detail that could not be matched in a strictly academic work (with no pictures) And the photographs, well over 300 of them - both historical and current - are sublime.
I managed to make the book last for three weeks, savouring each delicious chapter, day by day and was genuinely disappointed when I finished it. But I know I will be taking it down from the specially-reinforced bookcase many times in the future, not only for reference, but also because it is such a damned good read.
Incidentally, a symbolic I-Spy Lightkeepers Gold Badge to anyone who can name the keeper who served on four of the twenty lighthouses above and lost his life on the last of them. 
"Rock Lighthouses of Britain and Ireland" is available from Whittles Publishing for the ridiculously low price of £24.95. And doubtless in a decent bookstore near you too.

1995 edition - End of an Era?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Aleria lighthouse, the River Boyne

The Aleria lighthouse (above) is not one of your classical lighthouses, tall and slender, tapering slightly as it rises, perched on a jutting headland. It sits at the eastern end of a rubble breakwater, marking the northern point of the River Boyne where it flows out into the sea, guiding vessels into the estuary and then upriver seven kilometers to the port of Drogheda. The light is situated on top of a solid, ten-meter-tall, unpainted stone tower and a white stone dome. It is accessed by an external ladder and flashes green to make sure ships entering the Boyne keep it to starboard. Its nearest relations in the lighthouse world would be the Muglins (off Dalkey, county Dublin) and Ballagh Rocks (in county Donegal.)

The River Boyne marks the boundary between counties Louth (to the north) and Meath (to the south) As such Aleria is in county Louth but the best views of it are from Mornington, co. Meath on the south bank of the Boyne. The rubblestone jetty is quite long and fairly untraversable and mostly submerged, plus there's a lot of hiking to be done. The south bank of the Boyne, with its three stilted lighthouses and the Maiden Tower is far more interesting anyway.

The lighthouse was first established in 1936 though its origins go back over 80 years prior to this. The Boyne, like the whole east coast of Ireland, had a problem with shifting, drifting sands blocking up its entrance and forming a bar of shallower water across its entrance. Just as they did in Dublin, parallel walls were erected from the northern and southern entrances of the river 300 meters into the Irish Sea to stop the estuary silting up. This took place in the 1850s and a wooden perch was placed at the end of each bull wall, roughly 200 meters apart (eOceanics puts the distance at a mere fifty meters)

Aleria and the South Perch today

Something must have happened to that original wooden perch at the end of the north bull wall. It was still there in 1864, when the Ballast Board did a navigational survey of Ireland's harbours. Not only was the perch there but there was also a fog bell, which was sounded during foggy weather when steamers were expected. However, in 1867, it was reported that "the new red buoy" was being removed from the end of the wall and the North perch had been brought into position by a tugboat. Maybe it had just been moved temporarily while the wall was strengthened.
Again, it seems that the wooden perch transformed into a stone perch before the end of the century, with a flat top, apparently to take a light on top at some future date. This never happened and around the start of the 1900s the rounded dome was added, but with an square aperture in the west side, again to take a light at some future date. 
In 1907, the wooden perch on the south side of the channel was washed away and was replaced by a black can buoy.

In 1917, Chadwicks of South Castle Street, Liverpool were commissioned to make a lamp for the North perch. It would light for four days on the trot and showed a brilliant light that 'could be seen at Laytown Railway station,' a statement which makes one worry for the sanity of the Harbour Board.
A letter from one Denis Lyons of "The Anchorage, Mornington" in the Drogheda Independent of 28th December 1935 indicates that things have been allowed to slide. 
"The North Wall would not take much to finish out to Aleria," he says, insinuating that parts of it had been washed away. "The stones are already there."
"... how primitive are our fog signals. All we have is a hand sounded bell rung in fog by a man in a boat," implying the North Perch fog bell was a thing of the past. He also mentioned that the square aperture had been sealed up.

Stung into action - or maybe it was sheer coincidence - the Harbourmaster reported in June 1936 that he hoped to have the aperture cut out of the Aliara (sic) beacon by the end of the week to take the Aga light. It was presumably on the fitting of the lamp that Aleria was enrolled into the Wonderful World of Lighthouses club, having come up through the ranks.

Finally in 1954, we get a remarkable statement from the Harbour Board regarding Aleria. They were contemplating altering the light on Aleria so that it would show to ships entering the Boyne, as well as those leaving it. Hitherto, ships would have been entering the narrow channel blind, except for those travelling via Laytown Train Station. Well, not quite blind. The wonderful lighthouses on stilts on the south shore would have been visible, I suppose.
Under consideration was whether an outward-looking light - probably acetylene like the one on the inward side - could be incorporated into the dome of the tower, as waves often crashed over the top of it.

The beacon at the end of the South Perch today

Evidently, they figured it out eventually, as a quick-flashing green light now shows from the top of the dome. It is currently powered, like most coastal lights, by LED. The close-up photographs above also show the blocked up square aperture in the brickwork of the tower.  
For anyone planning to go lighthouse bagging at Mornington, its a wonderful place to tick off several very interesting lighthouses and daymarks on the south side of the Boyne estuary.

Drogheda West lighthouse (1842)

Distinctive stone beacons on the north side of the river from which lamps would be slung nightly (1850s?)

The Lady's Finger (aka The Thumb) behind the Maiden Tower (c.1570?) two daymarks built to guide ships over the bar

Drogheda North lighthouse (1842)

Drogheda East light (1842)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The wreck of the Adelaide off the Old Head of Kinsale


The Old Head of Kinsale c1906 from the CIL collection in the National Library

This post, which admittedly is more about the wreck than the lighthouse, is culled from the Cork Examiner 13th February 1862. The tail end of the story was mentioned in the Edward Lezarde post.
The sloop Adelaide left Cork for Clonalkilty in January 1862. As journeys went, they'd probably have been better off sending the cargo of fifty-two tons of Indian corn by donkey and cart. For a start, they were wind-bound near Crosshaven for two weeks and then somehow found themselves trying to ride out a storm when they were off the Old Head of Kinsale. Unfortunately, they lost both their jib and a young member of the crew in the storm and tried to put into the bay on the east side of the Head. It was dusk and she was being drawn inexorably, by waves and a stiff south-easterly wind towards the perpendicular cliff face, two hundred feet high. 
As night fell, the lightkeepers saw her no more. When morning came, the coastguards and fishermen scoured the coastline but there was no sign of her. After three days, it was agreed that the sloop must have foundered in the heavy seas and had sunk to the bottom with all hands.
But the Adelaide had not sunk.

Detail from the 1st ed OS map above

At the narrowest point of the isthmus, roughly below where the entrance to the golf course now lies, there is a tunnel, or a 'subterranean passage' as the Ordnance Survey calls it, roughly two hundred yards long, leading from one side of the Old Head to the other. Whether by luck, or incredible seamanship, or a combination of the two, the Adelaide entered the tunnel heading east to west. (There are actually a number of tunnels beneath the isthmus) Not for nothing is the surrounding bay called Holeopen Bay.

One of the caves beneath the isthmus. Experienced kayakers only! Photo Tourism Ireland

The only people left on board by this stage were the Captain, John Mahony and a seaman named Driscoll and when they got roughly halfway through the tunnel, the boat became wedged between the walls and the roof and wouldn't budge.

Caves and tunnels beneath the isthmus. Looking north towards the mainland. Photo Tourism Ireland

After two nights spent in this fearful position, they decided they would have to leave the sloop where it was and make their escape themselves. They were both cold, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Placing two pieces of timber side by side as a makeshift raft, they clambered on and made for the western end of the tunnel. Almost immediately, an exhausted Driscoll fell in and, though pulled out immediately by the captain, died shortly afterwards.
By now, Mahony could see himself going the same way. His arms and legs were beginning to lose all sensation and he felt he had to move or die. Half swimming, half wading in the dark, he somehow made it to the western side of the headland, where he spent a third night in a dreadful condition.
His only consolation was the place he had reached had cliffs not quite so high as at other places. After a wretched third night at the foot of the cliff, he started climbing in the morning, summoning what remaining strength he had to reach level ground above. Bruised, wounded, not having eaten, drunk or slept for days, he was eventually discovered by the keeper, Edward Lezard, who took him home and, with the help of his wife Mary, nursed him back to health.

The Old Head today

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The lightkeeping career of Edward Lezarde


Workers painting the Tuskar c1908 from the CIL collection in the National Library Ireland

It is a simple fact of life that people remember people with unusual names. He may be less interesting person than Robert Smith or James Murphy but Edward Lezard (sometimes Lezards, LeZarde, Lizard etc) keeps cropping up in my research of nineteenth century keepers to the point where I feel I must get his career down in print before I slither off into the undergrowth. And it also gives me the excuse to put up a few pictures of the places he served.

According to CIL's 1871 List of Keepers, Edward was aged 27 when he joined the service on 8th June 1846, making him born around 1818-1819. Most genealogical trees have him born in 1826 but this is doubtless based on his reported age at death, a notoriously unreliable assumption. 
Edward's full name was Edward Joseph Marie and his father was Maturin Claude (or Claude Maturin) Lezard from Cellettes in the Loire district of France. An 1880 Census states that Edward was born in France, probably the only native Frenchman to have served as a keeper in Ireland. (The Rohu lightkeeping dynasty had their origins in France but as far as I know it was the sons of the first émigré who became keepers) Maturin was a teacher of the French language, later a Professor and would probably have been sick of explaining that lezard translated both as 'lizard' and 'a crack in masonry.'
In 1849, three years after  joining Irish Lights, Edward Lezard was to be found on the Tuskar lighthouse from where he came ashore to marry one Mary Letitia Tottenham, daughter of Lieut. John William Tottenham of the 36th Regiment. The Tottenhams were a family of bigshots in Wexford, so presumably it was a good catch for Edward. 
At the Tuskar, (where the families lived with their husbands) Edward and Mary would have lived alongside Thomas McKenna, who possessed a much more ordinary name but seems to have been a quite incredible character. I must detail his career too at some stage.
Records of keepers in the 1800s are quite sketchy, so some of Edward's postings may have slipped under the radar. The next place he is to be found is as far away from the Tuskar as it is possible to get - Tory Island off the north west coast of Donegal!

Tory Island c 1908. Its tower was once painted black.

We only know of Edward's posting here through his wife, Mary nee Tottenham. In 1855, Anastasia Walsh of Wexford was up before Wexford Assizes for breaking into John Colfer's house at Balloughton and stealing a quantity of money and a small gold brooch. Mary was summonsed from Tory Island to give evidence that the brooch found on the prisoner was the same one that she had given Mary Colfer, when she was Mary Connors ten years previously.
It seems odd that Mrs Lezard should have to make that long journey simply to corroborate Mary Colfer's evidence about the brooch. Mrs Lezard obviously wasn't too pleased about it either. She seemed distressed in the witness box and, when questioned, declared that two policemen had come to her house on Tory on Monday and told her she had to be in Wexford on Thursday morning or else she would do two years in jail. Her husband was in delicate health and she herself had an infant at the breast. Due to the stress, she had lost her breast milk and was afraid her child mightn't get back up to Tory alive. Oh and yes, that was the brooch. (Anastasia incidentally got twelve months in the gaol)
The next sighting of Edward is in February 1862, by which time he is at the Old Head of Kinsale, seen here around 1906, again from the Irish Lights collection in the National Library.

In February 1862, a sloop called the Adelaide was wrecked off the Old Head of Kinsale. It is a remarkable story, which I don't want to spoil as it is yet another tale I must write up, suffice to say that the keeper at the Old Head played a small role in the footnote to the story. 

The Lezards were still there in December 1863 as the couple were noted as having donated £1 for church subscriptions. By February 1865, they had upped this to £1 3s 6d and were resident at Roches Point lighthouse at the entrance to Cork Harbour. 

Roches Point from an Atkinson painting 1848

By 1868, they had left the balmy shores of Cork and were ensconced on Inis Oirr (Inisheer) the southernmost of the Arran Islands in Galway Bay. It was here that their daughter Patience was born in November of that year. Actually, they were probably here in 1866, as an 11-year old Patience Tottenham Lezard was recorded as having shuffled off this mortal coil in the Galway Registration District of that year.
In the aforementioned 1871 Irish Lights List of keepers, Edward is shown as being the Principal Keeper at Mutton Island, the main harbour light for the town of Galway, these days joined by a causeway but, at that time, quite insular. Being a small harbour light, Mary would have acted as his assistant. American records incidentally indicate that one Henry Lezard left the shores of Ireland and landed in America in 1870. They say he had been born on the Tuskar in 1855. Again, probably, the year of birth may have been slightly earlier, as other records make his age at the time as being fifteen and we know his parents were on Tory in that year. Henry went to New London in Connecticut where his name became LeZarde. He married and had a large family.
In 1872, Edward's father, Maturin, died. A widower, the esteemed Professor of the French Language, died of debility on Mutton Island, in the care of his son and daughter in law.

Mutton Island lighthouse c 1820s as per sketch in the Galway Advertiser 2016

By 1874, the Lezards had migrated down the coast to Tarbert on the Shannon estuary. The lighthouse is situated on an island but is joined to the mainland by a cast-iron bridge. Edward was here in 1880 when he gave evidence in the Irish Lights fraud trial, another story that I haven't got around to telling (memo to self - get your arse in gear) Basically, Irish Lights had been billed for shipments of oil and other goods at many stations around the country (mainly the distant west coast) that had simply never arrived. The supposition was that the people who had the tender were simply invoicing them for goods and then pocketing the money. 

Photo courtesy the Trustees of Muckross House, Muckross House Research Library

By 1880, Edward must have been approaching retirement age, being over sixty years of age. I cannot find any further references to him at Irish light stations subsequent to 1880 and it is clear that at some stage in the 1880s, the family departed to the shores of Amerikay to be with their son Henry. Edward died in New London, Connecticut in 1887; his widow Mary died in the same place in 1904.
And that is the unremarkable life and times of Edward Lezard, the only French lightkeeper on Irish Lights books and possibly the only keeper for whom English or Irish was not a native language.
Unremarkable, maybe, but a great name.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Clifden Church lighthouse and some beacons


Behold the twin spires of Clifden, co. Galway, an iconic image of the town. On the left is the Protestant Christ Church, built 1853-64 on the site of an older church. To the right is the larger St. Joseph's RC Church built in stages from 1875 to 1891. The two churches share a commanding hilltop view of the town of Clifden and look out past the Sky Road over Clifden Bay to the Atalanticle Ocean.
Thing is - one of them could well have been a lighthouse, according to a brief snippet in the Northern Whig in 1924: -

Of course, I could never raise the slightest doubt on the veracity of a story that originated in the Daily Express but it is an interesting idea. I can't really think of any other reason for the plan than the obvious one of telling ships where they were so, if it ever happened, one of the churches could well have been a lighthouse, at least, until the first strong wind blew all those electric lights off. 
But which one? Were the Catholics or the Protestants the owners of Ireland's first ecclesiastical lighthouse for 400 years? To me, they look more or less the same height and I have been unable to discover if one or two had them had a cross on top of the spire.
Westwards out of town, at the end of the Sky Road is a view across the entrance of the bay to a white stone beacon

Photograph by Graham Rabbite on eOceanic

It is one of a pair of daymarks and sits on Fishing Point on the southern entrance to Clifden Bay. The other one is on Seal Rock, further out on a nasty group of rocks just south of Inis Turbot and mark the channel into the Bay. The Seal Rock beacon  stands 36 feet tall and the pair of salt pillars went up in 1877. They are known locally as the White Lady and the White Man, gazing longingly across the sea towards each other. Information from 'Building the Dream.'

My own picture from 2011 - The White Lady

Again, my own picture from 2011 - I'm thinking this must be the White Man, though not the one in Hammersmith Palais

And finally, this photograph from one of the Irish Lights albums in the National Library, dating from around 1905. It is simply labelled 'Clifden' but I have no idea where it might be, unless it is the White Man above.

POST SCRIPT - One of the joys of this blog is receiving mail from people pointing out my errors. No, I'm not being sarcastic. The most important thing is to get the right information out there and if I've slipped up, then its far better that the error is corrected than if it is left to hang.
So I was genuinely delighted to receive a mail from Breandan O Scanaill who very nicely set the record straight on some points on the above post.
Firstly, he says, "I would say that this refers to the Catholic church of St Joseph, as it had a cross on top at one stage.  I don’t think Christ Church ever had one."
The second point refers to the White Man. "The structure you think is the White Man is incorrect," he says.  "The White Man is on rocks further out at sea,  if you were approaching the coast from the ocean you would find this marker on a group of rocks with the White Lady beyond at the entrance to Clifden Bay.  The structure you showed is one of a pair of channel markers, the first one opposite the Clifden Boat Club and the second in closer to Clifden.  These structures mark rocks with their plain side but the other side is covered with white tiles and indicated the deeper channel which led to the Quay at Clifden.  This channel is now fairly silted up, and there are very few large boats coming into harbour."

As Dougal would say, "I stand corrected." Many thanks, Breandan.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

An 1892 visit to the Bull Rock to collect seabirds' eggs

The Bull Rock station taken from the west end of Dursey Island

The following is a verbatim report that appeared in The Field Magazine ('The Country Gentleman's Newspaper') on 2nd July 1892:

We cast off from the pier at Berehaven on May 11 at 5am, and with smooth water and just enough wind to create a draught on our furnace and a strong ebb tide in our favour, we were soon alongside the Bull Rock, a small islet lying about two and a half miles N.W. of Dursey Island and 292 feet high. This is the most southerly breeding haunt of the gannet on the Irish coast.

There is deep water close to the rock and in fine weather a small steamer may lie close in to a remarkable arched hole worn by the action of the sea through the island. A good view of the buildings on the east side may be obtained and the effect of the view under the almost perpendicular cliff is somewhat heightened by the probability that some of the loose stones, which jut out here and there from the face of the rock, will one day fall from their places into the abyss below.        

After landing a few tons of coal for the use of the lightkeepers, I took one of the men with me and went ashore in search of sea birds’ eggs. The ascent is not difficult, there being concrete steps built all the way up to the lighthouse, but the moment we arrived at the summit, a cold, clammy wind blew in our faces, with a fine rain that penetrated our clothing and made our foothold very slippery and difficult. A thick fog prevailing at the time, the watchman on the look-out station was busy with the fog-signal – charges of gun cotton, which he fired at short intervals – the concussion from which was very considerable at close quarters. We were informed by one of the keepers that the nearest way to the gannets’ nesting places was close past the signal station. Just as we were passing it, one of the charges was fired, and within a few feet of us; the concussion was so great that it nearly knocked us down. I shall never forget the look of dismay on Pat’s face as he crossed himself and said “Oh Blessed Virgin, but they’ll blow us into smithereens. For the love of God, sor, come away out of this.”

1905 CIL photograph in the National Library Ireland

The weather now cleared up and became beautifully fine and warm, and we were able to obtain a good view from the summit. The lightkeepers’ dwellings, with the lighthouse, signal station and gasometer, with thousands of seafowl, some circling overhead, but the majority sitting on their nests, gave the rock a very homely and animated appearance compared to what it was when I visited it some years ago, before these buildings were erected.

During the breeding season the birds are very tame. The puffins seem to have no fear whatever, though wary enough when on the water and away from their nests. We captured several of them with a landing net, but let them go again. I have sat for hours within a few feet of these birds, making sketches of them and no better place could an artist find for studying the habits and attitudes of sea birds than this wild, rocky isle off the Irish coast.

The puffins and razorbills seem to keep on friendly terms enough with one another but will not permit the gannets or seagulls to associate with them. I have watched the puffins and razorbills sitting side by side in the most friendly manner. The puffins, with their furrowed and painted beaks, remind one strongly of the highly coloured pasteboard noses of preponderous shape and size which decorate the windows of the toy shops at Christmas time; this, with their look of utter indifference, strike one as very laughable. For pugnacity and impudence, a town-bred cock-sparrow is difficult to beat, but for a look of thorough contentment and utter indifference to all surroundings, commend me to a puffin on the Bull Rock.

1905 CIL photograph in the National Library Ireland

We made a good collection of eggs, the gannet, puffin, razorbill and kittiwakes being very plentiful, but difficult to get at; one has to stick as close to the rock as a limpet when creeping along the narrow ledges of the precipices, only a few inches wide. This is very dangerous work to one not accustomed to it, as a false step, or a loose stone, will end your egg-collecting days forever in this world. It was only a few weeks ago one of the light-keepers on the Tearaght, one of the Blasket group of islands off the Kerry coast, lost his life while collecting ‘sea-parrot’s’ eggs. He was on a very dangerous part of the rock at the time, and was in the act of taking a puffin’s egg, when the bird, which happened to be in the hole at the time, bit his finger and, in suddenly pulling back his hand, he overbalanced himself and fell backwards, rolling down some 50 feet of the sloping part of the rock, and then disappeared over the precipice some 400ft into the sea below. His body was never recovered.

View of Bull Rock from Dursey Island. The greenery is on the Cow Rock which lies between the two. The author of the piece above visited the Cow Rock subsequently  and found the eggs much more easy to access as the top of that rock is broader and flatter.

Puffin (the keeper he killed on Tearaght was called Daniel Morgan)