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.


  1. Very interesting as usual Pete.
    Now I’ve got the song in my head.
    “You may talk of Columbus’s Sailing…”

    1. across the Atlantical Sea! God bless Percy!

    2. Pete there used to be a completely different Daily Express in Ireland until about the 1920’s.

  2. Very interesting account Pete, I anticipate, and very much look forward to, an update or two on this

  3. I'd hope so Andrew but I'm not holding my breath!

  4. Ah we play the long game my friend 😆
    Holding our breath never an option