Thursday, March 30, 2023

The lighthouse at Inishgort, Innisgort, Ennis gort, Innisgurt and others

Inishgort lighthouse from Rosmoney. Think that must be Croagh Patrick behind

It is always a pleasure to re-visit one of my favourite lighthouses, seldom-visited, remote and isolated, even if the purpose is to gobble down a large helping of humble pie. 
Inishgort - the spelling variations increase the further back in time you travel - is one of the 365 (ho hum) islands that allegedly populate Clew Bay. From the early 1800s, Westport had developed as an important port on the west coast of Ireland and in 1806, John Denis Browne, the 1st Marquess of Sligo, Earl of Altamont, Viscount Westport KP, PC, MP, absentee landlord and absentee slaveholder, lovely chap altogether, rolled up his sleeves and built a lighthouse on Clare Island, despite having to lug all his titles around with him.
Clare Island was an outer light, signifying exactly where on the west coast ships should turn in for Westport. Of course, between Clare Island and Westport lay a myriad of small islands, like jigsaw pieces on a board waiting to be placed in position.

First edition OS map showing the Light Ho. on Inishgort and its position in relation to Inishlyre, which was also a major port in those days with many pubs and dwelling places

What was needed was an inner light to mark the correct channel through Clew Bay to Inishlyre and Westport. Kinsale had the Old Head and Charlesfort, Dublin had the Baily and Poolbeg, Belfast had the Hollywood Bank and the Sea of Garmoyle, Galway had Inis Mor and Mutton Island. This pairing of outer and inner lights seems to have been standard practice. Irish Lights and indeed Bill Long in Bright Lights, White Water both state the lighthouse was established on Inishgort in 1806. This seems to have been perpetuated by most subsequent authors. 
The Notice to Mariners though and John Swan Sloane both put the date of establishment as 1827 and this is the date I have always maintained, believing that the Irish Lights' 1806 was merely a case of confusion with Clare Island. 

Irish Lights commissioners inspecting the lantern at Inishgort c 1905 (photo National Library of Ireland)

The truth, it seems, was somewhere in between. After completing Clare Island, the Marquess of Sligo loaded his shovel and titles into his cement mixer and hauled it down to Inishgort to build the inner lighthouse. He was definitely some boyo. The island was not actually his. The owner was Sir Samuel O'Malley, Bart. (I think Bart must have been his nickname) and John Browne leased an acre of the stony foreshore from Bart to build his lighthouse and dwelling house.

Fast forward to early 1826 and John Brown's body had been a-mouldering in the grave for sixteen years and had been succeeded by Howe Peter Browne, which sounds like some bad dialogue out of the Lone Ranger. I'm sure he was another lovely feller though. 
Anyhow, John Browne's brother wrote to the Ballast Office in Dublin on behalf of his nephew, Howe, begging them to do something about the lighthouse on Inishgort (Public Record Office CSO/RP/1825/18795/1) which his brother had built "at his own expense" and, in regard to which, his brother had a consolation in death that his selfless work had greatly improved the fortunes of Westport and saved many lives from a watery grave. And would you like to take over the lighthouse.
Hard on the heels of this, came a memorial from the merchants, ship owners and fishermen of Westport asking the same thing. The lighthouse, they said, had been maintained by young Howe "until these last few years" but now was not fit for purpose. Could you please take it over?

2021 photo by Dan McCarthy, of the Irish Examiner, whose series of articles on the islands of Ireland is one of the joys of my life

The Ballast Board replied to Howe's uncle, saying, yes, they agreed that a daycent lighthouse on Inishgort was fundamental to saving lives at sea but, unfortunately, money was too tight to mention and they couldn't even get an unemployment extension. The Uncle wrote back immediately saying they could transfer over the lease from Bart at the same rate. The Ballast Board said, okay.
Obviously not having any indication of the speed that the Ballast Board worked, the merchants and fishermen wrote to this august body in June 1826 wondering when the promised lighthouse was going to materialise. The old lighthouse, they said, had burned down and they were reduced to lighting coal fires on the beach in order to help boats navigate the treacherous channels during the hours of darkness. This, they said, was completely unsustainable as they could not afford to do this and boats would not be able to enter the harbour except during daylight hours.
As an enticement, they pointed out that, although the lighthouse had burned down, the dwelling house was perfectly habitable and it wouldn't really take much to get a light up and running.
It seems quite remarkable, if not downright suspicious, that Clare Island and Inishgort lighthouses, both established in 1806 by the Marquis of Sligo, should remain the only two Irish lighthouses to have burned down. Clare Island was destroyed in 1813 after the keeper Reilly accidentally let undowsed snuff fall into the oil. What caused the conflagration at Inishgort is unknown but I suspect an insurance scam.
The fixed white light was eventually erected in 1827 at a cost of £3,460 7s 6d.

The story of the lightkeepers and attendants at Inishgort is dominated by one family, the Jeffers. Resident on the island since at least the mid-1800s the generations have served, helped and attended the light for over 150 years. This association ended with Sean Jeffers, the island's last resident, passing away in 2006. The Jeffers became the official attendants in 1933 when the light was made unwatched. Down through the years, Martin, Billy and Tommy (whose tragic drowning I relate in When the Light Goes Out) and then Sean acted as lightkeeper and postman, a duality later taken up by Sean Gibbons of nearby Inishlyre.
During the lightkeeping years, the Ballast Board / Irish Lights keepers included:

March 1832 - Lightkeeper McCullough (assisted in the rescue of the schooner Thistle)
1842 - 54 (possibly more) - William Landers, (the keeper who had annoyed the priest at Clare Island in the 1830s. He later retired to Westport)
1859 - Michael Brownell
1860-61 - Owen Carroll
1864 - William Callaghan snr
1864 - 65 Alex Power (took over from WC, died on the island)
1865 - 66 Thomas McKenna (took over from AP - one of the great characters in lightkeeping history)
1871 - James Keenan
1876 - Thomas McKenna
1887 - Michael Duffy (died on the island 24th May)
1889 - Thomas Redmond
1896 - Rickard Hamilton
1901 - Michael Barry
1911 - Patrick O'Connell

Western People 10th May 2022

Monday, March 27, 2023

Nendrum - A light in the dark ages?


Extremely old lighthouses in Ireland are few and far between. There are tales that fires were lit on the Old Head of Kinsale and the Baily, Howth two thousand years ago, whether to lure ships onto the rocks or to guide them into harbour. The general accepted - though not officially endorsed -  story of Hook Head is that St. Dubhan lit warning fires on that coast from the early days of Christianity. All would have been wood or turf fires and probably only lit when a ship was seen or expected.
I came across another possible addition to that list recently when reading about a place called Nendrum in Strangford Lough. 

Map of Strangford Lough. Nendrum is situated on the western end of the horizontal Japan shaped island to the left of the tran in Strangford

Close-up. Nendrum is accessed from the mainland by a bridge to Reagh Island, a drive down the island and a bridge onto Mahee Island. For those wishing to bag a few islands accessed by bridges, only Reagh and the very beginning of Mahee are open to the public.

I visited on a beautiful morning on the first day of the ALK tours in October. I actually had the whole place to myself. It is said the site dates from the 5th Century - unsubstantiated - but it was abandoned some time between 974 and 1178AD. Although relatively unknown - well, I'd never heard of it before September last year - it seems to have been quite an important place, with the biographer of St. Finian writing of the 'portus insulae corum monasterio'  (the port of the island of the monastery) at Nendrum, where certain ships from Britain had landed.
Strangford Lough is a difficult place to access. The currents at the entrance have done for many boats and the coasts of the lough are studded with small islands and rocks, eager to trap the unwary boatman. Situated at the north-west end of the lough, a voyage from Britain to Nendrum must have been a trial.

An unusual sundial on the Nendrum site. The five major marks (with the split) would have marked the five prayer times of the day - prime, terces, noon, nones and vespers)

In Colin Breen's "The Archaeology of Early Harbours and Landing Places in county Down 800-1700AD" (Ulster Local Studies Vol.19. No.2), he mentions two landing places at Nendrum:
"Two curvilinear walls delimit the area of a landing stage on the southern foreshore of the monastery. A second, similar feature can be seen directly to the west of the main stage... A raised pathway is apparent, leading from the monastery down to the landing place. Two large boulders stand on either side of the feature and were apparently used as navigation beacons. It is quite difficult to navigate safely through the treacherous channels that surround the monastery but, by following a transit, sighted directly in the centre of these two large stones, a boat can be brought safely to land. It is reasonable to suggest that lights may have been originally placed on these stone beacons to enhance their usefulness."

I was unable to see anything on the southern foreshore but on the western shore, there do appear to be two large stones on the foreshore. The photo above is indistinct but by double-clicking, you may be able to see them. One is almost directly down from the round tower on the hill. The other is slightly to the right, below where the thicket starts.
Unfortunately, I could not find a way down to the foreshore, the way being blocked by a thick hawthorn hedge. It was broken in one place, fortunately right in front of one of the stones. It was impenetrable but at least I got a photo (top of the page) Of course this might just be a large boulder!!
A further visit is needed I think, not simply to try and find the southern foreshore but because it is such a wonderful, old, peaceful and unknown site.

The location of Nendrum was actually lost in the Middle Ages and was only rediscovered when William Reeves discovered the remains of a round tower there in 1844. Since then it has been excavated and among the discoveries is the oldest known tide mill in the world, still visible on the eastern foreshore.

And, as a bonus, just across the water at Ballydorn on the mainland, we have the Lightship Petrel, now over 100 years old and the oldest surviving Irish lightship, thanks in no small part to the Down Cruising Club, who have used it as their headquarters since 1969. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Tarbert Lighthouse (still the Irish one) - Part Two - the keepers


Photo from

Following on from my recent post about the early years of Tarbert lighthouse, on the Shannon estuary, it is time to put some flesh and bones on the cut limestone and detail some of the keepers who watched over this important light from 1834 onwards. The list is far from comprehensive and any additions or corrections would, as usual, be gratefully received.
The first keeper at the station was a man called Richard Fleming, although even here there is a touch of ambiguity. When Robert Steele visited the lighthouse on the night of its establishment, the Dublin Observer reported that "he and the light-keepers (plural) and the boat's crew" partook in drinking a toast. Later on, Mr. Steele is quoted as calling Mr. Fleming "the man entrusted with the charge of the light," which again does not say if he was the sole keeper. The likes of Broadhaven and Little Samphire were one-family lights, with the wife or daughter expected to act as assistant and this may have been the same in Tarbert.
A year later, Mr. Steele was back inspecting the lighthouse and thanked Mr. Fleming for the excellent order that he found in every aspect of the station.
Richard Flemming was still at the lighthouse in 1841 as he had been awarded an extra 'm' in his name for good conduct. This he earned for prosecuting Patrick Hanlon for stealing 4 cwt of lead from the lighthouse. The lead could possibly have been for use in the bridge that was newly erected joining the lighthouse to terra firma.
By 1844, though, he was gone, as a notice in the local paper announced the marriage of Harriet, daughter of Richard Fleming, "the late lightkeeper at Tarbert." At least this reinforces the one-family theory, as Harriet probably had to do her fair share of lighting and extinguishing but it is still ambiguous for it doesn't make clear if Richard was dead or retired. Or indeed, simply late for everything.

View from the Tarbert - Killimer ferry, one of my cloudy-day specials

One Thomas Moore is listed as a Tarbert keeper in the Valuation Records of 1846,  In 1854, an 18 year old Thomas Moore joined the lightkeeping service being an "occasional temporary keeper, being son of a lightkeeper." It is probable that Tom was the son of Tom (the Tom Tom Club?) Tom junior's son, Michael, had a lighthouse-eye view of Roger Casement being landed on the Kerry coast by the Aud, whilst keeping light on Little Samphire.

The lantern room at Tarbert. Screw-in or bayonet? (

We have a large gap then to 1864, when Edward Gregory and family were known to be the lighthouse custodians. They had risen to fame, or possible notoriety, in 1859, when Edward's wife, Anne, was arrested for the murder of temporary keeper John Doyle at Slyne Head. Edward had been sick and Anne was apparently fuming that the Ballast Board had sent a replacement down, when her own son, Jacob, was perfectly capable of doing the job. It was alleged that she poisoned Doyle, whereon he fell into the sea and was drowned. 
Nothing was ever proved however and Anne was eventually released and the Gregorys were shunted off down to Tarbert where, in 1864, Edward was up before the Petty Court for not paying a mason 18/- for work completed and Jacob was done for robbing apples from an orchard.

After the Gregorys had departed, we next find Peter Corish and his young family on the island. The Corishes are one of those lightkeeping dynasties that span the entire era of lightkeeping from the early 1800s to the late 1990s and Peter Corish  was a vital link in that chain. Peter had started out in Drogheda West lighthouse in 1854 and had served at Oyster Island before arriving in Tarbert. In late August1868, his daughter Elizabeth Rose was born here. A few weeks later, his fourteen year old daughter Ellen died and was buried in nearby Kilnaughtin graveyard.

Ellen Corish grave

More tragedy in the offing, I'm afraid, when William Callaghan and his wife Kate came to the island. They had already buried two children on Skellig Michael and had requested a move, as the third one was sick. They had three children at Tarbert, Margaret in 1870, William in 1871 and Michael in 1873. Shortly afterwards, they started on their travels again. In all, they had eleven children - seven died young and only four achieved adulthood, including the three from Tarbert.
A touch of the exotic then came to town, as we welcome our old friend Edouarde Lezarde, aka Eddie Lizard, whom I posted about some weeks ago. Edward was born in France and he came to Ireland when his father was appointed Professor of French here. He was a witness in the 1880 Irish Lights fraud trial case when a shipper and an accountant were accused of falsifying the books and receiving payment for goods not delivered. In the witness box, Edward said that he had been at Tarbert for six years.

Photo Screen Kerry

Another long gap, I'm afraid to the census of 1901, when veteran keeper Thomas Fortune and his family were at Tarbert, having moved there some time in the previous two years from Scattery Island (he had purchased a dog licence on Scattery in 1899.). He had a large family and had been the Principal Keeper in charge of the Calf Rock lighthouse in county Cork in 1881 when the walls came tumbling down. Incredibly, none of the six people in the lighthouse were hurt, though ten days soaking wet and cold on a tiny rock might subsequently have impinged on their euphoria.
Again, we don't know when exactly he left the station to go to Youghal but it would have been 1906 at the latest. He attended a funeral in Tarbert at the end of 1903.

Thomas Fortune with two of his daughters (Copyright estate of Eileen Kates, used by permission.)

Patrick Lynch in "Tarbert - an unfinished biography" lists one John Widdicomb as the lightkeeper here in 1906. Unfortunately, I can't find anybody of that name in the CIL records. There is a Richard Widdicombe all right, a Principal Keeper who married whilst on Rathlin Island and was nearing the end of his career. Tarbert was that kind of station. A relatively easy number after a lifetime of rock stations, bosuns chairs and separation from families.
If indeed Richard was on Tarbert in 1906, then he was succeeded by another county Down Church of Ireland keeper, William Sampson. He rolled up with three sons and two daughters, between the ages of 10 and 20, as appearing on the 1911 Census. His wife was called Anne Simpson, which was quite brilliant and well orchestrated.


More sadness at the end of the decade when Daniel David Twohig died at the lighthouse. A married man with a wife and family, he was 51 years of age when he contracted the so-called Spanish flu on 16th December and died four days later. He was one of 23,000 Irish people to die of influenza in the 12 month period from March 1918 to March 1919 and one of four Irish lightkeepers to succumb.
Around this time, two important changes happened at Tarbert. Firstly on April 1st, the light was made unwatched, meaning there was no need for the keeper to light and dowse it every night. Also, a new depot to maintain, inspect, repair and service all the lighted buoys in the Shannon was established. The keepers now had a dual role.

They put the lighthouse on a stamp in 1997. Did nobody say "You haven't got a better picture than that, have you?"

Robert John Phelan was a keeper at Tarbert for many years. Born on Rathlin Island, son of a lightkeeper, he had married when in his fifties in 1923 and stationed at Poer Head in county Cork. He served at Tarbert during the 1920s and 1930s and died in Tarbert in 1943 aged 76, though he had retired before that.
Brendan McMahon succeeded Robert Phelan. Both his parents (Stephen McMahon and Marion Brennan) were Scattery Islanders and Stephen became a lightkeeper. The youngest of eight children, Brendan was only one month old in 1922 when his mother drowned at Hook Head lighthouse. Stephen managed to keep the other children with him but Brendan was sent back to Scattery.
Thirty years later in 1952, Brendan was the lightkeeper at Tarbert when his father, Stephen, who was retired and living with him, died suddenly of a heart attack.

Photograph ScreenKerry

John James Kelly succeeded Brendan McMahon at Tarbert. He was a third generation keeper, having been born at Blacksod when his father Richard was serving there. He was 75 years old when he retired to nearby Templeglantine in 1967. Sadly, his retirement was not destined to be a long one, as he died the following year.
And finally, arriving in Tarbert in December 1967, was James 'Jim' Lavelle, a fourth generation keeper. His two grandfathers, John Lavelle and Matthew Healy both served in the 1800s and his father, Peter, had been on Eagle Island during the famous storm of 1894.  Matthew Healy's father, John, had also been a lightkeeper.
With his wife Eileen, whom he married in 1933, Jim was widely respected around the community of Tarbert. He he took a keen interest in all things maritime, right up until his death  in November 1996 aged 89 years. (He also owned the Morris Minor in the bottom photograph of the previous Tarbert post!!)

Jim Lavelle

As you will have noticed, there are plenty of gaps in this brief history of the keepers serving at Tarbert. Any help in filling them in, or indeed correcting my brief chronology, or providing additional information, would be very welcome.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Letter to Granny Part 1 - Fanad lighthouse

Fanad lighthouse c. 1903 (National Library of Ireland)

Towards the end of the 1800s, the Weekly Irish Times used to run a half page by a very suspicious individual called Kincora, or maybe its simply the name that conjures up dark connotations. Basically, it was a Children's club called The League of Kindness; kids wrote in and got a thrill in seeing their letters published. They used to sign their letters, "Your little friend" and ask things like "How do you like my handwriting?" which didn't always get the response they were expecting. 
I reproduced some letters from the Corish girls, Agnes and Josie, two years ago in regard to their letters from Eagle Island and Blacksod in 1894 and 1895.
Anyhow, seems that Kincora morphed into someone called 'Granny' in the early years of the new century who would offer hampers as prizes for the best letter of the week. Kids writing in would, rather worryingly, sign off with, Your loving Grandson (or Granddaughter, as the case may have been)
It appears that lighthouse kids were actually quite good at winning the hampers, mainly because their life experiences were different from most of their peers. I give you this prize-winning letter published on 24th January 1903: -

William John Harris Lyons (its very striking but when you're looking up birth records, most kids only have one name but lightkeepers' offspring invariably had two or even three. Maybe they had notions?) was 13 years old at the time of writing. His Dad was Principal Keeper Richard Lyons who probably arrived up in Fanad after the previous PK, Frank Maguire tragically slipped or was blown over the cliffs in 1900.
William had been born at Rock Island, Crookhaven, his father probably serving on the old Fastnet at the time. His mother was the daughter of the Chief Officer of the Coastguard at Crookhaven (William Wright)
I must admit I don't really understand the bit about the cones on the flagstaff. How do you put a cone upside down on the southern part of a flagstaff? What if the storm is coming from the west?
And I certainly wouldn't agree with his comment about the "only time Fanad is nice." Fanad is always nice.

The Coastguard station, eagerly anticipated by William Lyons in 1903 was gutted in the War of Independence in August 1920

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Frank O'Farrell (517)


The very beautiful old Skellig Michael lower light before renovation. This post is entirely based on Seamus Farrell's painstaking research into his father's career

Francis J. "Frank" O'Farrell, Service no. 517 was not, like many others, born into the lightkeeping service. You could say that he chose the service, rather than the service choosing him. 
Born in Waterford in January 1934, his father was a member of the Gardai. After school, he joined British Rail as an electrician and also became a wireless operator in the Merchant Navy, laying communication cables between England and France. Apparently the only time he got wet in the latter job was having to stand in the rain at Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953!

Frank as a wireless operator in the Merchant Navy aged 19

Frank (centre) in the Merchant Navy

Returning to Ireland, he was appointed a Supernumerary keeper with Irish Lights in November 1956, a position he held for four years which, to me, seems a very long time. Seamus has been trying to piece together which lights he served on (Irish Lights have no SAK records) and has come up with Dun Laoghaire East Pier, The Baily, Black Head, Mew, Haulbowline, Hook, Ballycotton, the Fastnet, Roancarrig, Skellig, Tearaght, Slyne Head, Black Rock Mayo, Loop Head, Eagle Island and Rathlin West. In four years, I wouldn't be surprised if there were many more.

Irish Examiner 24th December 1958

This period - 1956 to 1960 - was of course in the days of vapourised paraffin, explosive fog signals and clockwork-run weights that made the lens revolve. It was also during this time, while stationed at the Baily that he met Gabrielle, who would later become his wife. She worked at Keogh's Sweet Shop in Sutton Cross.

A very dapper new SAK in 1956

Frank got made Assistant Keeper on 5th November 1960  and was posted to Skellig Michael for three years just before the station was modernised and rebuilt. With Gabrielle and daughter Cathriona, they lived in the Knightstown dwellings on Valentia, next door to Jean and Peter Duggan, who was a keeper on the Tearaght.
From county Kerry, they moved up to Shroove in county Donegal for another three years before spending four and a half years in his first spell on Rockabill. Then it was to the bleak isolation of Eeragh in the Aran Islands for ten months before putting in nearly six years on the Tuskar from 1972 to 1978. 

Irish Press December 10th 1965

Two more years on the Kish in Dublin Bay and then Frank made Principal Keeper, returning to Rockabill where he had served at the end of the sixties. An unusual occurrence happened there in 1982, when Frank, from his watch at the lighthouse, happened to spot that the 30 bedroomed Rockabill Hotel in Skerries was on fire and alerted the emergency services to the fact!

Frank in the lantern room of Rockabill with the old vaporized burner. To me, there's a look of Colm Meaney about him here. During his time there he worked with Johnny Weldon and Alan Boyers

Photo by Frank from the Bolko relief helicopter approaching Rockabill.

Frank's final posting was back to the Kish in May 1983, the only Irish lighthouse with no outside land space.* Exercise could be had running around the top of the tower! Two years into his stint he fell ill and had to be brought off the station. He retired from Irish Lights in 1985.
Frank died in October 2012.

Frank's son, Paul, who was born at Inishowen lighthouse, also joined Irish Lights and achieved the distinction of being the last keeper to be awarded a service number. Paul's number (701) is therefore the highest and the last in a list of all the keepers that served from 1900 onwards. He joined in 1982 and resigned in 1986, during which time he probably experienced more different and varied light stations than many of his predecessors who served ten times as long. When Dad Frank was moved off from the Kish in 1985, it was Paul who was sent out to replace him, which was definitely not Irish Lights procedure!
In all, Paul served at (in no particular order) the Baily, Ballycotton, the Bull Rock, Eagle Island, the Fastnet, Ferris Point, Hook Head, Inishtrahull, Inistearaght, the Kish, Mew Island, Rathlin West, Roches Point, Rockabill, Tuskar Rock and Wicklow Head, as well as service calls to Chaine Tower and Barr Point.
Seamus, (Frank's son,) would be keen to hear any reminiscences of his father's time in Irish Lights. Any comments posted on Facebook or on the blog, or sent to me on gouldingpeter at gmail dot com, will be forwarded on to him.

*I am rightly pulled up by Lee Maginnis who wonders what kind of outside exercise space Haulbowline had. Of course, he's right though I'm not sure if the keepers couldn't get out and stretch their legs at really low tide. But then of course, I thought of the pile lights of Spit Bank in Cork Harbour, Passage East, Dundalk, Moville, Redcastle, Whitecastle, Ture, Lough Mahon and Dunkettle, not to mention the Dublin lighthouses of North Wall and North Bank, and I realised, yes, you're never too old to make a complete hames of something!

Thursday, March 9, 2023

A lighthouse at Caherdaniel?


Abbey Island and Derrynane Harbour, county Kerry

John Swan Sloane. You've got to love him. I come back to him a lot as he was a very interesting character in nineteenth century lighthouse history. He was appointed Superintendent of Foremen and Works to the Ballast Board in 1862 and 'retired' around 1878 just before his greatest achievement, Galley Head was completed. I say 'retired' because, in his subsequent career as a freelance journalist for The Irish Builder, he constantly harangued the Board of Irish Lights that had ousted him, mostly under pseudonyms, while referring to himself in glowing terms, also under pseudonyms. In 1873, he wrote a pamphlet called Manual for Lightkeepers which a) gave historical information on many Irish lighthouses and b) I would sell my Granny to get a hold of.
Anyway, in one article in The Irish Builder (1st March 1880) he talks about 'ancient lighthouses' from the 1750s and earlier. He makes the point that lighthouse construction could be connected to the prosperity of ports and even in the 'dark days,' there were lighthouses at the mouths of rivers marking the entrance into major ports. Thus, he writes, the west coast had Loop Head, Aran Island, Clare Island and Cahirdaniel (sic); the south had Barryoge's Castle at Kinsale, St. Anne's Tower at Youghal and The Hook; whilst the east had Howth and The Copelands.
Of these of course, Hook and Youghal were medieval lights and Loop Head, Barryoge's Castle, Howth and the Copelands were cottage lighthouses.
Which leaves Aran Island, Cahirdaniel and Clare Island. 
Aran Island is evidently Inis Mor (1818)  and Clare Island went up in 1806, unless there's another one we don't know about.
Which leaves Caherdaniel.
Of this lighthouse, Sloane says "the great house at Cahirdaniel was perhaps in its day the most famous. James deCourcy O'Connell, in 1548, got a grant in Parliament for its maintenance, with certain allowances and emoluments from the many passing ships going coastwise to Galway, bearing the rich wines and merchandise of Spain to the City of the Tribes, It was also particularly and well looked after by the monks of Ballinskelligs, at the time frequent visitors for penance and otherwise to the larger Skellig Rock ...
This ancient lighthouse tower is quite unknown to the authorities of the present day ... (note the dig!) ... like Loophead, it was square, of great strength and, on its flat but vaulted roof, was burned the beacon fire. When the lighting of the coast was undertaken by the Revenue Board, it was discontinued and permitted to fall into disuse and ruin; but yet, in its decay, it shows evidence of grand structural skill, being evidently the work of the same artisans who constructed Loop Head and the Great Aran."
Of course, the account is full of holes. The O'Connells for example probably weren't in Caherdaniel in 1548. The monks of Ballinskelligs probably weren't doing a great deal after the dissolution of the monasteries. The Revenue Commissioners took over the lighthouses in 1786 - when Sloane says the lighthouse was abandoned -  and Sloane says, in 1880, that the ruins are still impressive - yet no ruins appear on any early maps. And if it was the work of the same artisans who built Loop Head (1690) and Great Aran (1818), while already standing in 1548, those artisans must have found the secret of everlasting life. Oh, and how can a roof be flat and vaulted?
The big flaw, as pointed out to me by local Historian Vinny Hyland, is that "the great house at Caherdaniel" is of course Derrynane, which isn't actually in sight of the sea!

OS map of the south west Iveragh peninsula. The Skelligs are on the left, Caherdaniel on the right. Nobody could claim tolls for ships passing a light so far out of sight of the ocean. Bolus Head, now...

Aoibheann of the Heritage Iveragh/Oidhreacht Uíbh Ráthaigh group made further enquiries:

I asked members of the local community at a local meeting if anyone knew of such a lighthouse but no-one was aware of any such building. There is nothing on the archaeological survey either. I myself am an archaeologist and have walked much of Lambs Head. Lamb Island and Abbey Island (as well as parts of Hogs Head and Bolus Head) looking for archaeological sites and cannot say I have seen anything that fits that description. It is conceivable that the Napoleonic-era tower on Hog's Head was built on the site of an earlier structure but that is just conjecture. Likewise the WW2 lookout post on Lambs Head may have been constructed on an earlier site.

Aoibheann also pointed out that Caherdaniel was much less handy for the Skelligs than Ballinskelligs or Bolus Head. So Sloane may well have been talking out of his backside.
Still .....

Bolus Head looking out on the Skelligs. There is a wonderful loop walk going around the head.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Tarbert lighthouse (the Irish one!) Part One - the early years

There is a very statuesque barber-shop lighthouse at Tarbert (aka Tarbat) (aka Tarbert Ness) gracing the headland north of Inverness constructed by Robert Stevenson in 1830. This post is not about that light. This post is about the less statuesque but equally as interesting lighthouse built on Tarbert Island on the south shore of the Shannon estuary  by George Halpin four years later. The 74 feet limestone tower was built in response to the increased trade to the port of Limerick and the inability of ships to spot a rather treacherous rock called the Bowline (Bolands) Rock. Lighting Tarbert meant ships could now clear the rock and use Tarbert as a port of refuge before being piloted through the narrows. One of the chief promoters for the establishment of a light at that spot was a Mr. Robert Steele, a Cambridge don, inventor of "the communicating diving bell" - whoa!! - author of a treatise on improving the navigation of the Shannon and a man of fortune, who had temporarily forsaken academia for a spot of political agitation.

(Photograph courtesy of the Trustees of Muckross House, Muckross House Research Library)

After an acre of the northern part of the tidal island had been purchased for £210, Mr. Robert Howard was engaged to build the tower to Mr. Halpin's specifications. (The Pilot reported in 1830 that the Ballast Board baulked at the enormous expense and volunteered to place a lightship off the island instead. Fortunately wiser heads prevailed!) The money paid was divided very fairly between three-year-old owner of the land, Robert Leslie, who got £200 and John Clarke, the tenant, who doubtless retired on the £10 he received for his troubles. 
Howard had the tower constructed by May 1832, from when, for some reason, it took two years to add the lantern and the optic. Eventually, on the last day of March 1834, a fixed white catoptric second order light shone forth 58 feet above the high water mark. The dwelling house for the keeper and his family was added later. 
The people of Tarbert apparently had a meeting in March 1832, in which they agreed that the forthcoming lighthouse should be named the O'Connell Lighthouse after Dan, the man, who had just been elected M.P. for Clare. However, the Government soon put a stop to their gallop. (Source - the magnificent "Tarbert - an unfinished biography" by Patrick J. Lynch (2008))

When the light shone forth for the first time, "its splendid illumination was hailed with joy by all the mariners in the Shannon," (the Dublin Observer 5th April 1834) which must have been quite a spectacle. At midnight, who should come rowing over from Labasheeda Bay on the north bank of the estuary but a boat crew carrying an ebullient Mr. Steele, who had them rowing around for hours so he could view the light from all angles.

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After minutely inspecting the building, he cracked open a bottle of wine in the lantern room and he and his boat crew drank to the health of George Halpin. Every aspect of the lighthouse, he said, commanded admiration. The illumination was splendid, the ventilation was admirable, the building had been beautifully designed and executed, every comfort had been provided in the interior (bet there was no jacuzzi) and the keeper chosen was trustworthy and eminently suited for the position. Oh and he was now going to politically agitate for a light where the unlit Beeves Rock beacon now stood further up the estuary.

1967 photograph with Morris Minor or maybe an 1100 on the foreshore - National Library

There is some confusion (or rather, "I am confused") as to the construction of the wonderful bridge which went up in 1841 to nullify the needless hazard of the keeper having to row to and from the lighthouse twice a day. Some sources suggest there was a causeway constructed from the lighthouse to the island, which was a possibility as it would have greatly helped in the construction of the tower. On the other hand, on the Night of the Big Wind in January 1839, the Revenue House on Tarbert Island was badly damaged and "the bridge leading to the lighthouse thereon was carried away," according to the Drogheda Journal and others. Incidentally, it also said that every boat except one was blown onto the Clare shoreline!
Whatever the story about the original bridge, work was definitely underway on a new bridge by August 1840, when the Kerry Evening Post reported that 
"On Tuesday last, a poor man was conveying a large quantity of heavy metal for constructing the bridge between the Light-House and Tarbert Island, when the boat was upset and one of the pieces of the metal fell upon the poor man’s breast, which carried him to the bottom and he was drowned." Was never particularly fond of heavy metal myself.
In September, the Limerick Reporter wrote that the Ballast Board was "throwing a handsome iron bridge over the rapid sea water which runs between the new Tarbert Light-house and the shore." If only it were as easy as that.

1842 sketch by Captain Thomas Hastings of Tarbert Harbour with the lighthouse in the background - National Library

From Beam 13.1 - the journal of the Irish Lighthouse service

As I have a limited attention span, I will post about Tarbert keepers down through the years presently. Well, futurely.