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.

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