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