Thursday, April 20, 2023

The riddle of John Halsey and Craignascarb


I should point out that I originally posted this article without any caption to the two plans used to illustrate this article. What a klutz. People correctly identified the plans as Rathlin East and assumed they came with the article. They didn't. I took photos of the plans when up in Rathlin lasyt year and there were no illustrations of the original 1858 article

A letter appeared in the Ulsterman of 30th July 1858 purporting to come from a John Halsey of Dublin, recounting an experience he had while a pay clerk with the Ballast Board. The writer said he was an English Protestant who, through his several careers had worked for one of the Irish railways, the coastguard and The Ballast Board and was now retired, and there was not a parcel of wild and untrodden land on and off the Irish coastline that he was not familiar with. He then described a Ballast Board visit to the island of Craignascarb which I reproduce in full, despite its length. (There will be questions afterwards, so pay attention at the back)

Okay, the first question is - where is Craignascarb? The island lighthouses off the Ulster coast were at Rotten Island, Rathlin O'Beirne, Aranmore, Tory, Inishtrahull, Rathlin Island, the Maidens, and Lighthouse Island on the Copelands. Of these, the only ones that fit the timeline - ie exhibited after 1846 - are the two Rathlins, which both shone forth in 1856. And of these two, only Rathlin Island fits the demographic.
I'm presuming all the names have been changed, as there was no island landlord called Edward Dunne. Could it have been Robert Gage, who was one of the very few owner / residents of an island? I have no idea what kind of a landlord he was.
Mr. Wrapper? Really?
Is it possible that the whole story is a fabrication? Three months later, the paper published a letter from one John Halsey, coastguard of Dublin, saying he had not written the letter and demanding a retraction. At least he existed. He married his second wife the following month and lived until 1891.


  1. Sounds like a very comprehensive work of fiction Pete , did pay clerks travel to islands and help mark out potential lighthouses? Great story though, fantastic if true 😀

  2. The writing is ambiguous as the author suggests that he hired the house on the same day that the boat arrived but he didn't meet the landlord until well after Mr Wrapper did. Yes, pay clerk? All quite bizarre.