Postcard depicting the Helter-Skelter lighthouse at the Irish International Exhibition in Dublin in 1907
Sunday, July 23, 2023
Herbert Park, Ballsbridge (lost lighthouse)
I am fortunate enough to remember helter-skelters which were a feature of travelling fairgounds, although, even as a child, I considered them a lot of hard work for a few seconds exhilaration. Basically, they were a glorified slide which spiralled down around a tower, ascended by a metal staircase which gradually filled up as gobshytes forgot to lift their feet when coming down and came to a halt halfway. The Beatles had a song about one, later covered brilliantly by Siouxsie and the Banshees,
My grandad, had he been the sort to have spent his hard-earned tuppence on such frivolities would, apparently, have known them as a 'helter-skelter lighthouse,' so called due to their resemblance to an actual lighthouse. Maybe they had a light shining from the top as evening fell? Anyway, I suspect they served little purpose as aids to maritime navigation, particularly this one, located as it was a long way from the sea. Though I do have a picture in my head of bearded, old, Edwardian lightkeepers shouting out "Wheeeeeeeeeee!!" as they descended from the lantern after a four-hour shift.
The Irish International Exhibition was one of those science and art extravaganzas designed to promote Irish industry abroad, probably a bit like the Venice Biennial. The plebs, such as myself, were also catered for with various entertainments designed to fill the viewer with a sense of wonder. Aside from the helter-skelter lighthouse, there was an ants and bees exhibition, which I'd certainly have handed over 3d to see and also a genuine Somali village which, I'm sure was recreated without the slightest hint of latent or overt racism in evidence.
The exhibition ran in Herbert Park in Dublin from early May to November 1907 and appears to have caused a fair degree of agitation from the start and not only from the ant and bee enthusiasts. It was condemned at the outset by John Redmond and his Parliamentary Party, according to the Morning Post, the Gaelic League and other national organisations.
Whatever the thoughts of the Nationalists at the outset of the exhibition, on its final night, it seems to have been the pro-British lobbyists (or Rowdies, as they were endearingly called) who took umbrage at the exhibition and ran riot, smashing everything up, including the highly popular lighthouse. I'd imagine the organisers of the exhibition said 'Feck this for a game of soldiers.' This from the Freemans Journal:
The only disappointment appears to have been that the Somali villager didn't make a speech on technical education. I'd have loven to have heard that.
So began and ended one of the shortest-lived lighthouses in Irish history. Wikipedia, which is never wrong, tells us the origins of the helter-skelter lighthouse:
The first known appearance of the helter skelter was at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1906, which survived for thirty years until 1935. However, the ride's development began around the turn of the 20th century, when a helter skelter was built on Great Yarmouth's new Britannia Pier.
Which may be very true but then again, how would they explain this photo from the Earl's Court Exhibition of 1887?