Sunday, September 3, 2023

Irish Lights' shortest serving PK?


The lighthouse at Roancarrig in Bantry Bay. Taken from the eastern end of Bere Island, which was the nearest I could get to it. Note the new LED light to the bottom right of the tower.

Like a lot of my research into lighthouses, this story raises a lot more questions than it answers and I post this up in the hope that somebody somewhere may have more knowledge of these events than I do.
Last September - yup, this one's a slow burner - my wife, brother-in-law and I spent an idyllic three nights in Galley Head lighthouse as part of a belated roundy-birthday present. Being the only lighthouse buff of the three, obviously we did other things, went out and about to Glandore, Union Hall, the Red Beach, the Long Strand etc. 
One afternoon, in Rosscarbery, we strolled around the cathedral off Carbury's Lane, scanning the headstones for a bit of light reading, and I came across a quite new headstone, commemorating four people who were buried there, the last in 1938.

(Yes, that's my legs and torso in the reflection, taking the picture. I'm no Richard Cummins)

Now, I'd never come across Michael Hayes before. Isaac Hayes, Rutherford B. Hayes, Gina, Dale Hayes and the Champions, Purple Hayes - they all fill my waking hours, but not Michael.
I got in touch with Gerry Butler. After all, this was his domain, his kingdom. But, although he'd heard of Michael, he didn't know his story.
So anyway, Mick (as Irish Lights call him) was born on 6th October 1880 (Irish Lights have the 17th October - it may have been a difficult birth) at Ardagh, Rosscarbery, son of Denis Hayes - a labourer - and Mary nee Reilly.  This is a bit strange in itself, as his siblings were all born at Camus, Ardfield, which is real Gerry Butler territory, being located a mile or two north of Galley Head. On both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, the family are at Camus, Mick being a student and a labourer respectively.
Three years later, on 7th November 1914, he joined Irish Lights and was made an Assistant Keeper on 1st March 1917 with the Seniority number of 267. I have no idea how a labourer managed to get into Irish Lights at that time. Maybe he was doing work at Galley Head or knew the keeper and got an interview based on the PKs recommendation?
I have no record of his first ten years as an AK. He was transferred to Eeragh lighthouse (on the northernmost of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay) in September 1927; thence to Inishtrahull in February 1933. He then had a spell on Blackrock, Mayo from March 1936 to December 1937, when he was transferred to Roancarrig - all uninhabited islands, I see!

The ILV Nabro

He was still an Assistant Keeper on arrival at Roancarrig. On the morning of 7th November 1938, the Nabro - the Irish Lights tender - called at Roancarrig (whether summonsed or on a regular visit, I don't know) and took him off. He had been suffering from violent head pains since 8am. On arrival at Castletown, they immediately transferred him on a stretcher to the Cottage Hospital there. After being examined, he was sent to the South Infirmary in Cork.
Obviously, they couldn't fix him there, so they sent him up to Mercer's Hospital in Dublin, where he died on 26th November. He was 50 years old. The death certificate gave the cause of death as "Rupture of the left cerebral artery - respiratory and cardiac failure."
His death certificate also says that he was married, though I have yet to find out to whom and if there were any children. I suspect that, as the headstone in Rosscarbery is new, that it may have been one of Mick's (or Patrick's) descendants who erected the headstone.
The curious thing is that on the day before he died, Irish Lights promoted him to Principal Keeper. The only reason I can think of is that maybe his wife and any children might be in straitened circumstances when he died and by promoting him on his deathbed, the size of the insurance might be increased, or there was some other benefit to them. I realise, by making this suggestion, that I am giving Irish Lights an altruism that they were not always noted for.

The only photograph I could unearth of Mick Hayes

Although it is not lighthouse related, I will revert to Michael's brother, Patrick Hayes, RIC, shot in Cork 14th May 1921, died on 23rd, as some people might be interested.
Patrick was seven years old than Mick, having been born in 1873. He joined the R.I.C. in 1895, at a time when it was still a highly respected organisation. By 1921, though, it was regarded - whether rightly or wrongly - as being a tool of the British Government and thus were seen as legitimate targets in the War of Independence. 
On 14th May 1921, an RIC patrol was coming down O'Connell Street in Cork when, according to the Skibbereen Eagle, a bomb was thrown among their ranks by two men standing in a doorway. Constable Coughlan, a married man with ten children, had his legs blown off and died immediately. Constables Ryle and Hayes suffered 'severe lacerations of the lower extremities.' Obviously, these were the injuries to which Patrick Hayes succumbed a week later. This version is slightly at odds with the 'Shot in Cork' on the headstone but maybe the newspaper report is wrong.


  1. Intriguing post heartens me to see you don't know everything 🙂
    I often get anxiety just reading your terrific content. Hopefully more info emerges . A

  2. My wife would be able to tell you how little I know about a lot of things, Andrew. Just winging my way through life.