Monday, September 4, 2023

Rinalan Point, county Clare and oil rustlers


Photo Alexander Trabas, Online List of Lights

Not so much a lighthouse. More of a 'light beacon' as Irish Lights calls it. Yes, Irish Lights, though at this stage I suspect it has been handed over to the Shannon Port Authority. When the powers that be came to divvying up responsibility for Shannon estuary lights, it was decided that everything between Loop Head and Beeves Rock (roughly where the River Fergus empties into the Shannon) should be Irish Lights (Kilcredaun, Corlis Point, Scattery Island, Tarbert and Beeves) while every light between Beeves and Limerick (Horse Rock, Sod Rock, Spillanes Tower etc etc) would come under the auspices of the Limerick Harbour, now the Shannon Port, Authority.

Rinalan Point marks the western boundary of the Fergus estuary and is west of Beeves, so in 1903, Irish Lights was asked to place a light on Rinalan Point to help all the traffic coming down the Fergus. With a distinct lack of enthusiasm, they replied that a lighted buoy off Aughinish Spit on the south bank would do the job just as well. The Limerick Harbour Board replied that, erm, no, it wouldn't. So reluctantly, the light was erected in 1906.
The Notice to Mariners for that year said it was an unwatched occulting white light, located 350 yards east of Rinalan Point on the north bank of the Shannon between Beeves and Tarbert. The light was 30 candle power, 13 feet above the high spring tides and was visible for eight miles. It would be exhibited from the top of an iron column painted with black and white bands atop a concrete platform.
(A further Notice to  Mariners at the end of 1907 stated that well, actually, the light is only 275 yards from Rinalan Point, not 350. Sorry about that.)
The 1934 U.S. Hydrographic survey stated that the black and white tower was 23 feet tall which means that either ten feet had been added or it was a typo for 13 feet.

No, it isn't a flock of cormorants perched on the light. Its a flock of Irish Lights bigwigs on their annual inspection, checking for cobwebs and whether the steps have been polished. Photo from the National Library Ireland, which says it is a Wigham light ( a light that is made out of Wighams.) The cost of the erection of the light was roughly £200 and it took around £30 per year to run, between the oil and the attendant to administer the oil.

The first attendant, appointed on 1st April 1906 - probably the date the light was established - was Michael Cahill of the townland of Shannakea, who farmed the land around Rinalan Point. He was 38 years old at the time and he kept the light topped up with oil until he formerly handed over the job to his son Patrick on 8th April 1939, when he was 71. 
In 1979, on the instructions of the representative of the late Patrick Cahill, the 'moderately sized farm' with its 'everlasting water supply' was put up for sale, thus ending the involvement of the Cahill family with the light.
(Incidentally, the father of the infamous gangland boss the 'General,' Martin Cahill, was called Patrick Cahill and was, by all accounts, an alcoholic, but scrupulously honest lightkeeper. I have been unable to trace where Patrick worked - probably one of the Dublin lights - but he was certainly not the aforementioned Patrick Cahill of Shannakea!)

Google Street map view

All in all, the Rinalan (or Rinelon) light has led a very sedate existence. No keepers have been stranded for days, no bosun's chairs and no tidal waves. The only flutter of excitement was its leading role in the Civil War, an incident that has been scandalously ignored by Diarmuid Ferriter and the like. I quote from a letter written by M. Cahill to the Commissioner of Irish Lights on August 19th 1922.

"I beg to inform you that I ordered Pat Cahill to supply 2 barrels of oil last year.
When it landed at Kildysart Quay, it was taken away off the boat by a party of armed men on 2nd July 1922."

This brazen act of theft by (presumably) members of the Anti-Treaty faction could so easily have tipped the armed struggle in their favour. How different Ireland would have been if we had had deValera running the country for decades. Oh, wait … 

1 comment:

  1. Always enjoy a good light beacon story Pete, much ignored infrastructure imo. A