Saturday, December 16, 2023

Helvick Harbour light


Mackerel fishermen at Helvick Harbour c. 1960 (Photograph from the Capuchin archives)

I know very little about Helvick harbour. In fact, I'm not even sure it is spelled with a 'k' or not, though I recognise the 'vik' part of being of Norse descent. Nor have I ever visited, although I must have skirted past it while driving from Ballinacourty lighthouse to Mine Head. In all photos I have seen, it looks absolutely stunning and is definitely a place where I would like to spend a bit of time, if only the Airbnb prices would come down a bit.
It is located across Dungarvan Bay from the aforementioned Ballinacourty lighthouse and seems to be well sheltered, with a north facing aspect. For older people like myself, the name is probably associated with a gun-running incident in 1973.
I think it was on the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page that I came across the photograph above. A lot of the comments were focussed on the identity of the four gentlemen centre stage but, being a complete anorak, I was drawn to that strange metal structure at the harbour entrance:

Judging by the man on the pier to the right of it. it seems to be around 22ft (6.5m) in height, probably steel fabricated with a light on top. Its like a smaller version of a lighthouse you might expect to find in Oman or Kiribati. We don't really do that sort here. The only one that comes to mind is the Querrin Quay light on the Shannon, which is 92 feet tall.

Querrin Quay Leading lights rear

I tried to find the date of establishment of the Helvick harbour light without much success. The Waterford Standard in October 1926 quoted the Minister of Fisheries as being excited at the prospect of opening up the harbour. He personally had enticed three fish curing entities there and had got pledges from Arklow fishermen to land their herring there. All that was required now, he said, were a few minor facilities like a supply of fresh water and "a guiding light at the harbour entrance." He noted, rather acerbically that the latter issue had come up at a council meeting the previous February...
Did Helvick get a light then? Well, the same paper in February 1934 was running an ad for a council tender "to light and care for three lamps and one beacon lamp at Helvick Harbour for three years at £18 per year." The beacon lamp, I'm assuming would be the main harbour entrance light, so it looks like some sort of guiding light had been established, or at least erected.
In 1948, however, the paper reported there was a need to dredge the harbour and put lights on the pier. Whether the beacon lamp was still there and whether these pier lights were additional to or replacements for the three lamps tendered for in 1936, is unclear.
What we do know is that the light in the top picture was there in the early 1960s. If it is a light. It might be a theodolite or some other maritime instrument unknown to me. So, no, we don't really know that.
Okay, what we really really do know is there is no beacon light there now. Pier lights, yes. I think. I'm hoping someone local can put me straight.


  1. Went to school in Ring in the early 1960s, when my father was stationed at Mine Head. Ring and Helvick was a great place to learn Irish easily. We lived there for 4 years and left on transfer to the Galley Head as fluent Irish speakers.

  2. Somebody asked me recently what was the longest journey from a mainland lighthouse to the shops and I came up with Mine Head or Mizen. Fair old trek every day!