Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Foze Rocks


Pippa Hare passing the Foze Rocks

Inishtearaght (Inis Tiaracht) is one of the Blasket Islands and is probably the only Irish lighthouse that ordinary Joe Soaps like you and me will never get a glimpse of. This is a shame because it is one of the great lighthouses of the south-west of Ireland. But alas, it is a long way out, the lighthouse is on the far side of the island and no boats go out that far.
It is of course, Ireland's most westerly lighthouse, in fact the most westerly lighthouse of Europe, excluding Iceland. A remote spot with precious little space for cat-swinging and not the ideal spot for your children to play tag. 
However, it is not the most westerly island of Ireland. That honour - and we will generously exclude Rockall in case our British friends get uppity - belongs to the Foze Rocks, two (possibly three) rocks a good thirty minutes more westerly than Tearaght and roughly four miles further south.

The Blasket Islands off the Dingle peninsula. Inish Tearaght is middle left. Great Blasket, which I have visited, is the large one (obviously). Inishvickillane was owned by former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. And the Foze Rocks are bottom left.

According to (the Placenames Department,) their archive suggests that there were three Fozes - An Feo Mór (Great Foze), An Feo Láir (Middle Foze) and An Feo Beag (Little Foze) Unfortunately, I have yet to see a picture of the three and they are too small for satellite Google to pick up.
The reason I am banging on about the Foze Rock on a lighthouse blog is that this was originally the location earmarked for the Tearaght lighthouse. The great debate of Victorian Ireland was not Home Rule or Darwinism but should the Ballast Board build on Foze or Tearaght? To quote from the Irish Lights website
"In March 1846 Captain Wolf of HM Coastguard recommended lights on the south, south west, and west coasts of Ireland, and mentioned Galley Head, Bull Rock, Foze Rocks and Blackrock Co. Mayo. In 1849 the Cork Harbour Commissioners drew the attention of the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (the Ballast Board) to the matter, and the Board's Inspector of Works and Inspector of Lighthouses, George Halpin (senior), agreed that lights should be placed at those stations. 
'In 1857 the Inspecting Committee of the Ballast Board, together with representatives from Trinity House, visited the area. Trinity House decided that the Great Foze Rock was the best place for a lighthouse; however, the Ballast Board preferred Inishtearaght as Foze Rock presented building difficulties and a lighthouse on such an exposed rock would be unlikely to stand up against the heavy seas during winter gales. The Board of Trade ordered that the matter should be given further consideration."
In fact, it seemed, according to the Irish Builder of 15th June 1862, that the debate had been settled:

However, "in 1863 the Inspecting Committee accompanied by Captain Sullivan of the Board of Trade and a committee from Trinity House inspected the Foze Rocks. Trinity House still maintained that the Foze Rocks was the best position claiming that they had built lighthouses on equally as exposed rocks. The Ballast Board held on to their preference for Inishtearaght and in September 1863 after much correspondence the Board of Trade directed the Ballast Board to erect a lighthouse on Inishtearaght."
To be fair to the Ballast Board, I reckon they were proved right. We know what happened to the Calf Rock along that same stretch of coast in 1881. 

The Little Foze

And so that was that and the Foze Rocks sunk (not literally) into obscurity for 120 years. I doubt you could have picked out a lighthouse on Foze anyway, even one 50 feet tall. Problem is that now you had some rocks out in the Atlantic that weren't even marked with a perch, never mind a light.
But then two events happened which thrust it, if not into the limelight, at least back on stage behind the curtain.
Firstly, it was learned that our Great Leader, Charles J. Haughey, while working tirelessly to heave the country out of the economic morass we were in during the 1980s, decided with some friends on Inishvickillane to take advantage of a day with the sea as flat and calm as glass to visit the Great Foze. Not only did they land but they had a party there and on leaving, left a bottle of Cork Dry Gin and several glasses on the island for the benefit of any poor mariner that might be shipwrecked thereon.
Secondly, the  Round Island Yacht Races of the late 20 teens threw up an odd scenario to do with record times. In sailing around Ireland, you naturally have to sail around Ireland. Even I can grasp that. But there are strict specifications about routes you can use. Naturally you have to go around the Blaskets, but the Foze Rocks weren't mentioned in the specifications, so technically, you could dive in between the Foze Rocks and Inishvickillane. 
Well, in one of the races you could. Afloat wrote two great articles about it here and here. Seems there are two races that circumnavigate Ireland, one going clockwise and one anti-clockwise but the routes aren't quite the same. And both were claiming record times.
Oh and we also got one of Robert Calwell's mid-nineteenth century sketches of the two (or is it three Foze Rocks) complete with the very important longitude coordinates.

(Just as a postscript, check the date on one of those Afloat articles!)

Incidentally, I came across the following story while researching the Foze.
Nothing to do with lighthouses, or maybe it had to do with the absence of them, I am completely astounded by the lack of information I can find on a ship called "The Monarch of the Sea," an emigrant ship which left Liverpool on 20th March 1866 bound for New York with a conservative estimate of 700 passengers and 59 crew onboard.. Between May and July the newspapers are full of speculation as to what had become of it. Then in July, bodies and driftwood started washing up on the Dingle and Blasket coastlines, seemingly confirming the worst.
And then... nothing. Not a word. No inquest, no news that anything had been found. It was surely Ireland's worst peacetime maritime disaster but it appears to have been airbrushed from history? Or does it count as 'our' disaster if the journey started in another country? Plenty of the names of those lost are Irish though.

The Daily Post 11th July 1866


  1. That emigrant vessel would make an interesting who dunnit Pete

    1. Have to say, I'm both intrigued and puzzled by it!

  2. Great article as always Peter.

  3. Great article as always Peter thanks.greg.