Friday, January 26, 2024

100 Lighthouses of the USA

This is an Irish lighthouse blog and in all the years I've been writing it, I have never featured a lighthouse from the USA or indeed from Liechtenstein, Uzbekhistan or the Central African Republic. So this is a first and probably an 'only.'
My thanks go to Carissa, one of the students at Fuller's Library in New Hampshire. They wrote to me a while ago, requesting information on lighthouse sites I would recommend to help them with a maritime project they were doing. I sent them back a list I put together and wished them well.
One of the lighthouse sites that I failed to include was this one which features a wonderful graphic of 100 lighthouses of the USA, together with a footnote about the oldest, the tallest etc. Carissa thought I would like this chart and, through one of her tutors, Mrs Skye Olley, forwarded it on to me. 
I have to admit it is a terrific graphic. I have seen only about five of the hundred and it has certainly whetted my appetite to visit some more. It is great to see all the different colours and sizes and shapes on one page, emphasising the tremendous variety of lighthouses in the States.
It also makes me wonder if a similar chart could be done for Ireland? Get Irish Lights or the Great Lighthouses of Ireland team on the job and produce a tick-off chart for all our coastal beacons. It could be great to get younger people interested in our own maritime heritage.
So again, my sincere thanks to Carissa. Hopefully, her kind act may spawn something beautiful over this side of the pond.


Extracts from a lighthouse diary


The roseate terns for which Rockabill was famous. Evidently they weren't there in the early 1900s

I came across this piece recently in the Irish Naturalist Vol 18 No.3 (1909), which I heartily recommend for a spot of light reading unless, like me, you keep getting confused by Naturalists and Naturists. The piece is prefaced by a person called R.H. Scovell who was the type of scientist who probably liked to keep his (or her) clothes on. R.H. was interested in bird migration and came across our old friend Benjamin Robert Jeffers, a lightkeeper and Open Brethren, who, with his dog, saved a bunch of people from drowning off Straw Island six years later.
Benjamin, who was the keeper at Rockabill at the time, offered to copy out extracts from his journal that mentioned birds on the 'Bill and these extracts were published in the Irish Naturalist, once B.R. had established it wasn't a nudie mag. I reproduce them in full.
Nov 10, 1906 - Our larder was replenished last night to the tune of a brace of Woodcock, a pair of lady Blackbirds, a couple of Fieldfare, a Thrush and a Starling.
Nov 14 - 19 Blackbirds, 4 Thrushes, 2 Redwing, 4 Starling and a few Larks came to grief last night.
Dec 24 - Early part of the morning, a lot of birds about Lantern, 5 Blackbirds and 6 Thrushes, also one carrier Pigeon (No. 102, Louviere, ringed in 1906, very nicely marked) came to grief. They will make a nice pie for Xmas whilst our comrade enjoys a turkey or goose ashore.

B.R. Jeffers, lightkeeper and pie-man

Feb 8, 1907 - We had rain last night, and snow and rain during the small hours of the morning: a few Redwing and Thrushes paid their respects to the light about 3am
March 15 - A number of Starling, Redwing and Blackbirds about light from 7 to 9pm.
April 14 - Over a score of birds killed last night.
April 25 - A Redstart, Goldfinch , Willow Wren and Wren caught.
May 6 - A lot of birds struck during night. 10 Corncrakes killed and a number alive on Rock during day; 9 Willow-wrens and several other birds killed also.
May 9 - A great number of birds struck during night, many were caught and let go in the morning, amongst them were a Swift and Whinchat, Wheatears &c; the following were killed:- 8 Corncrakes, 28 Whitethroats, 1 Garden Warbler, 146 Warblers (assorted), 4 Wheatears, 1 Blackstart, 1 Whinchart, about 200 killed altogether. There were a lot of crakes about the Rock during day, also a couple of Redstarts; 1 was caught... Corncrakes make very good soup and also look well when stuffed.
May 9 - Eleven Corncrakes have been stuffed by keepers during past few days.
June 12 - A Spotted Flycatcher (?) got ... and a Manx Shearwater on Friday night.
August 19 - Hawk attacked Charlie and Dick (the Goldfinches) in their cage. Dick was stretched but came to after the Hawk was driven off.
Oct 5 - Some Blackbirds and Thrushes were killed during night.
Oct 8 - Some Blackbirds, Thrushes and Larks struck lantern this morning.
Oct 9 - Blackbirds, thrushes and Larks killed during the night
Oct 10 - A few Blackbirds, Thrushes, Redwing and Larks, also a Missel Thrush and Ring Ouzel killed during the night.
Oct 15 - A large number of birds, chiefly Blackbirds, struck lantern during the night, over a score being killed, including a Missel Thrush, a few Thrushes and Redwing, and several Larks. Wind, north, 5 to 6, showery.
Oct 18 - A great number of Blackbirds flew against the lantern last night - or rather this morning from 12 to 5, also a few Thrushes, a Missel Thrush and some Starlings.Only about a dozen birds were killed by striking.
Oct 29 - Plucked a number of birds and had a grand dinner; 261 all told killed at lantern last night, including 3 Woodcock, 2 Lapwing, 84 Blackbirds, 58 Fieldfare, 11 Chaffinches and 103 Redwing and apparently a few rare ones, 1 Black Redstart.
Nov 1 - A number of birds striking but carried away by the storm; 1 Woodcock found turned inside out.
Nov 2 - About 285 birds killed at lantern last night; 1 Woodcock, 2 Lapwing, the remainder Blackbirds, Redwing, Thrushes and Fieldfare

Jan 1 1908 - A couple of Blackbirds, three Thrushes, a Starling and a Snipe came to grief last night.
March 13 - Kittiwakes arrived this morning.
April 24 - Two handsome Duck or Geese flew around the Rock several times and landed on the 'Bill,' then flew straight for the islands. Probably they are tame - black head and neck with a dark red band around breast and back, back white, tips of wings black and bill red. Sheldrake probably.
May 3 - A number of small birds struck during the night but only a few were killed - 3 Corncrakes on Rock, 2 Redstarts
May 4 - A male Redstart caught in the gas house but died in the afternoon. A Spotted Flycatcher also found disabled.
May 5 - A Turtle Dove paid us a visit today, occasionally finding his way into the garden.
May 6 - The Turtle Dove still cruises around the Rock, together with a carrier and another Pigeon.
B.R. Jeffers,
Rockabill Lighthouse, co. Dublin

R.H. Scovell makes the point that the number of blackbirds killed during migration must be quite enormous, as those killed at Rockabill must necessarily be but a tiny proportion.
A couple of other questions come to mind :-
  • What became of the corncrake stuffing industry?
  • Is this the origin of the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?
  • When he says corncrakes make very good soup, is he praising their culinary skills?
  • How did the woodcock get turned inside-out and did anybody think to take a photograph?

Friday, January 19, 2024

Barr Point Fog Signal - duelling poets


The fog-bell as taken by Sir Robert Ball on a Commissioner of Irish Lights inspection tour around 1908 when the bell was comparatively new. Photograph from CIL Album 7 in the National Library of Ireland

The Fog Bell

Gloomily through the white sea fog
   Comes the boom of the Barr Point Bell,
Telling at regular intervals
   The warning it has to tell;
It warns the mariner far at sea
   Of the crags at its rocky base,
And the helmsman hears and quickly steers
   Clear of this dangerous place.

For the white sea-mist, the grey sea-mist
   That blots out Isle Magee
Is creeping, slowly creeping
   O'er the harbour and the sea.

Short is the time since a sturdy ship
   Was rent on those cruel teeth.
And the gallant crew went down to their fates
   With the white sea spume for a wreath.
Loudly, loudly, the fog-bell tolled
   Through the gale and the murky gloom.
Not steam nor sail could fight that gale
   And the vessel was dashed to her doom.

For the white sea-mist, the grey sea-mist
   That blots out Isle Magee
Is creeping, slowly creeping
   O'er the harbour and the sea.

As I listen its gloomy monotone
   That through the night air floats,
It seems to me as though ghostly hands
   Were tolling those mournful notes:
As if those who had died in the wrath of the sea
   Had come back to earth once more
And were warning their fellow sailormen
   Away from that rock-bound shore.

The anonymous poem above appeared in the Larne Times of 15th June 1907. It was written in response to "Nemo," a columnist who had published the following poem in his Larne Times column, the previous week.

A Suggestion

Oh, hang that blethering Barr's Point Bell,
   With its mournful, monotonous note.
And hang the groans and the dismal moans
   That come from its rusty throat.
If, far, far out on the rolling deep,
   A glimpse of fog's in sight,
It starts its dolorous monotone
   And I get no sleep at night.

It gets on my nerves with its boom-boom-boom.
   It gives me the 'blues' with its croak;
When it starts to ring, I consign the thing
   To regions of sulphurous smoke.
Yes, really and truly, dear reader,
   It's enough to make one swear;
But seeing it's there for the sailorman's good,
   I suppose I must grin and bear.

But still, I have a suggestion to make,
   Though it mightn't improve the thing much.
Why don't they arrange for the Bell to play
   Light opera music as such?
And, every summer evening,
   They could make it sweetly play.
The Stranraer boat could go gracefully past
   To the tune of 'Sail Away.'

It could tinkle of 'Diamonds in Amsterdam
   By the side of the Zuyder Zee,'
Play 'Home Sweet Home' for those fortunate folk
   Who summer in Islandmagee.
It could boom to the sailors in deep-toned notes
   Of a 'Life on the Rolling Deep.'
It could hush us to rest in the eventide
   With the strains of 'Sing me to Sleep.'

The Barr Point Fog Bell was erected on the Islandmagee side of the approach to Larne Harbour on the next headland up from Ferris Point. According to a Notice to Mariners on 1st March 1905, the bell had been established already and would be rung once every ten seconds in thick or foggy weather. It was, it said, suspended from the top of an open iron framework 40 feet high. Judging by the photo at the top of the page, it doesn't look six keepers high to me!
Even by 1906 (Londonderry Sentinel 23rd June) it was already facing calls to have it moved to Skernaghan Point (the next headland up) on the grounds that "its present position is unsuitable, as the sound is carried in the wrong direction, and does not go far enough out to sea."
However, the fog-bell persevered until the end of 1931, when it was replaced by the old fog-gun from Rue Point on Rathlin Island, much to the local population's dismay. As the Larne Times commented, "It is well to remember that there were also many complaints when the 'mournful bell' was installed and that constant familiarity deadened the first distaste."

The present-day fog-signal station at Barr Point, discontinued since 2006, flanked by two sultry Maidens

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Leverets, Galway Bay

The much overlooked Leverets lighthouse on the approach to the docks in Galway (photograph

I suppose its only natural that lighthouses that never had a keeper should fall under the radar somewhat. Ardnakinna, Rosslare Copper Point and the Leverets don't really have that folk memory that allows them to gain kudos in the lighthouse world, which is a shame because Leverets, for one, is quite an interesting structure.
For a start, the name is somewhat strange. People who do pub quizzes (do they still exist in the era of the mobile phone?) will know that a leveret is a young hare, with no obvious connection to lighthouse. But the Leverets are two rocks that the lighthouse is built on and the nearby slightly larger land masses are called Hare Island and Rabbit Island.
With the development of Galway and particularly the city shoreline in the 1950s and 1960s, the light on Mutton Island, which previously had marked the entrance to the docks (as well as warning away from nearby rocks) was often swamped by the bright city lights, much like Ferris Point at Larne being subsumed by the nearby power station. It was felt that Mutton Lighthouse's days were numbered and a new light, out in the bay was needed.

Photo from the

Work on the new light began in 1969 and the light was established at the end of September that year. Not only did it mark the Leveret rocks but it also indicated where the final turn should come on the entry to the docks. It was actually constructed in Galway docks and towed out to the location (a la Kish!!) where divers had prepared the base. It was then anchored firmly to the base.

City Tribune 19th June 1985

Trabas Online List of Lights

There was, however, one rather distressing consequence of the building of the lighthouse.  For four years prior to the lighthouse's construction, Galway had its very own Fungie, who used to entertain the population with its acrobatic tricks. Flipper - as it was unimaginatively named - was a one-ton, 12-foot long, silver-grey porpoise whose playful antics included befriending the UK's Ambassador to Ireland, who liked fishing in Galway Bay, knocking cement bags off pontoons and fouling ropes. 
Unfortunately, due to his habit of habitually nudging the divers working on the base of the new lighthouse and with the possibility of him fouling their airlines, it was decided Flipper would have to be culled. A horrified UK Ambassador pleaded for mercy and it was decided to simply frighten him away with small explosives (the dolphin, not the ambassador) However, a couple of days after this resolution was agreed upon, the headless body of Flipper was found attached to a rope and floating thirty yards to the west of the lighthouse. The construction company denied all knowledge.

Sensitive headline from the Trib (Irish Newspaper Archive)

"When the sun goes down on Galway Bay in the near future, it will be replaced by a bright new light - and it won't be the moon rising over Claddagh." So began the Connacht Sentinel article in September 1969, a few days prior to the establishment of the light. It went on to explain that the lighthouse would be fitted with special light-sensitive plates and, as soon as the light from the sun dropped below a certain intensity, the light would automatically spring into action. Fog would likewise trigger the light. It was not however mentioned how the civil authorities had managed to stop the moon rising over Claddagh.
It was, added the Irish Independent, the first lighthouse in Irish waters to incorporate this system.

From This is Galway

Despite the suggestion that the Leverets was replacing the Mutton Island light, the two co-existed serenely for eight years before the latter was turned off in 1977. It was in fact replaced by a new system of beacons and buoys that were more visible from seaward.
In 1985, the Leverets went solar after a lot of costly niggles with the acetylene. The light kept going out in the middle of the night and a new cannister had to be filled up in Dublin and transported down. Both the Leverets and the shoreline Renmore light were converted to solar panels at a cost of £7,000 with each battery pack having a shelf life of between five and ten years.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

To boldly go - the poetry of Captain Quirke


From Beam 12.1

I kind of like that poem, conjuring up an image of a lightship captain leaning on the handrail and gazing out onto a perfectly calm ocean. Not to mention the ambiguous last line - is it the crew of the vessel he is talking about, or the drowned mariners of yesteryear? And it appeals to my sense of symmetry, with the lines beginning A, A, A and And.
The Quirkes, like many lightshipmen, were from the Faythe and Parnell Street in Wexford (the Grandad in me is dying to say they were Quirkes of Faythe) but their naissance in the wonderful world of engineless boats seems to have started with a Gaul. 
Philip Quirke was a carpenter / joiner in Wexford in the late 1800s and his children included Mary, John, Barnaby and Peter. It was Mary who started the ball rolling, marrying one Richard Gaul in 1898. He was a seaman aboard a 'floating light,' the Lucifer lightship, in 1911. John also worked on the lightships though on a more temporary nature, filling in for absent or ill crew members as the need arose. He had spent most of his working life serving on ocean-going vessels. In fact, at the outbreak of the First World War, he had found himself on a vessel in a German port and ended up being interred in a prisoner-of-war camp for four years. He died aboard the Lucifer LV in 1933.
Barnaby Quirke joined the service in 1907 and served on many, if not all the lightships. He became Mate in 1927 and Master in 1933, finally retiring in June 1942. It wasn't to be a long retirement, for he died six weeks later at his home in Kilmore Quay.
(There were two later Quirkes, James and John, who joined the service. They may well have been Barnaby's sons but I stand open to correction on that one.)
The final sibling, Peter, took over from his father Philip in the carpentry business but his son, Bernard, born in 1904, joined the lightships in 1929, becoming Mate in 1940 and later Master. He served at Barrels, Blackwater, Skulmartin and Codling during his long career of lightshipping and poeticising. 
Captain Quirke, I am aggrieved to say, probably never had a first mate called Spock.