Sunday, June 16, 2024

A late-blossoming lighthouse from the Beara peninsula

Another of Ireland's under-the-radar lighthouses, Ardnakinna lighthouse on Bere Island

Joy Tubby's recent fascinating journal of her lighthouse odyssey of the south and southwest coasts of Ireland (published in Lamp 138-140) mentioned Ardnakinna lighthouse on the western tip of Bere Island in Bantry Bay.
I last wrote about this largely unknown light eleven years ago, when I craftily managed to include it in a hike with my brother-in-law. The reason for this lapse was probably because it didn't appear to have had much of a history. It only acquired its light in 1965 and never had a keeper and so, what was there to write about? Joy's article made me take a second look.

According to the Irish Lights websitea beacon to mark the western entrance to Castletownbere was first recommended in 1847 by the Admiralty. It was agreed to build a beacon tower on the west point of Bere Island (Ardnakinna). Construction took place in 1850 and the beacon was left in the care of a local man. The caretaker remained until 1863 when the tower was capped and his services were dispensed with.
This, of course, was not unprecedented. Only ten years previously, the fledging lighthouse on Capel Island had been capped in case it was ever needed again. So far, it hasn't but Ardnakinna has.
The Cork Constitution of 28th December 1852 raises the possibility that this was not the first tower on the site: -

Certainly, there is no 'disused fort' at Ardnakinna Point on the 1st edition OS map, nor indeed anywhere in the vicinity but it is noteworthy that the current grounds at the lighthouse are surrounded by the remains of a wall, for which the beacon itself had no use. However, these bits of rectangular wall certainly seem newer than the early 1800s, so perhaps I am wrong on this. 
What is interesting is the 'old watchman,' who could well have been the caretaker alluded to in the Irish Lights snippet.

The following article from the Kerry Evening Post 16th June 1860 makes it clear that, ten years after the tower was built, it was still in the Ballast Board's mind to make this tower a proper, card-carrying lighthouse.

However, the plan seems to have been scuppered by the end of 1861, as reported in the Cork Examiner of 23rd December of that year. A Captain Greenway, an old seaman, 38 years at sea, speaking at a Famine Meeting in Castletown, put forward a resolution that was passed.

However, Lord Palmerstown, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, refused to sanction these famine works on the grounds that the work would be completed by skilled specialists from outside the area and thus would not help alleviate the famine in the area. The Ballast Board, according to an 1894 report also made the decision not to proceed with the light as it would have been unsafe for sailing vessels to access Berehaven via the narrow strait at Ardnakinna and should circumnavigate the island via the far (eastern) end of Bere Island, where a beautiful lighthouse (Roancarrig) proudly sat.

Ardnakinna from the mainland, the Sheeps Head peninsula behind 

Ridiculously, I have been unable to find a sketch, photo or oil painting of the unlit beacon, which, although a bit of a trek to reach via land, is in plain view from the mainland. Maybe the fact that Bere Island was for many years a large British naval port explains the secrecy. 
During the First World War, the British coastguards built a lookout dwelling in the corner of the lighthouse compound, clearly visible in the top two photographs to the left of the tower. A submarine net was also established from Ardnakinna to the mainland to stop German U-boats attcking the British fleet in Berehaven harbour as they did at Scapa Flow.
The above-mentioned lookout dwelling was inadvertently responsible for the death of 'a British military caretaker,' one Thomas McClure in 1934. Obviously satisfied that there was no further need of a lookout station on the west end of Bere Island, Thomas and a man called James Sullivan, were told to pull the building down. Unfortunately, while doing the job, an eight foot square section of wall fell on top of Thomas and he died of shock from his injuries. He left a widow and a young baby girl.

A much better view of Ardnakinna from the mainland (photo by Pat Tubby)

Eventually, during the 1960s, over 100 years after it was first constructed, Ardnakinna achieved its light. On the 23rd November 1965, the Evening Echo wrote

The article also said that a road had been built to the lighthouse from the landing place in 1860 but this had been totally reclaimed by nature and a new road had to be built. A new landing place also had to be constructed 'opposite,' which I'm taking to mean on the mainland. Hopefully they removed the submarine net.
In conclusion, the Echo said, the lights would be exhibited that evening at a special ceremony attended by the bigwigs of Irish Lights. But, it seems, it was not to be, as T.G. Wilson explains, in his 1968 book, The Lighthouse Service: -

The new light, now nearly 60 years old

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