Lighthouses of Ireland
The Fastnet lighthouse (above) is probably one of the best known lighthouses in Ireland, and yet for many it is often difficult to see. A good telescope from Mizen Head, or from near North Harbour on Cape Clear Island. Or from my photographs as I have flown out there many times. The first lighthouse was built more centrally on the rock, the black stump of which can be seen to this day. The original replaced a lighthouse on Cape Clear Island which was often shrouded in fog, as it was high up. Its replacement was made of cast iron which at the time was considered sufficent a violent storm in the 1880s destroyed a similar lighthouse of this design on the Calf Rock. It was therefore considered necessaary to build a new lighthouse on Fastnet in the mid 1890s. This was made of Cornish granite, each block especially made so the whole structure would fit together with interlocking pieces to make it really strong. It was set lower down on the rock, and given a waisted look to make the waves curl round, rather than just bash into it. The light was first established in 1904 and its structure has magnificently stood the test of time, although keepers have spoken of thunderous sounds when big waves pound it. I have been out to the lighthouse for a walk around, I take groups on boat trips round it each June on the Southern Irish Extreme Lighthouse Tour and I fly out there every so often
The above shot of The Fastnet I shot using a Canon A-1 using 100 asa film. It appeared in many publications, and has sold several thousand postcards. Even today, 20 years after I took the shot, it still sells even with so many people doing digital. The first view of the Fastnet, ie the one above this, was taken using my digital Canon 5D mk2
Another famous rock is Skellig Michael, above, which is probably better known for other reasons than as a lighthouse. It first came known as a place where monks lived and prayed. They were hardy men in those times, seeking refuge on this lonely outcrop, and built houses out of stone which are known as beehive huts, because of their similarity. The monastic settlement is on the eastern side of the island, high up at the top of a flight of stone steps carefully built into the rock. The first lighthouse was built in 1826, the ruins of which can just be seen in the above picture at the top of the snaking road. This lighthouse was abandoned when the Tearaght was brought into operation in 1870, and the lower light was kept going. The lower light itself was transformed in 2012 when a 4 tier VLB-44 led light was placed on the balcony just outside the old tower. In the Summer of 2014 the island became a location for the new Star Wars movie, which will be interesting for us to see.
The above picture of mine shows the eastern end of Skellig Michael, showing the landing pier from which supplies were brought ashore for use at the lighthouse. Higher up on the top of the rock you can see the ancient monastic settlement
My Southern tour visits Skellig Michael each June. We land on the island at the above pier, and go up to the monastic settlement, climbing those amazing stone steps. It isn't for the faint hearted, but rewarding for those who make the effort. After visiting the island we take a boat trip round the island to see the lighthouse old and present. This is a fascinating part of the trip as we get to see aspects of the island not often seen by visitors, like the north landing and path way down to it.
Hook Head is the oldest working lighthouse. (I shall probably get into trouble for saying this, but I was on a trip Down Under and watched a video at an Australian lighthouse which stated that Hook was the oldest working lighthouse. So hopefully my Ozzie friends will be there to back me up!!) There has been a light of some kind here since 1172 when monks lived in the tower. The walls of the tower are several feet thick, the stairs to the balcony go up within the walls and leading off the stairs at different levels we find monk cells where they used to scribe their books. In the tower when you look up at the ceiling you will see the old arches and massive fireplaces they had in towers of old. Sometimes called Hook Point this County Wexford lighthouse has played a very important part on the south east coast where sea conditions are often quite hazardous. My Southern tour visits the lighthouse each June.
The Baily overlooks Dublin Bay, the first sight many mariners see as they head for Dublin. This is where the Keepers and Attendants were trained by the Commissioners of Irish Lighthouses. It is well known to the inhabitants of Howth who go for walks on their scenic coastal walks. I took my shots whilst flying out to Rockabill off Skerries and the Kish lighthouses. My Northern Extreme Lighthouse Tour visits the lighthouse. This takes place usually in the last week of August or first week of September. The light was first established in 1814 granite tower was white until 1910
Inishtearaght is one of the less well known lighthouses of Ireland, sometimes mistaken for Skellig Michael further to the south. Many will know the rock quite well, a pyramid shape rising up out of the ocean in the Blasket Islands. In the closing scenes of the Robert Bolt movie 'Ryan's Daughter' as Sarah Miles and Robert Mitchum are getting on the bus you see the majestic sight of Inishtearaght in the background. The lighthouse light shines out over the dangerous Foze Rocks. The light was establed in 1870, taking the place of the upper lighthouse on Skellig Michael. Now fitted with an led light visits to the lighthouse are not so common. The landing pad is one of the more dangerous in existence, pilots who have flown me speak of updraughts sweeping up the slanting rock face to knock the helicopter off course moments before landing. One of my favourite photographic locations. I am often asked which is my favourite lighthouses and I usually say this one, simply because of its magnificent location
Galley Head is on the south coast near Clonakilty, a charming lighthouse built in 1878 with magnificent views up and down the coast. At night you can see the light of the Old Head of Kinsale t the east, and the Fastnet to the west. The Southern Irish Extreme Lighthouse Tour stays 2 nights at the lighthouse each June
The lantern just after lighting at Galley Head. Something magical about the lighthouse at twilight, the gold of the lantern light against the dying embers of the day. This is so different to total darkness outside.
Altacarry, or Rathlin East, is a lovely lighthouse. Here in the above picture of mine we see the coast of Scotland in the background. It is quite a walk to the lighthouse, but a rewarding one and when you are there you are well away from the sights and sounds of civilisation. It is perched high up on a cliff edge. We go there end of August on the Northern irish Extreme Lighthouse Tour
Above is the Eurocopter 135 flown by Irish Helicopters, on hire to The Commissioners of Irish Lights, seen here taking off from Ardnakinna lighthouse on Bere Island. I was there to take pictures of the helicopter at a lighthouse location for Irish Lights. This helicopter has now replaced the Bolkow in which I took many of the lighthouse photographs you see in my books. I have been flying in the Eurocopter since 2008. The lighthouse here only had a lantern fitted in the mid 60s, up until then it was unlit. If you look on my display of Coastal Images you will see a shot I took from the cliffs in the above picture, showing a wave bashing into the Piper Rocks which you see in the middle distance above.
Cromwell Point stands on the eastern end of Valentia Island. I was lucky to get such a flat calm day,, so flat I got the lighthouse reflected in the sea. I took it whilst flying to Inishtearaght in the Blaskets, which you will have seen earlier in this blog. The lighthouse is now open to the public, tours are given. I was there the day Irish Lights Chief Executive Yvonne Shields officially opened the lighthouse to the public. I stood on the balcony with her for the official pictures. My June tour now visits the lighthouse every June for a guided tour, and the picture below was taken during the tour in 2014. Cromwell Point was first lit in February 1841 and was automated in 1947. In case you are wondering, the background in the above picture is of the Dingle Peninsula
There are two lighthouses on the coast of Ireland called Blackhead, one of them is on the Burren in Co. Clare. The one below is in County Antrim and has been restored by the Irish Landmark Trust so it can be let out for self catering holidays. It was built in 1902 atop a cliff with spectacular views across to Scotland. I have stayed there many times and taken pictures for the Trust. There is a lovely coastal walk just outside the lighthouse that goes down to some caves and links up with a walk to Whitegate just along the coast towards Belfast. You will see it on my Northern Extreme Irish Lighthouse Tour
Below is a picture of the lighthouse tower at Blackhead
Another lighthouse you can stay in is Clare Island, but on this occasion it isn't a working lighthouse. It was extinguished in the mid 60s because being so high up it was often shrouded in fog. It was replaced by Achillbeg which you can just make in the picture below
It is just to the right of the top of the lantern top. I took this picture in 2009. The Collins Press, who had already given me a deadline for my book with them 'Ireland's Lighthouses ~ A Photo Essay by John Eagle' were keen to put the book to bed, but neither of us were happy with the picture I had of the lighthouse which was looking up the cliffs at it from a boat. I came back from a trip to Florida with only 3 weeks left and frantically watched the weather forcast for a sunny window of opportunity and this day happened. I raced up there and got the above shot with only a few hours to spare before the rain came again. I took the shot just after dawn, that is why it has that marvellous feel to it. In the background you can see Achill Sound and part of the Achill Island. On the right is Clew Bay famous for having an island for each day of the year. The owner of Clare Island lighthouse, upon seeing my picture reproduced as a postcard, asked me to return and stay at the lighthouse when all the renovations were complete. I accepted of course, and in 2013 I indeed went for a stay there, and what a transformation the place had been given. I stayed in the house just inside the gate on the right, with magnificent views of Clew Bay. The picture below I took at night during my stay
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