The Southern Irish Lighthouse Tour 2015
I first ran a lighthouse tour in 2009 for a group that had toured Northern Ireland with the US Lighthouse Society. Coming with me we broke new ground, doing something that had not really been properly tried before although there had been coastal tours. I went to great lengths to get the people out to see the offshore lighthouses and the tour was renamed the Extreme Irish Lighthouse Tour. I used the word 'extreme' up until 2013 when I wondered if it was putting people off. There has however been no shortage of people wanting to join me on this now annual trip along the south coast of Ireland, getting up close and personal with the sentinels.
Over the years I have tweaked the tour to make it better to the year before, ironing out problems and putting in new things to do. Adding Inisheer in 2012 when we didn't have time to actually reach the lighthouse was a bit risky, but it has proved popular because it gives everyone a chance to view life on an Irish island and it slows the pace with the pony and trap ride. In 2014 I added a visit to Little Samphire Island, and this year we got to visit Ballycotton for the first time.
Normally we have started this tour at the Clare Inn, recently renamed Inn at Dromoland, but I found out ten months in advance that the night we wanted to stay there the hotel had been fully booked out for a wedding, so I looked around for another place to stay and it wasn't difficult to make the right decision. I chose Fortfield where we normally spend the second night of the tour. We picked the people up in the Limerick area first then went for a bite to eat at The Creamery in Bunratty before going over to Fortfield for our first of two nights there. A lovely farm B&B with horses in the fields set in the plush Co. Clare countryside not far from the River Shannon. Here we all got to know each other and I did a slide show of my lighthouse pictures before getting an early night for we had to rise early the following morning to catch the ten o'clock ferry from Doolin to Inisheer
The scene that greeted us was far from the above picture. The Happy Hooker was the boat that took us and while she might have been happy few of us relished the prospect of the rough sea crossing. Clinging on tight we faired well enough, and it calmed a good bit as we neared our destination and our horse and trap was waiting to take us for a relaxing clip clop ride through the narrow high sided stone wall lanes of Inisheer so we could catch a view of the lighthouse and the many other sights this lovely island has to offer
Inisheer (Inis Oírr)
Established 1 December 1857, elevation 34m, range w 18nm r 11nm automated 31st March 1978
There is not time to go right up to the lighthouse without adding on another day to the tour, so a distant view is only possible and then it is back to the pier via a sunken church that always draws lots of photographers.
Crossing back over to Doolin we hopped on the bus and headed to the Atlantic Bar in Lahinch for a bite to eat before continuing to Loop Head lighthouse for a guided tour of the tower
Loop Head lighthouse, lantern lit due to failing light. Established 1st May 1854, range 23nm FL (4) W 20s Automated January 1991
The tour of this tower takes you up the stairs and onto the balcony, which is generally what you get at most lighthouses open to the public. However for my tour members I try to go one stage further and actually get inside the lantern room. Not always possible and with the delicate machinery inside the rooms one can understand why it is not generally on offer.
Kilcredaune is one such lighthouse we are able to get inside the lantern room, although alas this one has been switched off since 11th March 2011. It had been automated almost exactly 20 years earlier and had a range of 15nm. The attendant gave us a lovely tour and went into detail on how it used to work.
Crossing the Shannon the following day we passed by Tarbert lighthouse, sitting at the end of a gantry from the power plant. It was established March 1834 and automated December 1966
Entering Co. Kerry our route took us to Tralee and then out to the small harbour of Fenit which caters mainly for yachts and small offshore boats. A boat trip had been arranged to Little Samphire Island
Little Samphire Island established 1 July 1854, automated 1956 operated by Kerry County Council. This was an exceptional guided tour, both of the tower and the adjoining buildings. We got up inside the lantern room, out onto the balcony and was able to wander freely on the island. Restoration work is still progress of the house. At the back we noticed to our dismay that storms had managed to lift off a couple of the wall capping stones, hurling them down through a shed. It will take a great deal of muscle to put them back up again
After leaving Fenit we made a brief visit to Tralee before crossing over the mountains for lunch in Larkins Pub in Milltown. Then it was down the north side of the Ring of Kerry to Cahirciveen to check into our B&B for the night which was the very lovely Strand End House. Then it was off over to Valentia Island by ferry to see Cromwell Pt
Cromwell Point lighthouse established 1 February 1841 automated 4th November 1947 Fl WR 2s
Sited on Valentia Island guiding vessels in from Dingle Bay to Cahirciveen. Here there has been much work done to the site to make it more welcoming to visitors. A tour of the tower up onto the balcony is given and there is an interesting display inside the Keeper's Cottage. An old cannon rests on the wall pointing out to sea
The following day we got up nice and early praying we would be allowed to visit Skellig Michael, which has been plagued by high winds and few boat trips have been able to get there
Skellig Michael, Established 4 December 1826 one of two, the upper discontinued when Inishtearaght started operation. A popular location this one, made famous by the beehive monastic settlement on the other end of the island. The monks who built the monastery carved 600 steps into three sides of the island so that if a storm was coming from one side there would be a safe way up from another side. In 2014 the Star Wars film crew came to shoot scenes for their new movie. It was touch and go as to whether we would make it to the Skelligs, the boats didn't go the day before due to stormy conditions. There has been a lot of wind this Summer making it too dangerous to go out to these offshore rocks. But the weather held good and we all had a great time out there and saw some seals as well as millions of birds, gannets, puffins etc
an aerial view of mine showing the monastic settlement at the top with the landing pier lower right with lane winding its way along to the lighthouse. In the gulley, where the .com of my watermark is, there is a steep set of steps rising to the monastery. The ones we use start from near the building on the lower left of the picture.
After returning from Skellig Michael we made our way to the Beara Peninsula for the night, in readiness for the boat trip to the Bull Rock. This trip had been put off a few times due to the weather and the day we went was foggy. We began our boat trip from the pier in Castletownbere heading east to Roancarrig first
Roancarrig with the new steel tower which holds solar panels and the led light replacing the lantern that was established in 1847 and lasted until February 2012 when it was replaced. Roancarrig watches over the eastern entrance to Berehaven and also helps guide the oil tankers to Whiddy Island further up Bantry Bay.
Up til now the boat trip went well, we couldn't see the summit of Hungry Hill but most of the scenery was visible as our high speed rib tore across the water. The first sign of low visibility came as we passed out of the harbour's mouth, passing Ardnakinna lighthouse
Ardnakinna on the Western tip of Bere Island on a sunny day shown here with the Irish Lights Eurocopter 135 lifting off after ferrying in building supplies. The lighthouse was an unlit beacon up until 1965. I didn't take a picture on the day of the boat trip simply because it looked too dull, so I am using the above picture to show the lighthouse
Turning west we followed the coastline of Beara barely seeing the cliffs on our right. Our skipper slowed to a halt at Blackball Head. The sea was ok, but the fog was unreal. As he told us, we should have been able to easily see the old Napoleonic Signal Tower on the headland above us, but we couldn't see anything. After much debate we continued as I asked if we could be dropped off at the slip on Dursey. As we neared Dursey Sound he said he would poke the nose out into Kenmare Bay to see what it was like, then he just kept going, aiming the rib in the direction he felt the Bull should be. On a normal day you would be able to see the Bull without any trouble from the entry to Dursey Sound. Our skipper's skill found us both the Cow and the Bull
This is the Cow Rock, looking more like an elephant than a cow in my humble opinion!! After finding this one just turn the bows in 30 odd degrees and with a bit of luck there is the Bull, well that's the theory part of it. Pretty dense stuff this fog and no help is given from the Bull lighthouse which you would think would give some sort of light or sound. At Loop Head, which is on the mainland, the light comes on during the day if the visibility levels drops so you'd think the same would apply to a station on an offshore rock. I was surprised that it doesn't light up in gloomy conditions
The Bull Rock. You can just make out the lighthouse upper right. Take a line up from the tunnel entrance and then go slightly to the right and there you have it, er but that is the old lighthouse and has been switched off. The present apparatus is a steel tower with an LED which is well out of view. The tower you can see replaced the temporary light that was built on the end of Dursey after the Calf Rock lighthouse was destroyed in a violent storm November 1881
Above the tunnel entrance on the eastern side are these old ruins, which in their day produced oil gas to power the lighthouse before vapourised paraffin took over in 1910. It really is a fascinating place the Bull, lots of steps, ladders, old buildings and two helicopter pads and then there is the tunnel which some say takes you to the Underworld. I've been through it several times and I have stories to tell, now let me see what can I scare you most with...
The tunnel or cave which is always very exciting to pass through
After having a good look at the Bull we went to Dursey landing at the slip where Tommy Hartnett was waiting to take us for a tour of the island in his minibus. I went for a ride in the minibus in the early part of June and shot a short video
The following day we were supposed to go out to the Fastnet, but the weather conditions were unreal and the trip had to be cancelled. Our skipper, Michael O'Driscoll, told us the following day might be possible and we should keep in touch. So instead we went to the Mizen where I pointed my group at the fog saying the Fastnet was over yonder. I think some of them believed me!! On a normal sunny day you would have no trouble seeing the Fastnet from the Mizen
The Mizen lights, old and new. The LED is a recent addition
The famous bridge. This is actually a new one, replacing the one built in 1909 which became unsafe and was replaced by this new one in 2011. The new bridge is wider to the old one and a quad bike can easily be driven across making it possible to take supplies that much easier. The other difference is that it has not and will not be painted. It won Engineers Ireland Excellence Award 2011
We spent the next two nights at Galley Head Keeper's Cottage where we were welcomed by the Attendant Gerald Butler who also wrote the book The Lightkeeper. Gerald is a wonderful man, who gives his time generously to help people understand more about lighthouses. He gave us a tour of the lighthouse, up to the lantern room where I shot a video
there is a magic about seeing a lighthouse lantern turning after dark, almost spell bounding.
I love the glow of the light passing through the grates of the foot way. That almost silent movement of it turning on its bed of mercury. Gerald also gave us a slide show of his work in Irish Lights starting with Inishtearaght.
Galley Head was established January 1st 1878, automated February 1979
The tower as seen through my bedroom window, what a lovely sight to wake up to
I sent a text to Michael in the morning but he didn't think it was going to be possible, saying there was quite a swell out in Roaring Water Bay. I told the group and they said they understood that it might not be possible. Then Michael said he would give it a go and if we could get over to Schull pier he would take us out in his boat the Blue Thunder. To say some of us were a bit anxious would be putting it mildly, but when you see Michael calmly sitting back in his chair as we head out you know we are going to be alright, and so out to the Fastnet we went and man was it ever good
There was plenty of wave action, with shots like this one above which I like, the way the clouds appear to angle off from the lantern not to mention the breaker hitting the base. It was the first time I had taken my Canon EOS 5D mk3 to the Fastnet and was keen to try it out
The lighthouse took 8 years of hard graft to construct, between 1896 and 1904. The men worked from dawn to dusk living on the rock in often wild conditions. What they built is a magnificent structure, everyone's idea of what a perfect lighthouse should look like and it still remains the one most lighthouse enthusiasts want to see up close. After the Calf Rock cast iron tower was destroyed in the 1881 storm it was decided to replace the Fastnet one with the Cornish granite one that everyone so loves. The black stump of the old tower can be seen to the right of the present tower. There is actually a split in the rock, just to the right of the second rise of surf. Irish Lights know about it and are not concerned, saying one day the rock might fall apart but not for a long time yet. It was called 'The Teardrop' as it was the last sight of Ireland for the people heading off to the New World, and it was about the last thing the passengers of the Titanic would have seen. Every two years there is the yacht race from Cowes that rounds it.
Our next lighthouse was supposed to be The Old Head of Kinsale, but alas we were refused entry by the golf club barrier man. When we went there on the East Coast tour in 2013 it was not a problem and we were warmly allowed in. I have tried writing to the club secretary to ask if we may be allowed to visit the lighthouse, but no response to my request has come
So we continued on our way visiting the small lantern on the battlements of Charles Fort before heading to Roche's Point at the mouth of Cork Harbour. Time was pressing a bit because we had agreed to go out to Ballycotton at 2.30pm and the back roads between Roche's Point and Ballycotton are not the best for sign posts. We took several wrong turns and what with the 3G not working half the time it was difficult getting the map on my Iphone to work. Luck was on our side, the boat people rang me and knew we were having trouble and kindly waited for us
Ballycotton was a new one for me. The Attendant had taken me out around the island in his boat many years ago, but I had never actually landed there before. One of only two black lighthouses in Ireland, the other being Slyne Head on the opposite coast north of Galway Bay. Our guide, Jerry Lynch, took great trouble to tell us lots of stories and made the walk up interesting. We got to see the famous Ballycotton 'Hilton' a very smart modern looking building to house the workers, and we also got to go up inside the tower and view the lantern from the balcony. It is being replaced by an LED and may have been converted by the time you read this. However the apparatus will be rotating like the old one. The bulbs of the old one cost 300 euros each and therefore you'd want to be very careful handling them. The lighthouse was established June 1st 1851 and made automatic in March 1992
The old lantern apparatus, due to be replaced 24th June 2015
Our bed for the night was at The Imperial Hotel in Youghal, a lovely place with white and purple walls and the most gorgeous food. The owners have recently purchased the hotel in Castletownbere which they are calling The Beara Coast Hotel. Youghal lighthouse is the easiest lighthouse to see in Ireland standing right beside the main road. We did the customary group shot in the morning but my lens had fogged up, possibly due to the damp conditions the night before and so the picture I took isn't worth reproducing here.
The following morning we drove over to the Hook lighthouse, stopping to photograph Duncannon North on the way
The Hook lighthouse watches over one of the most dangerous stretches of water along the Irish coast. Many accidents off the coast have resulted in deaths. The lighthouse has been in operation in one form or another since the 12th century. The present lighthouse was automated in March 1996. There is often lots of surf to be had at the Hook
A tour of the tower showed the monks cells off to the side of the stairs up through the thick walls, and great high ceiling rooms inside where fires were lit to keep people warm. With its arched vaulted ceilings the Hook is a must for anyone to see
We all had a good look round before making the return journey to Cork via Dunmore East which has fencing up to stop people going near the lighthouse. It is there so work can be done on dredging the harbour
And so to the final lighthouse of the 2015 tour
Ballinacourty at the entrance to Dungarvan harbour. Established 1st July 1858. A perfect place to have our group photo taken, l-r: Guy and Benedicte Spilbeeck from Belgium, Tommy Hartnett the bus driver, Carol and Alan Davis from USA, Maarit Kostamo from Finland and myself John Eagle. (In case you're wondering the camera was on my tripod and took the shot on self timer)
We then went to Cork where we found that we were all staying close to one another and met up for a lovely final meal before going our different ways. For Carol and Alan it was the start of a new adventure with Tommy and myself a private tour up north visiting Knowth, Rathlin Island, Donegal and Mayo lighthouses. Providing add on tours like this is something we enjoy doing and hope we can do this for more people in the future.
And the good news is I have booked Galley Head for 2016, yes folks the Southern Irish Lighthouse Tour 2016 is all mapped out and you can now book when you are ready. June 25th to July 3rd 2016
A very big thank you to you and Tommy again for the fantastic vacation you
gave us. Good luck with your northern tours and I hope everyone enjoys them
just as much as we did. We really can't express how much your time,
knowledge, and friendly personality's meant to us. My biggest hope for this
trip was to get a feel of Ireland and you both gave it to me and so much
more. You have a beautiful country and you both gave us a wonderful glimpse
into your countries past and present. Thank you again and know if you, Tommy
or his family come this way you are always welcome with us. Take care....Carol Davis (USA) 2015 tour member
I would also like to express my gratitude to WLS member Felicity Engelhardt for her production of the tour brochure