Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Little Samphire Island

A slight detour on our way home to Dublin from our trip to Valentia Island saw us heading up to Fenit (pronounced Feenit) to bag Little Samphire Island. I had heard that the keeper here could sometimes walk to the shore at very low tide but the guy in the Harbour Cafe said he'd never seen it.

The lighthouse sits on an island near the big bridge in Fenit (still pronounced Feenit) It was built in 1854 and the complex includes a keeper's house. The Commissioner of Irish Lights announced its intention to hand control of the lighthouse over to Tralee and Fenit Harbour authorities but I can't find confirmation that they have actually done so. The lighthouse, though, no longer features on the list of lights run by CIL. 

Castlemaine Beacon

This is Castlemaine Beacon, built at least before 1866, and standing severely damaged at the top of a spit of  land leading out into the bay from Glenbeigh. The spit of land is called Rossbehy Strand.
We set out walking up the beach to find this beacon, which had been forsaken by CIL in 2010. It was very very misty and we weren't sure if we could actually see it if it was off-shore.
Rossbehy Strand though has altered greatly in the past ten years. Erosion of the dunes at the northern end of the spit of land has turned the most northerly section into an island except at low tide. And, as we learned later, the storms over the past few years had finally put paid to the tower. It no longer exists. The photo above is an old photograph.
The good news is that a replica of the tower, using much of the brickwork of the original, is currently being erected next to the local football field. Log in to Facebook page (www.facebook.com/glenbeigh.ie) for progress reports.

Replica tower unveiled - see here

Valentia Island Shore Station

At the turn of the century, a block of eight terraced houses were built just on the outskirts of Knightstown (come up the hill from the pier and turn right at the church) They did not house the family that kept Cromwell Point Lighthouse but rather, the families of the relief keepers that worked on the Skellig Light and Inishtearaght Light on the Blasket Islands.
The houses are now holiday homes.

Harbour Rock Perch, Valentia Island

The extremely dangerous Harbour Rock at the northern entrance to Valentia Harbour, was originally avoided by following the directional lights on the coast. Nowadays, the Harbour Rock is marked by a perch consisting of an iron pole, 12 metres high, painted black/yellow/black with east cones. This perch was lit on the 15th July 1991 with a character of Q(3)W 10 secs visible from 080° - 040° (230°).

Valentia Directional Light

Didn't do my homework on this one and spurned an opportunity to bag a second lighthouse.
The Valentia Directional Light is situated not far from Knightstown on Valentia Island. Take the road out of Knightstown and turn right at the church to take the high road across the island. About 200 yards further on, take a right turn for the coastal road down to Glanleam House. Not far down this road is the tell-tale CIL red gate with the usual dire warnings of death to all who venture within.

Actually there is not much space to get a clear view of the lighthouse which comprises a conical white tower with a wide orange stripe together with an equipment hut. You can get clearer views further down the coast, even from Cromwell Point Lighthouse, so long as you have a decent zoom.

An unlighted beacon was established here in 1891 to guide vessels past Harbour Rock. Itt was lighted in 1913 and maintained by the relief keepers in the nearby Knightstown cottages. The front light previously had a red stripe. On 26 February 2011 a new directional light was established in the same position as the old front lead with a character of Dir Oc. W R G 4s (3.0 + 1.0) and sectored as follows: Green 136° -140° (4° ), White 140° -142° (2° ), Red 142° -146° (4° ). The light is shown 24 hours a day.This is the light shown.

Unfortunately, what I didn't know, was that this is only the front light. There is also a rear directional light, consisting of a red stripe on a white wall, 18 meters higher up on the other side of the road.

Cromwell Point, Valentia Island

In all my visits to lighthouses, I've actually got inside very few of them. Hook Head, the Old Head of Kinsale, Mizen Head. Erm, that's it. 
So it was with great delight that we walked down the long road to the lighthouse on Valentia Island, one of the so-called 'Great Irish Lighthouses' that have been opened up to the public. 

For a paltry €5 each, we were shown around by Luke, who was there for the season. He was very informative about the lighthouse and enthusiastic about his brief. 

The lighthouse was built in 1841 as a harbour light for Knightstown and beyond on the grounds of an older Oliver Cromwell fort, the ramparts of which are still visible. It is a very unusual lighthouse in that it is very low, not much above sea level, so one can imagine that in violent storms, the views are pretty spectacular! In fact, tentative proposals have been made to build a glass canopy down to the lighthouse so that the public can safely witness the power of the sea!

A small bridge links the lighthouse to thew rest of the compound. The tower is open and also the keeper's house, which has many photos and memorabilia contained within. Huge boulders, which were washed up by the storms of 2014 lay strewn around.

View from Valentia Directional Light, further east along the coast

The keeper's house


A standing stone in the Fort complex. This was one of fourteen. The others are scattered around Valentia

On the adjacent island of Beginish sits an old stone signal tower. In the old days, a watchman would wait for ships to come sailing in. He then would signal to pilots in Knightstown to come and guide the ship into harbour, a lucrative business.


Okay, crap photographs alert. Inishtearaght is the outermost of the Blasket Islands and the lighthouse stands on a precipice on its western end, facing out to sea. It is in fact the westernmost lighthouse in Europe, excluding Iceland. No boats go to Inishtearaght and you can't see the lighthouse from any of the other Blasket Islands (all of which are uninhabited)
So this was the one lighthouse I thought I would never get a photo of, without spending a considerable amount of money. Imagine my excitement, then, when climbing Bray Head on Valentia Island, that I realised I could just make out the string of white dwelling houses. Even at 200 x , the photos are blurred and indistinct but better than nowt, I suppose.

The lighthouse took six years to build and was finally opened for business in 1870. It is said that if you go to Dunquin Pier, you might find a boat owner willing to take you out there for a fee but only if the sea is perfectly calm. Marinas.com has good aerial photographs of this lighthouse here

Portmagee Not-a-Lighthouse and Bray Head

Valentia Island, at the end of the Iveragh Peninsular, is linked to the mainland at its eastern end and a bridge near its western extremity, linking the island to the small fishing port of Portmagee. Halfway across the bridge is a structure that looks very like a lighthouse. But its not. Nor is it a coastwatch tower or lifeboat station.

The bridge was built in 1970 and consecrated by the infamous Bishop Eamon Casey. The middle sections of the bridge could be raised to let large boats pass through and indeed, this happened twice in 1970. But it hasn't happened since and the controls are now rusted. The tower houses the controls.

Above and below, pictures of Bray Head, the outermost part of Valentia Island. The structure in the picture tower is an old Napoleonic signal tower and the view above is the view from that tower. Note the two Skelligs in the distance. I include these pictures for the simple reason that this was the site earmarked for the only light between Loop Head and Cape Clear in 1818. However the Skelligs was chosen instead.

Skellig Michael Low Light

"But for the magic that takes you out, far out of this time and this world, there is Skellig Michael ten miles off Kerry coast, shooting straight up seven hundred feet sheer out of the Atlantic. Whoever has not stood in the graveyard and their beehive oratory does not know Ireland through and through."
So said George Bernard Shaw after his visit to Skellig Michael in 1910 and I don't think I've ever been to a place that evoked both such a sense of history and a sense of the beauty of raw nature.
Skellig Michael is the larger of two uninhabited islands that lie eight miles off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsular in county Kerry. Both islands are bird sanctuaries but Skellig Michael is more noted for the 1500 year old beehive huts constructed by the monks and inhabited for well over 500 years.

During the summer season, boats visit the island. As a World Heritage Site, their numbers are limited, to limit the number of visitors every day. Whether the boats run or not is not determined by the roughness of the sea but the size of the swell at the small landing quay on the south side of the island. As a result of filming here of the new Star Wars movie, all boats are booked out until the end of the season, though we went down to Portmagee and got a cancellation very easily. Most of the boats go from Portmagee but a couple go from Ballinaskelligs. Be careful when booking, as there are other tours that circumnavigate the Skelligs but don't actually land.

When you arrive on the island, you follow a path around to the centre of the island where you begin your climb of the 700 steps to the top, among thousands of docile puffins (we went in June). In the old days, the path continued around to the two lighthouses on the western side of the island but this path is now closed. However, all is not lost. About two-thirds of the way up the climb, there is a little resting place called the Saddle. By veering up to the left, and keeping to the path, you are able to get a good overhead view of the Lower Light. The Upper Light unfortunately is located on the far side of a large rock blocking your view.

Early in 1818, a light was looked for on Bray Head on the westernmost tip of Valentia Island, as there was no light between Loop Head and Cape Clear Island. After much deliberation and procrastination, George Halpin, the Inspector of Works and Lighthouses, recommended that two lights should be built on Skellig Michael itself, a higher and a lower. These came into being in 1826, along with adjacent dwelling houses. The upper light was 372 feet (121.3m) above high water and could be seen at a distance of 25 miles (40.2km) in clear weather, the lower light was 175 feet (53.3m) above high water and could be seen for 18 miles (29km). Each tower was approximately 48 feet (14.6m) overall height and they were 745 feet (227m) apart. The tower and dwellings were painted white.

In 1869, Principal Keeper Callaghan requested a transfer off the rock, as he had buried two young children there. These two poor souls had spent their entire short lives on the island. Callaghan's request was acceded to, but not until several years later. The grave of the two small children can be found in the monastery section of the island among the beehive huts. At the turn of the century, shore dwellings were built for the families of the keepers here and on Inishtearaght on the Blasket Islands and the lights became relieving rather than residential.

The Upper Light, like many of the early Irish lights, was found to be too often shrouded in fog and was discontinued in 1870 when the light at Inishrearaght, the outermost Blasket Island, was established. 

The photo above is of the Saddle, which you must climb to get a view of the lower lighthouse. The path goes up to the dip, then you have to climb the first ledge and continue on around. Not for the faint-hearted!

Above, the large cliff behind which the Upper Lighthouse sits. You can see some of the path in the photo. Apparently the trick to get a photo of the Upper Lighthouse is to ask the boat captain, when you are leaving, if you can go around the far side of the island and maybe offer him a tip. Sadly, conditions were very choppy on the day we travelled and I left a stream of puke between the mainland on the island on the way out, so, despite being so close, my stomach wouldn't allow me to ask the captain to prolong the journey home.

But for what its worth, this is a picture of the old upper light.