Following last year’s United States Lighthouse Society Tour to Northern Ireland, six of us stayed on to experience what we call “Extreme Lighthousing” with John Eagle, a noted Irish lighthouse photographer. Our group, consisting of myself and husband Tom along with Mary and Phil Borkowski and Phyllis and Dave Idell, met up with John at the farewell dinner of the Lighthouse Society tour where he was the guest speaker.
The next morning we were off on a minibus to view lighthouses at Beeves Rock, Tarbert Island, Little Samphire Island, and Cromwell Point, which according to the sign is the most westerly settled community in Europe. After walking along the rocky shore near the 1841 Cromwell Point Lighthouse, built on the site of an old Cromwellian Fort, we proceeded to Port Magee on Valentia Island, County Kerry where we were the first guests of the newly opened Kenneth Roddy’s Bed and Breakfast. That evening we had an enjoyable and informative visit with Ken’s father, Joe Roddy, a former lighthouse keeper of North Stack and South Stack Lighthouses.
The next morning was beautiful, but stiff winds were kicking up the waves and our chances of getting to Skellig Michael Lighthouse didn’t look good. We started the day by visiting the amazing Skellig Heritage Center, which explains the history of the 6th century monastery, sea birds, underwater life, and of course the lighthouse, and waited to see if the trip to the lighthouse would actually happen. Finally the word came — it was a go! The yellow rain gear we donned when we boarded the boat for the trip to the lighthouse was most welcome, as before too long we were soaring over the waves and watching the Skellig Michaels, two rock islands with lots of bird life, come into view. After dropping off the other people at the dock, our captain steered the boat around the side of the island so we could see the lighthouse. There, way up high, was the Low Skellig Michael Lighthouse squeezed into the rocks with a focal plane of 175 feet. Wow, what an engineering feat! As the boat moved farther around the island, we could see the stone headless tower of the old 1826 lighthouse even higher up on the rocks — totally incredible! One has to wonder how they built these lighthouses in such dangerous locations. If only we had photographs of the old lighthouse being built, we’d have some
dramatic images of the bravery and skill of the men who constructed these engineering marvels.
We docked on Big Skellig Michael Island. John Eagle said he knew of a place where we could overlook the lighthouse, but unfortunately a locked gate blocked our way. So we continued to climb to the 6th century monastery at the top — six hundred uneven rocky rock steps to the top, all without a railing. Just getting supplies up there must have required brutal back-breaking tenacity. Six beehive-shaped huts of mortar-less construction, two oratories and a church are all that remain of this 6th century monastery, which was abandoned in the 13th century. Slowly and very carefully, I walked down the steps, watched for puffins (saw one), viewed the sea and rocks below, and was thankful for the clear, dry day.
After a restful night at the Coulagh Bay B & B in Eyeries, we went to Castletownbere to view the range lights. Here we met Sean Harrington of Sea Safari’s and boarded his rib called the “Ocean Runner” for one of the wildest boat rides of our lives! After passing Ardnakinna Lighthouse on the tip on Ardnakinna Island, we held on tight as the rib soared in 8 to 10 foot seas. Sitting in the front seat, I could see the waves rolling in. The rib would rise up high, so high that I could see nothing but sky, then drop off, hit the water hard, and jar every bone in my body. Very quickly I learned to stand up and ride the waves. What we won’t go through to visit and photograph a lighthouse! The clear day enabled us to view Bull Rock a long way off, like a small white speck that became the lighthouse. With a focal plane of 271 feet, the still active 1889 lighthouse sits near the top of the rock and to this day continues to light the way. Taking photographs from the rocking rib proved to be a challenge. On the way back, we stopped to photograph the remains of the 1866 Calf Rock lighthouse that was destroyed by a storm in 1881, and the Roancarrigmore Lighthouse that is located on a small island off Bere Island. My husband, Tom, was also able to get a photo of Sheep’s Head light in the far distance with a telephoto lens. All in all, it was one of the most exciting 48 mile rides I had ever experienced!
Later that evening we met a former Fastnet Lighthouse keeper, Dick O’Driscoll, and his wife Moira, who live near the B & B,
Coulagh Bay House, where we were staying. What a pleasure it was to meet him and hear about the challenges of living on Fastnet Lighthouse, Ireland’s tallest and southernmost lighthouse. He still keeps track of the weather every day just as he had on Fastnet.
Gale force winds and rain did not make for a pleasant walk to Mizen Head Lighthouse the next day, although photographs of the sea are awesome! Although we enjoyed visiting the dry visitor’s center while the winds and the sea raged outside, our anxiety grew as we feared our 6 p.m. boat trip to Fastnet would not happen. Around 6 p.m. the weather cleared enough for us to drive to Crookhaven and view the lighthouse. Was that Fastnet Lighthouse in the distance? Yes! On the drive. Way in the distance was Fastnet! Well, at least we got a view.
However, later that night John Eagle asked us if we would we be willing to get up at 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. boat trip to Fastnet Lighthouse? What a stupid question!
One hopeful and very excited group was waiting on the dock at 7 a.m. By the time dawn broke, we were riding waves on Roaring Water Bay in Kieran Molloy’s boat on our way to Fastnet Lighthouse. Even though the wind was blowing, it was cold and the waves were rolling: we didn’t mind at all. As the Fastnet Lighthouse came into view, miraculously the sun came out! Our captain circled Fastnet Lighthouse twice, which enabled us to really enjoy the beauty of the lighthouse and its double 1st order Fresnel lenses. On the Fastnet trip we also photographed Cape Clear and Copper Point lighthouses. By the time we got back to the mainland, we were starved and cold, but felt happily rewarded for the experience of a lifetime. After a late breakfast, we left for our return trip to the Bunratty Castle Hotel in Shannon and the conclusion of a very
successful and exciting “Extreme Lighthouse Adventure.”
We highly recommend an Irish lighthouse adventure with John Eagle. To learn more about our trip, check out John’s website at http://indigo.ie/~eaglejr/lhtour.html
This story appeared in the
March 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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