One of only two in Ireland (the other being Slyne Head), the black painted lighthouse at Ballycotton is only accessible by boat. Perched on the steep incline of Ballycotton Island approximately 2 km from the village, the lighthouse was commissioned following the tragedy of the paddle steamship Sirius which was shipwrecked here in dense fog in 1847.
The lighthouse opened four years later in 1851 at a time when the lighthouse keepers and their families would have lived on the island. For the children the trip to school involved rowing the distance to the mainland if weather permitted.
This obviously wasn’t ideal and in 1896, the decision was made to move the families to the mainland. Finding accommodation was surprisingly difficult as various landlords sought to cash in on an opportunity and it was almost three years before all the families had moved ashore.
On island and remote headland lighthouses, the keepers might see no one apart from their colleagues and the crew of the relief boat during their tour of duty. Separation could be difficult both for the keepers and for their loved ones ashore. At Ballycotton the keepers’ families stood on the quay on the mainland at a certain time each day to wave to their husbands and fathers.
The Ballycotton lifeboat station was founded not long after the lighthouse in 1858 and its most famous rescue took place in February of 1936 when the Daunt Rock lightship broke away from her moorings. The seas were so mountainous that spray was flying over the lantern of the 60 metre high lighthouse. The RNLB Mary Stanford spent a staggering 49 hours at sea in a successful attempt to rescue the eight crewmembers after pulling alongside the floundering lightship more than a dozen times
Perhaps because the lighthouse is tantalisingly close to the mainland, the day-to-day drama of life for the families who kept Ballycotton lighthouse alight seems more tangible. It seems therefore more plaintive to look back on the technological advances during the latter half of the last century that made this unique lifestyle come to a close.
By 1975 the light had been converted from acetylene to electricity and automation followed in March 1992. The lighthouse keepers were then withdrawn and the station was placed in the care of an Attendant. The aids to navigation are also monitored via a telemetry link from Irish Lights in Dún Laoghaire.
Location: 51°49.522′ North, 07°59.169′ West.
Elevation: 59 m
Character: Fl WR 10s
Range: W: 39 km, R: 31 km
Perched on an island of the same name a mere 2km from the village, this lighthouse was nevertheless completely cut off for long spells of the winter season before helicopters arrived. Today, you can take a boat out during the summer and have a look at the station up close. The island still dominates the harbour area and I wanted to get in the Severn class boat of the local lifeboat station, so I took a wider view.
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