With its lantern poking out through the roof, Beeves rock lighthouse on the Shannon Estuary looks like it could have come from the imagination of a Swords and Sorcery writer. It’s only accessible by boat as there are almost no roads that go anywhere near it, which only adds to its melancholy appeal.
Built in 1855, it was intended to shepherd shipping past the very rocks it stands on. Its unusual appearance was partly dictated by the difficult build on a submerged reef mid channel. Work could only proceed at low tide and because so little of the rock was exposed, the design was necessarily kept compact.
Its success can be measured by the fact that few vessels have sunk in this stretch of the river since its establishment. One of the more unusual wrecks to have floundered in the estuary happened in 1957 when a Dutch aircraft carrying diamonds crashed with its cargo. You’ll not be surprised to discover that this particular shipment was quickly recovered!
In the early part of the 20th Century, one of the lighthouse’s keepers happened to be the maternal grandfather of former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. In 1910, James McGinley was stationed on the rock. He took time off to marry Margaret Heekin and she moved into a Commissioners of Lights cottage on the mainland, near Askeaton, Co. Limerick. She must have spent many lonely days in the six-room house as her husband did his duty out in the estuary. From the records of the 1911 census we know she was at that time once again alone and completing the record, she signed the form ‘Maggie McGinley – head of family’. Daily communication with her husband was only possible via semaphore as there were no phones or radio communication. She could see the lighthouse, and James could see her through his binoculars, but until his leave was due, this was their only form of intimacy.
The structure with its 12 metre high tower was converted to unwatched in 1933 and came under the jurisdiction of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners in 1981.
Location: 52 39.0155 North, 9 01.3406 West.
Character: White flash every 5 s; Red flashes shown to the North & North-West.
Range: 8 km
Despite being in the middle of the Shannon estuary, Beeves rock is as isolated as any lighthouse. There isn’t a road that leads to a viewing point that I could find and so the only way to see it is by boat. With the low horizon of the estuary, the lighthouse projects an imposing silhouette. It’s like the home of some mad, nutty inventor…
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