Sitting high on the southernmost point of Dundeady island, Galley Head lighthouse at the time it was constructed could claim to be the most powerful lighthouse in the world. In clear weather, the light could be seen from a distance of 30 kilometres, which was remarkable for the late 19th Century.
Two previous attempts had been made to locate a lighthouse on the site in 1849 and 1857, but each time funds were not forthcoming. Eventually in 1871 Lord Bandon and a number of others wrote to the board pointing out the importance of a coastal light given the amount of wrecks off the headland. Figures were checked, an inspection committee reported, correspondence was forwarded and in due course a lease for land was signed. Two years later work commenced and by January 1878 the light was ready for its official launch. The light’s original character was an unusual six or seven white flashes in sixteen seconds followed by a rather lengthy forty four seconds of darkness. That must have produced some anxious moments for sailors who weren’t familiar with the light’s character!
The glazing on the lighthouse lantern is usually only clear where the beam needs to be directed. Consequently at the landward side, the panes are generally either replaced with copper cladding or painted out. In the case of Galley head, all the panes to the rear are blanked off except for six panes in two faces which have been left clear. Rumour has it, that these clear panes relates to an occasion when the Sultan of Turkey was staying with Lord Carbery at nearby Castle Freke. He wanted to know what the tower was on the distant headland and was told that it was a lighthouse which shone out at night over the sea. The Sultan thought for a moment and then suggested that it might be useful if it also illuminated the roadway and be visible from the castle. No sooner said than done! Six panes on each face were fitted with clear glass and the lighthouse stood illuminated to the Sultan’s delight. While the light still shines on, Castle Freke alas survives only as a Gothic ruin, having been abandoned in 1952.
Conversion to electric was completed in mid 1969 and the assistant keeper was withdrawn and the principal keepers’ wife was appointed female assistant keeper. Galley Head Lighthouse was then converted to automatic operation in 1978-9. The principal keeper retired that February and was appointed attendant from the following morning.
Today, the Landmark Trust leases the two keepers cottages from the Commissioners of Irish Light and the restored dwellings are let as holiday accommodation.
Location: 51°31.798′ North, 08°57.210′ West.
Elevation: 53 m
Character: Fl (5) W 20s
Range: 43 km
My abiding memory of Galley Head is of going to sleep in one of the bedrooms with a window overlooking the lighthouse. Rather than pulling the curtains, I kept them open as I somehow found the rotating light relaxing despite the fact that it lit up the room like Christmas.
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