The present structure of Hook Head is about 800 years old and is the oldest intact operational Lighthouse in the world. It was founded by St Dúbhan, a welsh monk who settled on the peninsula then known as Hy Kinsellagh. Legend has it, that distressed at finding so many shipwrecked sailors washed up on the rocks below, he commissioned a local blacksmith to make a chauffer or metal basket, in which he built a fire and displayed it in the cliffs each night to warn ships away.
The present tower stands four stories high with walls up to 4m thick and consists of three rib-vaulted medieval chambers in the lower tier. The ground floor served as a fuel store, while the second story of the lighthouse acted as the monastery. In later times this was converted into quarters for the assistant keeper while the third floor was reserved for the principal keeper. The upper narrower section in times past would have carried the warning beacon. The tower is constructed of local limestone and the original building survives intact. 115 steps bring you up to the gallery with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. In the seventeenth century, the lighthouse served as a centre for money counterfeiting. It’s remoteness and the ease of spotting curious visitors approaching made it an ideal base for criminal activities. The lighthouse is also reputed to be the origin of the phrase, “by hook or by crook”. Back in 1170, the Norman Earl, Strongbow landed here on his way to capture Waterford.
He instructed his men to land by “Hook or by Crooke” as the village of Crooke lay across the harbour from the lighthouse.
In 2001 the light was opened to the public as a tourist attraction after the old keeper’s houses were turned into a visitor centre. Ten years later in January 2011, the Hook’s mournful foghorn was heard for the last time as all remaining lighthouse fog horns were finally turned off.
Hook Head is one of twelve lighthouses that make up Great Lighthouses of Ireland, a new all-island tourism initiative, and is open to visitors all year round.
Location: 52° 7’18.75″North, 6°55’42.80″West.
Character: Fl W 3s.
Range: 43 km
The drive out to Hook Head is one of my more familiar lighthouse journeys. When the kids were small, I’d take them down each Halloween for the spooky tours at nearby Loftus Hall, a dilapidated haunted mansion overlooking the sea and within a stone’s throw of the station. As we’d exit the hall, the beam of the lighthouse would sweep across the foggy headland as if to further emphasise how remote this particular part of the world is. It was this very isolation that attracted smugglers to the place back in the day and today entices holiday makers who appreciate the peace and quite provided by small destinations such as Fethard-on-Sea and Boyce’s Bay.
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