Beara’s long connection with the Lighthouses

Over the past centuries, Beara has been connected with the Irish Lighthouse Service and has been used as a major base for its lighthouse tenders and supplying crews for same, as well as many lighthkeepers, from the area. It is interesting to recall that during the month of June 1860, Sir James Dombrain, Mr. Thompson and Alderman Roe, Lighthouse Commissioners, accompanied by Captain Roberts, R.N. were on a tour of inspection at Berenhaven.

They arrived at Berehaven on a Sunday morning on board the Trinity House steamship, Vestal, under the command of Captain Evans of the Milford Station. On Monday morning, the commissioners, having inquired into the working of the Roancarrig Light, at the eastern entrance of the harbour, proceeded to the tower lately erected at the western end of Bere Island.

The tower, although not lighted, has served to distinguished the western end of the harbour from a small blind harbour named Pulleen, distant two miles, into which several vessels have run through mistakes. (This is the harbour visited by a 30-foot whale during the past week.)

The commissioners wisely resolved on having a lantern erected on this tower, and a light exhibited from it, as soon as the lighthouse on the Calf Rock, off Dursey Island would have been completed. (That lantern light mentioned by the commissioners during that visit in 1860 did not come into operation until the 1960s when Castletownbere became a major fishing port.)

The commissioners reported that the boisterous state of spring and early summer had rendered the execution of any work on the Calf Rock that year impracticable, but the Store, which was to be a permanent establishment on the mainland of Dursey Sound, would be proceeded with vigorously and arrangements made for an early start with works on the Calf the following year. They reported that Berehaven is well buoyed, and that the Admiralty a short time since had laid sown a buoy opposite Carriglass House. There was a perch on the Dog Rock and one also on Sound Rock, at the entrance of the inner harbour.

They further reported the importance of having a perch or small tower erected in the Calf Rock, off Dunboy Castle, as had been pointed out by the commissioners. (Later a perch with large metal figure of a horse was placed on this rock and it has been known ever since as Colt Rock.) With these improvements, the stranger would enter into Berehaven at either entrance in any weather. The Vestal proceeded on her cruise northward, wind at south, blowing strong, with rain.

It is interesting to note that the Roancarrig Lighthouse, which was a three-man station, was automated and demanned in the 1970s. The Calf Rock on which a lighthouse was built during their visit, was one of the smallest and most exposed around the coast to be inhabited, for over twenty years, by lightkeepers and, before them, the men who built the tower. The Calf Rock itself was acquired under the powers of the Merchant Shipping Act with legal advice. The council stated that a notice should be published in a number of County Cork and Kerry newspapers, and all police stations, three Dublin papers and in large letters in a noticeboard in Calf Rock (to be renewed if destroyed by the sea), and if no claimant appeared within a time limit of one month, then a Sheriff's Inquiry should be held.

The eventual result of all this appeared towards the end of January 1859, in the form of a letter from the Commissioners of Wood and Forests, stating that Her Majesty Queen Victoria owned Calf Rock. A suggested payment of £50 plus five guineas expenses was reduced to £26, 5s. 0d. There was also a certain amount of difficulty with the landlord, a Mr Hutchins, in purchasing the ground for the shore dwellings, but eventually, in October 1859, £181 was paid for the portion of of land at Dursey Sound which had a view of Calf Rock.

An estimate by Gerorge Halpin for £2,000 for building the dwellings was queried by the Board of Trade. They argued that similar dwellings had been built at Land's End for half that amount. This was settled when the Board explained the difficulty of site conditions on the mainland and also if the dwellings were reduced by one room as suggested, some keepers would find difficulty in accommodating their large families.

The dwellings, still standing today, were sold by the Commissioners of Irish Light in 1946, although they had remained unoccupied by the keepers from Bull Rock in 1940. They were again sold in recent years and converted to holiday homes, and are now on the market again.

Courtesy Southern Star
September 2005