Crookhaven Lighthouse was established
on the 1st of August 1843. It was built as a harbour light to guide
shipping in and out of Crookhaven harbour, then a significant port.
The local coastguard station, on behalf of local boatmen and fishermen,
had requested the Dublin Port Ballast Board (the Commissioners of Irish
Lights' predecessor until 1867) to erect a light at Alderman Rocks. This
advice was rejected by the Port of Dublin Corporation's senior engineer
at the time, George Halpin Snr. Due to the condition of Alderman Rocks
and its low level, particularly in spring tides he decided on the
present location on Rock Island near Sheemon Point, some 800 metres
northwest of Alderman Rocks.
John Cotter, the contractor, built the lighthouse, a house (although
Callwell's Manuscript on Lighthouses of Ireland 1871 refers to
"dwellings") and the road which is over 900 metres long for a
cost of £9,151.7s. The lighthouse was built to George Halpin's design.
Locals believe, however that the road was not completed until later and
was part of famine relief work.
In November 1847, the Stephen Whitney, an American liner in heavy fog,
apparently not being able to see the Cape Clear Light due to it's high
elevation, mistook the recently built Crookhaven Light for the Old Head
of Kinsale Light. It therefore steered a coarse which resulted in it
being wrecked on Western Calf Island with the loss of 92 lives.
As a result of this disaster Cape Clear Light was decommissioned and the
decision to build a light on Fastnet Rock was made.
Prior to the commissioning of the first Fastnet Light on 1st January
1854, three houses were built on the Ballast Board's property at
Crookhaven Lighthouse in an area that was quarried possibly for support
buildings on Fastnet Rock - the lighthouse itself was built out of
cast-iron. The cost of these houses was approximately £2,600.
Extensive repairs to the shore dwellings in 1876 cost £700.
The original Fastnet Lighthouse proved unsatisfactory with a hurricane
on 26th November 1881 smashing the lantern, and sweeping away a
similarly constructed cast-iron tower on Calf Rock off the Beara
Peninsula nearby. As a result the decision was taken to build a larger
lighthouse higher up, constructed from granite.
Initially the commissioners looked for a site in Schull Harbour, the
terminus of the Skibbereen-Schull tramline, to act as a base for the new
lighthouse. Renting land proved too costly, so the decision was taken to
use Crookhaven Lighthouse as the shore base.
Work on shore commenced in 1896. Within the next two years a 38 metre
long pier formed by facing up the existing rock was built. The pier has
a 3 fathom depth at spring low tide. Where the rock for facing up was
quarried, an office, stores, a timber barracks for workers, carpenter's
and blacksmith's shops were built. A steam wharf crane for loading and
unloading the granite blocks, a tramway connecting the wharf with the
stone-yard and a gantry with hand-powered overhead crane were also
installed. The cost of this work amounted to £2,060.
In 1898 work commenced on a powder magazine on the southern extreme of
the pier. In the same year, construction of the first of two additional
houses required for the Fastnet keepers was commenced. One of these
would become the principle keeper's home, while the other was a double
house with two separate entrances for two single keepers.
All 2,074 granite bocks, totalling 4,370 tonnes
were cut and numbered at Penryn, Cornwall. They were shipped from
Cornwall to Rock Island over the course of construction and taken out to
Fastnet Rock as required by the specially constructed 38 metre long
steamer, Ierne which was capable of carrying over 90 tonnes of cargo.
So well was the stone cut that not one piece was rejected.
While the workers were unable to work on the
Fastnet and during the winter to retain them, the two houses were
completed, the first in 1901 and the second in 1904. Total cost of these
and the magazine was £1,518.
The first stone was landed on June 9th 1899. Due to the vagaries of the
weather, it was 1903 before all the stone had been landed. The following
year on June 27th 1904, the new light was exhibited.
Whilst working at Rock Island, labourers earned 2s 6d (12.5p) a day. Two
men lost eyes: one while building the tram line; another when quarrying.
Once operational Fastnet had a complement of 6 keepers with four on the
rock on any one time, and two ashore. Two men were changed at each
relief by steamer which came from Castletownbere. Due to the difficulty
of landing and removing the keepers from the Rock many changeovers were
delayed often for weeks.
As a result of a number of ship-wrecks at Mizen
Head around the close of the twentieth century, a fog station was
established in 1909. Around the same time, two dwellings for the fog
station keepers were built at Crookhaven Lighthouse. These two
flat-roofed dwellings were built from re-enforced concrete.
Crookhaven Lighthouse is now automated and
powered by electricity with a back-up diesel engine.
In the late 1950s Irish Lights keepers were given assistance in building
their own houses. As a result Crookhaven Lighthouse keepers homes were
vacated in 1959. Eight of the nine dwellings were sold in the early
1960s to the Johnsons and Craig-Whites. They renovated the houses and
rented them out as holiday homes with Mr's Craig-White assuming total
ownership. In the mid-1990s the property was sold to Mr & Mr's
Kirkland of California, USA.
The remaining dwelling retained by Irish Lights was sold in 1998 to Mr
& Mr's McDonagh of Dublin and related families.
View from water, south of lighthouse with remaining pier buildings on
Crookhaven Light Specifications:
Latitude: 51º 28.6' N
Longitude: 09º 42.2' W
Optic System: Fixed cylindrical lens 500mm diameter
Electric Light: 3 * 100W Argenta Lamps
Character: Flashing White/Red every 8 seconds
2.0 + 6.0 = 8.0 sec
Sectors: White: over Long Island bay to 281º
Red: 281º - 340º (59º) outside harbour
Red: 281º - 348º (67º) inside harbour
White: 348º towards north shore
Intensity: White: 5800 cd.
Red: 1500 cd
Range: White: 21 kilometres
Red: 16 kilometres
Height above water: 20 metres
Tower: White, 14 metres high