When the Light Goes Out

I finally received my long-anticipated copy of Pete Goulding’s book on Irish lighthouse fatalities, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in lighthouses, maritime heritage, or Irish history in general.  When the Light Goes Out, a clever title by the way Pete, is 224 pages of first-class research including maps and images (145 as it happens and many in colour).

Pete is the chap behind the blog page Pete’s Irish Lighthouses which I have followed for several years now.  He lives in Dublin and works in a warehouse.  He’s a prolific writer including humorous verse, serious verse, a book of essays, a novel, and a biography. He’s also one of these history bloggers who have a passion for League of Ireland soccer just like Cian Manning and David Toms…Maybe that’s where I have gone wrong!

Anyway back to the review.  The purpose of When the Light Goes Out is to shine a light – yes a pun but as Pete is the king of them, it is rubbing off on me – on those men, women, and children associated with the long and proud family tradition of lighthouse service in this country.  It tells this story through a prism of deaths from 1786 to 1972 in the service of the Irish Lights whether at lighthouses, lightships, pile lights, or light tenders.

If that sounds like a rather gloomy and depressing subject can I just reassure you that it is anything but.  Yes there is sadness, anger, rage, and in some cases perplexity at what occurred but it is also a treasure trove of lost lighthouses, a glimpse into a way of life now (regretfully to my mind) extinguished and a wonderful companion to anyone interested in the lighthouses around our coastline. You will also learn about families of the lighthouses, the tasks of those employed, the social history of the lighthouse families who travelled almost like nomads from post to post, often leaving their loved ones in graveyards that would not be seen for years later if at all.

The household names of lighthouses feature such as Hook, Fastnet, Tuskar, Poolbeg, and the Skelligs.  But many were new to me as were the stories of fatalities associated with them.  And as I said it’s not just the deaths, it’s the story of the light, its historical context, the politics and the drama that sometimes went on, the isolation, loneliness of the service, and just how unfortunate a person can be – the wrong place at the wrong time!

I was surprised to learn that I had no awareness of the Beeves Rock Lighthouse on the River Shannon until now.  I was amazed at the history of the Pidgeon House and family on the Great South Wall and wondered how I had never been.  I don’t know how I missed the Puffin Lightship disaster at the Daunt Rock in 1896.  And of course, there were so many fascinating details on one of my favourite lighthouse constructions – the Pile lights to which we owe Alexander Mitchell such a debt. 

ILV Ierne(1898) at Fastnet Lighthouse via Pete’s Irish Lighthouses

Many of the stories stood out in this book and some have been featured on my own blog, for example about the ILV Isolda, a recent guest blog by David Carroll.  Another that was new to me was a tragic incident aboard the ILV Ierne(1898) which was the tender vessel used in the construction of the Fastnet light.  Ierne departed Castletownbere in West Cork on Thursday 11th January 1906 to land a relief crew and supplies to the Bull Rock, a lighthouse on the SW tip of Ireland open to the full fury of the Atlantic Ocean.  As the vessel rounded Crow Head the long finger of Dursey Island was coming into view and the seas grew in size.  As the crew hurriedly completed their deck duties Captain Kearon spotted a rogue wave tumbling towards the ship, from the bridge.  His cry of warning was only out of his mouth when the ship was engulfed in seawater.   The Ierne went over on her beam end and everything on deck not secured was lost over the side.  As she righted herself the captain pulled himself out of the scuppers, several of the crew were seriously hurt, but one man was lost overboard.  As the Ierne came about, Thomas Kearney was seen holding onto an oar struggling to keep his head over water.  With their lifeboat stove in, there was little the crew could do but throw life rings and try to get as close as possible to haul their colleague aboard.  The elements were against them, however, and in horror, they watched as Kearney slipped beneath the waves.

Now although that may sound sad, and it is, Pete takes four pages in the telling.  There’s the service of the Ierne, Thomas’s back story, the inquest, the aftermath, and also a poem written to commemorate the event.  Such rich detail and a fine way to remember such sacrifice to such an important way of life.  Pete has over 70 such events, each with its own unique back story.

If I had any criticisms of his book, I might have changed the chronological order of telling to include the various events at Hook for example, or Belfast Lough.  In the latter, I found that some repetition was needed just to remind me of the context of the lights, and I needed to go back to the earlier stories just to be sure for myself.  But that is a small matter and perhaps just an issue for me as a slow, meticulous reader…I love the details, and be sure of my ground. However, his contents page and his index at the end ensure that those searching for a particular lighthouse or a specific event, or a lighthouse family will easily locate them in the text.

As I said at the outset I would highly recommend this book.  It’s also a read of small chapters, some only a page or two, it can be picked up and laid down and come back to time after time.  It also has a very clear contents section that gives you the name of the deaths and the location of the event.  So as a lighthouse fan, you can read up on a tragedy(s) before you set off to visit. 

Pete is selling the book “When the Light goes out” through his blog via a Paypal button on the sidebar.  One book will cost €18, which includes post and packaging worldwide. (For those ordering on a phone, you may have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click ‘View web version’ in order to see the sidebar.) Pete will distribute to Ireland himself but for orders outside Ireland, he will arrange for these through his publisher.  All orders, Ireland or overseas can be made through his blog page. The book will also be available on the Lulu bookstore and on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ingrams amongst others. But as an author who knows, can I plead with you to consider buying direct from Pete…financially it’s a very big difference to an author after the years of work.

Pete can be contacted by email at  gouldingpeter@gmail.com

Dunmore East RNLI receives €31,050 from sales of the book ‘Dauntless Courage’

I wanted to acknowledge this wonderful achievement by a blog regular, David Carroll. David wrote his first guest blog for us in January 2017 and has been a firm favourite since. In that story, Memories of a Harbour Boy, David recalled growing up in Dunmore East including the comings and goings of the lifeboat and crew. His obvious love of place and subject has been one of the most significant elements I think, in the success of his book on the Dunmore East Station. But the wonderful achievement of raising over €31k in the challenging covid times, bears testament to not just his engaging writing style or attention to detail, but also to the genuine respect and high regard the lifeboat crew and wider volunteers are held. I have already shared the news via my usual social media channels, this post is specifically aimed at the tides and tales community who subscribe by email and who may have missed the details. Andrew Doherty. The official communication starts from here:

Dunmore East RNLI was delighted to receive monies raised from the sales of the book Dauntless Courage by author David Carroll.

‘Dauntless Courage’: Celebrating the History of the Dunmore East RNLI, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Local Community, was written, published and sold out during lockdown. Restrictions and lockdowns made it impossible for author David Carroll to be in Dunmore East while writing his book but, thankfully, David and his family were able to visit the Dunmore Lifeboat station recently, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed by the volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.

Dunmore East RNLI volunteers with author David Carroll and his family. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI

David Carroll the son of Captain Desmond Carroll, a former Harbour Master in Dunmore wrote a book on the history of the Dunmore East RNLI Lifeboats and the community from which the crews are drawn. David grew up in Dunmore East and whilst moving from the village in his 20s to pursue a career he has always retained a great love for the maritime heritage he inherited growing up in the village.

After several years of researching and writing, it has been a labour of love for author David Carroll to produce such a fine book, with all proceeds going to the RNLI. A publishing committee was formed and consisted of members of Dunmore East RNLI and a total of 66 businesses contributed to the cost of printing, therefore 100% of the price of the book is going to the RNLI. Recently David was finally able to hand over the huge cheque to the very appreciative volunteers of Dunmore East RNLI.

Dunmore East RNLI Volunteers watch on as Fundraising Branch Treasurer Ann Sheehan receives the cheque from author David Carroll. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI (also photographed are Neville Murphy crew member on left who has been very generous to me with photos in the past, and on right Brendan Dunne who is a valuable source of information to me)

David Carroll, author of Dauntless Courage said: ‘I felt very privileged to have been invited to write a history of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. I enjoyed every single minute carrying out the necessary research and writing the various chapters, but the success of the book is down to all the volunteers and the great team, organised by Brendan Dunne who promoted, packaged, and distributed the book in difficult circumstances. A special word of thanks is due to all who gave us permission to use their interesting photographs and wonderful paintings. Our printers, DVF Print and Graphic Solutions, designed and produced a magnificent book that we all can be proud of and will be a fitting testament to all who served in the station since the Henry Dodd first arrived in Dunmore East.

Dunmore East RNLI Crew member Brendan Dunne and author David Carroll. Photo credit – Dunmore East RNLI

Brendan Dunne, Dunmore East RNLI Crewmember, said: ‘As volunteer crew of the Dunmore East lifeboat we are delighted with David’s book Dauntless Courage and grateful for such a significant amount being raised for our charity. The book itself is well written and researched. It truly captures the legacy of those that have crewed the lifeboats here since 1884 and of the lifesaving and maritime heritage of the village. It ensures their contribution to saving lives at sea in all weather conditions will not be forgotten’.

Well done to all involved.

Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community is still available but only a few copies remain and are available from the project website or from outlets such as the Book Centre in Waterford.

Long Legged Spider Light on Maritime Ireland Radio Show

I was thrilled to be asked onto Tom MacSweeneys Maritime Ireland Radio Show to talk about my new book and to specifically talk about the Spider Light at the Spit bank, Passage East. Tom’s show is published online, but it also goes out on 18 community radio stations around the country. You can subscribe by email so that you never miss an episode by emailing Tom at tommacsweeneymarine@gmail.com

Regulars will know that Tom has long been a voice in the wilderness in focusing attention on Irelands Marine sphere, and has been a great support to me on a number of occasions. Perhaps most significantly he wrote the foreword to my first book Before the Tide Went Out.

The Long Legged Spider Light makes up Chapter 11 and I was so fortunate to get an image of it in its Victorian era splendour from John O’Connor. Tom was curious to know the origins, the build technique and the work that it did. I was also delighted to call on the help of Pete Goulding of Pete’s Irish Lighthouses fame to help inform the discussion.

John O’Connor collection

In recent weeks Naomi Foley completed a Heritage audit of the harbour and acknowledged the importance of the Spider. I heard the CEO of the Port of Waterford on WLR FM this week speak about it too. In the past local individuals and groups including the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society have expressed an interest in seeing it preserved. Maybe the tide is shifting in its favour.

To listen to Toms show check his website out: Maritime Ireland Radio Show

Review of Decies 2021 – Celebrating a rich maritime tradition in Waterford

Decies is the Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society and is published in November each year.  This years edition, #76, is packed with the usual high quality content but for those with a maritime history interest, it’s a particularly rich edition.

The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society organises a series of lectures from September to May and a series of outings to places of historical interest during the summer months. The Annual Subscription is €25. This fee entitles the member to admission to the lectures and outings as a copy of the annual journal.

Front cover of this years Decies, a streetscape by artist Ken Smith
Contents page of this years Journal

To be honest, because Waterford was such an important sea port and has been so heavily influenced by the sea, it could be argued that almost every article is either directly, or indirectly associated with a maritime connection.  Pat Deegan’s synopsis of the Russian Canons in the Peoples Park for example highlights the international connections between the city and the realm in the 19th Century, the man who secured the canon, John A Blake, went on to play a significant role in British parliament including the fishery portfolio.  Denny meats owed its very existence to the export and provisioning trade based in the city and is very comprehensively captured by John M Hearne.

Others of course are very directly associated with the maritime sphere.  The wonderful energy and vitality of Christina Knight O’Connor explores the Viking age around Dungarvan through an examination of placenames, while Ivan Fitzgerald gives a very comprehensive and readable account of the siting of the Metal Man at Tramore and the pillars on Newtown Head and Brownstown.  My good friend and History Press stablemate, Cian Manning gives us a review of Mary Breen’s fine work: Waterford Port and Harbour 1815-42 giving a fascinating insight into the founding or the Harbour Commissioners and the early years of development.

UC 44 at Dunmore East 1917

But I suppose my favourite article must be Conor Donegan’s 1917: U Boats on the Waterford Coast.  It’s not just that Conor is a young man, still studying and finding his way in the world.  And not just that he is a fellow harbour native, from Dunmore East.  And not that he has guest blogged for us before.  All this of course and more.  For his account runs for almost 20 pages and gives a detailed and fascinating insight into the life and times of the harbour in an era of immense conflict and terror. He showcases the intrigue and barbarity of that particular year, locates Waterford as a central factor in the story, and does a great service to his native county in doing so. 

Waterford and our maritime heritage deserve a wider understanding and appreciation and this year’s Decies certainly does that task some service.  Peigí Devlin and her team of young and enthusiastic shipmates deserve great praise.  Well done to all involved.

Copies are available for €20 online through the Book Centre in Waterford.

Back issues of Decies are available online