The Dunmore East lighthouse

Comparisons, it’s said, is the thief of joy.  So when it comes to the two lighthouses at either side of the mouth of the harbour, I would suggest that it is silly to choose one over the other. Hook light is much better known as the oldest working lighthouse in Europe, but its Dunmore counterpart has an interesting story in itself and for me its one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture we have in
East Waterford.
Dunmore (Dun Mhor, the big fort) has probably always been a fishing village, or at least those who landed up there, took part of their food supply from the waters thereabouts.  But its first harbour development of any merit was the work to facilitate the Mail Packet Station.

The Packets as they were called, (because mail in those days tended to be bulky packages of official correspondence) had been in use since Tudor times but the Waterford run was unofficial and thus an unreliable service.  The official Mail Packet Station was established at Cheekpoint in 1787. The service utilised small fast cutters which sailed between the harbour and Milford Haven and carried mail, freight and passengers. Seven ships worked a 6 day sailing schedule.  But the location at Cheekpoint led to complaints, as having sailed from England the boats had to negotiate strong tides and were at the mercy of contrary winds.

In 1813 the service was moved to Passage East as an interim measure but plans were already afoot to create a purpose built pier at Dunmore East to facilitate the packets.  Under the exacting eye of Alexander Nimmo (1783-1832) work commenced at Dunmore in 1814 and the packets started sailing from there in 1818 (sources differ on this).  However the lighthouse seems to have been an afterthought and a temporary light was installed whilst Nimmo set to work on what was his first and, from what I have read, only such building. Work commenced about 1820 and was completed by 1824 and became operational in 1825.

The tower is made of Granite, which contrasts beautifully against the old red sandstone that predominates in the breakwater and surrounding cliffs.  The tower is a fluted doric column which
stands 16 meters tall including the lantern. Initially the tower was whitewashed, but thankfully this was discontinued over a century ago.

Although the stone work is
beautiful, the cast iron lattice balcony also deserves attention.  This is of forged steel and is one of only two such examples in the country, but apparently follows the practice of other Scottish lighthouse builders like Robert Stevenson.  The lantern is constructed of metal with square windows and a weather vane completes it.

The light can be seen for 17 nautical
miles.  It was initially fueled by oil lamps and reflectors but this was replaced by acetylene in 1922 and it was electrified in 1964 using batteries and since 1981 it’s run off mains power, with a back up generator.

Via Jamie Malone 

In 1824 there was a report that the lighthouse keeper and his family were living locally because the accommodation at the tower was uninhabitable due to damp.  I’m unsure if this was at the tower itself, or in the square building that makes up what I always heard called the storehouse; the flat roofed building that is built around the seaward side.  The lighthouse keeper position was removed in 1922 and was replaced by an attendant.

Although Dunmore pier and lighthouse was built to accommodate the Mail Packet, the irony was that by 1824 steam powered vessels were already in use on the route.  As a consequence of the ability of such ships to journey against the tides and winds, campaigning began to move the packet once more, this time to the city and this occurred in 1835.  Dunmore reverted back into a fishing harbour and in Victorian times a tourist destination.    

Via Brendan Grogan

Perhaps because it is now integrated into the storm wall, or that a flat roofed store house surrounds the tower, the Dunmore lighthouse does not have the stoic isolated feel of other houses such as Hook.  But it’s a remarkable piece of architecture
and a testament to the vision and craftsmanship of Nimmo and his team.  Local photographers such as Jamie Malone and Brendan Grogan appreciate it. The Barony of Gaultier Historical Society use it on their Facebook page as a cover photo. And the Buildings of Ireland think highly of it too.  So if you havn’t already done so, next time you get a chance take a stroll along the breakwater and take a closer look.

I took information on the lighthouse from:

Information on the packets via:
Antell. R.  The mails between South West Wales and Southern Ireland: The Milford-Waterford packet 1600-1850.  2011.  Welsh Philatelic Society.
Copies can be ordered directly by contacting the Welsh Philatelic Society, contact details on their website at

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The light that sweeps the harbour

One of my earliest childhood memories was playing with my siblings in the old house on the hill in Coolbunnia one chilly summer morning.  The scene was unsettling to us I remember, because our usual/familiar view of the harbour, the three rivers flowing our towards Dunmore and the Hook, was obliterated by an early morning fog.  The fog clung in a beady dampness to the sides of the harbour of which we were a part, only Buttermilk at Wexford and the Hurthill on the Waterford shore stood out, But the other feature that I recall was a moaning sound from down the harbour at Hook, A fog horn bleating out a warning to fishermen and sailors,  We mimicked it, and our voices echoed back, and soon we were unsure if it was us, or the Lighthouse at Hook making the warning sounds.
Hook played another part in my childhood, as the beam, swept across the sky at night and I particularly remember being disappointed that it passed so quickly, much preferring in my mind a slow sweep like some searchlight in a prison camp in movies such as the Great Escape.   
The Hook, has been a beacon for sailors and fishermen since the 5th C AD.  St Dubhan, on founding a monastery at Churchtown saw a need for a warning light and a fire was lit on the tip of the headland. Some say that’s where the name hook, derives from; Dubhan being Irish for a fish hook.
Following the Norman Invasion, and the settling of the country by foreigners, William Marshall saw the need to protect shipping interests and the Hook tower was constructed between 1210-30. Apparently the goodly monks again took on the light-keepers duties.  So it remained until the dissolution and routing of the holy orders circa 1540.
In the 1670’s the light was reinstated, using coal, but also with a protective screen from the elements. 1791 saw a whale oil fueled lamp instated following repeated complaints from mariners.  1871 saw the introduction of Paraffin but it would be 1972 before electricity finally reached the outcrop.
I’m old enough to remember the hue and cry nationally about the automation of the lights and the removal of men from the lighthouses, which finally happened at the Hook in 1996.  My father thought it a backward step and fumed about what he saw as accountants making decisions that affect sailors lives. I recall his anger and misery after a family drowning tragedy off Fethard. He was of the opinion that had the Light Keepers been at the Hook that day some lives may have been saved.  He was out that day in the same area fishing lobsters. I knew his pain was heightened in that he was reliving his own pain at loosing a son to the water.
In 2011, the fog horn was decommissioned, apparently technology can now replace the human ear.  At Christmas I noticed the latest change to this wonderful public institution. Someone, somewhere has decided that the strength of light from the hook is no longer required, and now when you walk the harbour the light is only visible from close by.  No longer does it sweep the sky at Cheekpoint, and even from the Minaun its a stretch to witness it.  If you don’t believe me travel to Dunmore East at dark, and look across the harbour.  A weak, meak light is what will greet you. Personally I think its an insult to the history and heritage to the light.  I don’t know why it’s happened, but I fear, like my father many years back, that an accountant may be involved.
Its still the most magical spot in the South East to my mind.  I’ve done the Lightouse tour every year, and we recommend it to anyone who asks where to go for a day trip.  The location, the onrushing Atlantic, the sweep of the horizon, the passing fishing boats and ships, the walk to Slade or the loop from Loftus Hall.  All combine to make the Hook one of the most wonderful locations in the South East, if not the country. 
Memories are made from interactions. The more dramatic, the more lasting. Such considerations are not part of the modern day decision making process however (although maybe they never were).  I just wish those who have control of the light would have a bit more respect for its history, its purpose and its future. Memories are what draws me back to the Hook, we need to ensure this generation can have those opportunities too.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F  T

The details on the Hook light history was accessed from Hook heritage and specifically from the Hook timeline locataed at:

For a more detailed reading on the history, you could read nothing better than Billy Colfers The Hook Peninsula pp 84-91