Lighthouses are used to mark places that are dangerous to shipping.
They are also used as an aid to navigation. Lighthouses are
tall, usually round towers with a steady or flashing light at
the top. They are located on fixed positions on known locations.
Each lighthouse flashes its light according to a special pattern.
This means that the sailors can tell one lighthouse from another.
The most important part of a lighthouse is the lantern. Its
powerful lamp sends out the light in one strong beam, and it
can be seen for many kilometres. Most lamps today are lit by
electricity. Where electricity cannot be supplied, vaporised
petroleum is burned.
When there is fog at sea, a light, no matter how bright it may
be, is of little use to sailors. A foghorn is used on these
occasions. Fog signals have their own pattern of sound. There
are many lighthouses around the coast of Ireland.
As we live in the Loophead peninsula our local lighthouse is
just two miles from our school.
We visited the Loophead lighthouse recently. Brendan Garvey
who was the last lighthouse keeper in Loophead accompanied us
and gave us the following information.
The first lighthouse in Loophead was built in 1672. It was
one of four Irish stone cottage type lighthouses built at the
time. These cottages accommodated the lightkeeper and his family
in two or three rooms and had an internal stone stairway leading
up to a platform on the roof where a coal burning brazier was
positioned. It was said that this fire burned two cart loads
of turf and a cart load of furze each night. Part of this old
cottage can still be seen near the lightkeepers’ dwellings
on Loop Head.
Loop Head lighthouse fell into disuse towards the end of the
17th century. It was re-established in 1720 after Aldermen and
Merchants petitioned the Irish parliament in 1717 for a light
on Loop head.
The first keeper that looked after this lighthouse was a girl.
Her name was Mary Wesby. Her father was a local landlord who
lived next to the building, which is now known as The Lighthouse
Inn. Mary Wesby’s contract was for three years. She had
to tend the fires at Loophead. She lit a fire on top of the
building when a ship was due into the River Shannon. Lyods of
London are the main shipping agents in the world. They would
know what time a ship would be due to reach Loophead bearing
in mind that it took approx. five days for a ship to travel
to Loophead from London. Sailing ships were used at that time,
as the ships did not have an engine. Lyods sent Mary, the lightkeeper
a message advising her when to light the fire. This fire gave
the ships an indication as to where land was. Unfortunately
‘rogue’ fires were also lit at certain places. One
was lit at Kilclogher in order to lure the ships into that area.
There are rocks in the area and it was hoped that the ships
would be wrecked and then they would be plundered.
The cottage-lighthouse was replaced in 1802. The tower was about
the same height as the present one with four rooms and a lantern.
By 1811 the keeper was living in an adjoining cottage and not
in the tower.
A new tower was completed in 1854 and it took over from the
In 1888 the present lighthouse was built and lamps were lit
on top of it. Eventually tilly lamps were used. These used vaporised
oil, which was also used in wick lamps.
In 1957 electricity was used.
Brendan Garvey was the last Lightkeeper to serve in Kilbaha.
At various intervals Brendan spent a total of fifteen years
as lightkeeper in Kilbaha before the lighthouse went automatic