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THE LIGHTHOUSE STORY

Rock Island (Oilean na Carriage), where the lighthouse cottage is located, is a townland in the parish of Kilmoe, Ireland’s most south-westerly parish. It is two km south of the village of Goleen and at its nearest point, by sea, 0.5 km north-east of Crookhaven village. Located at the north entrance to Crookhaven harbour, now primarily used by pleasure craft in the summer months, it was heavily used by coastal craft, fishing fleets and transatlantic sailing craft for hundreds of years. It is an excellent harbour providing shelter from most winds. With this shelter came its economic significance as a provisioning port.

In the early 1800s the whole of Rock Island was owned by Lord Riversdale. Riversdale may have been the ancestor of Arthur Annesley, the first Earl of Anglesea, who was granted large areas of West Cork after the uprising of 1641. The second Lord Riversdale sold Rock Island in March 1816 to Richard Notter whose ancestors still live in the area.

The population of the townland since 1841 was:
  1841   1851   1861   1871   1881   1901   1911   2002
Rock Island119 111 88 84 79 75 63 7

With regard to justifying a lighthouse here, Daniel Coughlan, Lloyds’ Agent in Crookhaven, wrote to the Dublin Port Ballast Board (who looked after Irish lighthouses at the time) on the 6th of January 1838
I take leave to say that humanity, as well as the mercantile public good of the U.K., much require a beacon or light at the entrance of this port, which if placed there long since, would have saved many lives and valuable property.

Coughlan included a list of 20 vessels lost in his lifetime which included the Darthula of Newfoundland lost in 1822, the brig Mary, which had come from the West Indies with a cargo of sugar and coffee, and the Thomas Worthington of St John, New Brunswick, Canada which was lost in the harbour in 1836.
The Ballast Office and the Elder Brethren of Trinity House gave their approval for a lighthouse in October 1838. The land and access road cost £250. John Notter, the landlord’s brother, won the contract to build the lighthouse and the cottage – the lighthouse for £390 and the house for £397. On the 4th of August 1843 the lighthouse was first lit.

From 1843 until 1904, a lightkeeper lived in the cottage and was responsible for lighting the lamp at dusk and extinguishing it at dawn. A six wick burner was installed in 1903 which reduced the workload and off-duty Fastnet keepers looked after the light. This was replaced by an unwatched acetylene lamp in February 1911. The acetylene gas however exploded in the lighthouse on the first night – the 17th of February, fortunately injuring no-one. At this time the lights “character” was 2.5 seconds light followed by 5 seconds of darkness. In 1964 the light was changed to its present character of 2 seconds flash, 6 seconds eclipse. The light was converted from the acetylene generator to electricity in 1976.
Every year keepers had to paint the lantern inside and out, the gallery, gates, iron fences, gutters and downpipes, oil tanks and flagstaffs. The annual whitewashing, cleaning out of “ashpits, cesspools, etc” was to be carried out as soon as possible after the 1st of April. The cottage also had to be maintained in ship-shape condition as unannounced inspections were regular as well as the annual Commissioners’ inspection.
The keepers were provided with an allowance of eight tons of Scotch coal or seven tons of English coal every year. The keeper here could have expected to earn 3/0 per day in 1905.

In 1938 the cottage was occupied by one of the Mizen Head keepers. Significant repairs were required that year costing £117. By 1959 most of the houses, including this cottage, were not occupied by the keepers who were allocated them. They tended to return to their homes elsewhere when on leave. In 1961 the decision to abandon the dwellings was made by Irish Lights. They sold all the remaining cottages in 1963 but retained this cottage in case they needed to locate a keeper on site. This cottage was finally sold to its present owners in 1998.
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