Friday, 30 January 2015


Following the adventures of the Commissioners as they inspected the lighthouses and lightships around the Irish coast has been fascinating.  Life aboard the Alexandria was probably quite comfortable, but getting ashore on a rocky lighthouse promontory would have been tricky – some were accessed via a jib and rope hoist, with just one foot in a loop as support - and boarding lightships in choppy seas would have been just as exciting (Photo 811 – Guillemot 1905). 

    Approaching lighthouses and lightships, which by their very nature were situated in dangerous waters, obviously required caution in a large vessel like the Alexandria.   Hence the presence at the bow of a ‘Leadsman’ singing “Quarter less seven” and other strange incantations  (Photo 812). 

    Once aboard they took their inspection duties seriously, even when age and physique might cause problems! (Photo 813 –  aboard Shamrock 1906).  This is the first photo I have seen showing the anchor chain (one of them) draped half way along the ship from the bows to what must be a port leading to a chain locker.  The chain is wrapped around a winch on the way.  

   Now I have not one but two photographs showing this arrangement. I did wonder what the man on the left was examining (looks like a flower pot!) and I was puzzled by that tall black cylinder behind him (Photo 814).   

   My first guess was a gas cylinder as I found a photo of the Commissioners ashore at a gas storage depot and there is a similar cylinder on the left of that scene (Photo 815).  

 I estimated the capacity of the lightship cylinder to be about 45 cu ft and that is not enough to keep the lantern going all night for a few weeks between resupplies.  Also the connection between it and the lantern which moves 30ft up the mast would be complicated?  But look back to Chapter 65 and the photo of Torch on the Barrels station reveals all. The cylinder is part of the early fog-horn apparatus. Emerging from the top of the cylinder (out of shot in Photo 814 but clearly visible on Torch) is a very much elongated version of an old fashioned ear-trumpet.
  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Simon is cutting a hole in the stump of the lantern mast to see whether there is/was a ladder inside for access to the lofted lantern in days gone by. I will report next time.

All these photographs are © Commissioners for Irish Lights and courtesy of The National Library of Ireland.