Displaying items by tag: Irish Lights
The next Glenua lecture is to be held this coming Thursday 6th February (and not the following week as previously advertised).
The venue will be at Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club, Ringsend, Dublin and where an entry contribution of €5 will be in aid of the RNLI.
The subject of the lecture (starting at 20.00) is: “The Fastnet Lighthouse - history, evolution and iconic status”
The speaker is Alan McCann who worked as an engineer for over twenty years for the Commissioners of Irish Lights. He has extensive knowledge of the history and technical evolution of Irish lighthouses. His engineering experience includes the design, installation and maintenance of both lighthouse equipment and floating aids. He was heavily involved in the automation of the Fastnet in the late 1980's.
Fastnet is the tallest and widest rock lighthouse tower in Ireland and Great Britain. It was a monumental achievement when completed in 1904. The graceful upward curve of the new lighthouse is composed of more than 2,000 interlocking granite blocks quarried in Cornwall. It is still a vital navigational aid, despite automation in 1989. Its iconic status is undiminished, not least because of the biennial Fastnet Yacht Race which in 1979 was the occasion of the greatest yacht-racing disaster ever witnessed.
Alan’s illustrated talk will trace the architectural and navigational evolution of the Fastnet rock tower from the 1850's to the present day. He will cover, not only the technology but also the arduous life of the people involved, especially that of the resident colony of up to twenty-two workers, building the new lighthouse over 7 seasons and the subsequent generations of light-keepers.
Irish Lights counterpart serving the waters of England, Wales and the Channel Islands, Trinity House has launched a Vessel Replacement Project to commission the design and build of a vessel to replace THV Patricia. The vessel was delivered in 1982 and is reaching the end of its operational life.
The announcement was made at a launch event at Trinity House in London yesterday, during London International Shipping Week (LISW19). Attending the event was Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani and where a contract notice was issued to the shipbuilding industry to open the procurement process.
The Minister announced her support for the project in July 2019, following a comprehensive Fleet Review that concluded that the three General Lighthouse Authorities of the UK and Ireland (Trinity House, Northern Lighthouse Board and Irish Lights) require seven vessels to deliver their critical aids to navigation service.
The new vessel will look to harness technological and environmental innovation to ensure that Trinity House continues to provide over 600 critical aids to navigation—such as lighthouses and buoys—for ships and seafarers in some of the most dangerous waters in the world, guiding them into safe channels away from hazards and wrecks.
Nusrat Ghani, Maritime Minister, said: “95% of our imports and exports are transported to and from the UK by sea and, with our waters becoming even busier, dealing with incidents quickly and efficiently is more important than ever. This new ship will support the General Lighthouse Authority to help future-proof their fleet and continue to support maritime trade for generations to come.”
Captain Ian McNaught, Executive Chairman of Trinity House, said: “We were pleased to hear that the Maritime Minister was content for us to move the Vessel Replacement Project closer towards the design and build phase. While we must ensure that value for money is central to the design, we will also be looking for new, tested and robust technologies in the vessel design; these technologies will need to offer high performance and resilience and also reduce our environmental impact.”
The General Lighthouse Authority which is responsible for England, Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar, Trinity House is joining aids to navigation authorities around the world to mark the first ever World Marine Aids to Navigation Day held today, July 1st.
In addition to Trinity House, Afloat adds the other GLA counterparts are the Commissioners of Irish Lights and the Northern Lighthouse Board responsible for Scottish waters and the Isle of Man. Today's inaugural event is established to celebrate and promote the role of marine aids to navigation (AtoNs) and highlight the importance of safety at sea.
The body behind the day is IALA (the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities), a non-profit international technical association established in 1957 to gather together marine aids to navigation authorities, manufacturers, consultants and scientific and training institutes from all parts of the world.
IALA’s 305 members—whether national or industrial—assemble across a number of committees and working groups to exchange and compare their experiences and achievements, with a view to drafting and publishing IALA Standards, Recommendations and Guidelines.
The aim of IALA—to which Trinity House subscribes and contributes—is to foster the safe, economic and efficient movement of vessels, through improvement and harmonisation of aids to navigation worldwide and other appropriate means, for the benefit of the maritime community and the protection of the environment. Trinity House was a founding member of IALA in 1957.
The idea of launching the World Marine Aids to Navigation Day annually on 1 July was agreed at IALA’s 2018 conference in the Republic of Korea.
As a focal point for highlighting the importance of aids to navigation as a service for all mariners, Trinity House has chosen to emphasise its statutory duty as an auditor and inspector of local aids to navigation, rather than its more well-known duty as a provider of general aids to navigation such as lighthouses, lightvessels and buoys.
Local aids to navigation are owned and operated by Local Lighthouse Authorities rather than Trinity House, but the powers and duties granted to Trinity House by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 require it to audit and inspect over 11,000 local AtoNs. The work is carried out by Trinity House’s Inspector of Seamarks and the Local AtoN Manager, both of whom enjoy meeting local operators and seeing so many often-hidden corners of the nation.
Inspector of Seamarks Captain Graeme Proctor says of the cyclical inspection schedule: “It’s a lot like painting the Forth Bridge, but I really enjoy meeting local Harbour Masters and their teams. It is hard work and a lot of long days, but there will often be a cup of tea waiting for me in the harbour office in the winter and we do enjoy an ice cream by the seaside in the summer months. Although it may not be the most famous of Trinity House’s contributions to maritime Britain, it’s a vital role for safety and is great for keeping us in touch with local aids to navigation providers and the marine users themselves.”
Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Lighthouses have a place in all of our hearts but their longstanding role can never be underestimated. Aids to navigation are crucial to keeping people safe at sea, alerting them to potential dangers. Our lighthouse authorities, including Trinity House, do a fantastic job of keeping our lighthouses, buoys and other assistance vessels in good condition around the clock.”
Trinity House and IALA encourage everyone with an appreciation of the various types of marine aid to navigation to take to social media to share their favourite AtoNs with #WAtoNDay.
#lighthouses - Contributory feedback from marine users of navigational aids is been sought from Irish Lights of its Aids to Navigation provision around the coasts of Ireland.
Every five years, the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLA), comprising Irish Lights, Northern Lighthouse Board and Trinity House in the UK, conduct this review to assess AtoN requirements.
Over time changes can occur which affect Aids to Navigation requirements and their development such as trade patterns, vessel types and volume, the seabed, development of offshore projects or changes in technology. The review will include individual AtoN and systems of AtoN to ensure international standards are met.
All users of marine Aids to Navigation are invited to contribute to the review by commenting on the usefulness and usability of existing AtoN provided by the GLA. Input is particularly welcome on any proposed requirement for the provision of additional AtoN; improvements to the current mix of AtoN; technological developments or additional services. Feedback is also welcomed on Irish Lights data service which provides near real time meteorological information.
Emphasising the critical importance of user input Captain Robert McCabe, Director of Operations and Navigation Services, Irish Lights said, “International standards require average availability ranging from 97 percent to 99.8 percent and Marine Aids to Navigation must serve all users of the sea, from small leisure and fishing craft to large liners and cargo vessels. Input from experienced users is essential to the process of defining the correct mix of Aids to Navigation. Local knowledge and experience built through time at sea cannot be replaced by desktop analysis no matter how modern and sophisticated the tools may be”.
Responses should be submitted before 30th July 2019 by emailing [email protected] or write to Navigation Services, Commissioners of Irish Lights, Harbour Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.
HRH The Princess Royal visited Dun Laoghaire Harbour and Howth in a weekend visit to Dublin Bay.
She was visiting in her role as Master of Trinity House as part of the ongoing 150-year relationship between Irish Lights and the Lighthouse Authorities of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Princess Royal toured the Irish Lights Vessel Granuaile and some of Dublin’s great Irish lighthouses including the Baily Lighthouse, Rockabill and The Kish Lighthouse, as well as learning more about Irish Lights’ work providing vital maritime safety services and modern navigation aids at the organisation’s Dun Laoghaire headquarters.
#Lighthouses - The Research and Radionavigation team (R&RNAV) that supports the three General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) of the UK and Ireland - Irish Lights, the Northern Lighthouse Board and Trinity House will now be known as GLA Research and Development (GRAD).
GRAD will continue with its work to undertake research and development of physical and radio marine aids to navigation, support systems and their integration to support the GLAs’ mission to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners.
In recent years, the team’s successes have included a number of world firsts in the fields of Radionavigation and visual signalling; GRAD and its staff are recognised the world over for their knowledge and achievements in the provision and future provision of marine aids to navigation.
The big impact made by this small team not only reflects well on GRAD but on all the GLAs and the UK and Ireland. GRAD will continue to support the GLAs’ objectives, strategies and plans while supporting operational requirements over the coming years.
More information about the work of GRAD can be found at www.gla-rad.org
‘Safety at Sea Through War and Upheaval’ is the title of an exhibition now running at the dlr Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire, highlighting the history of Ireland’s lighthouses between the years 1911 and 1923.
Using resources from the Irish Lights archive, the exhibition – which runs till 7 January — next year explores the mission of safe navigation at sea in the context of the wider political and economic changes in Ireland at the time: independence, civil war, electrification and more.
A deeper focus on the years of the Great War is afforded by a new exhibition on the SS Hare and SS Adela in Dublin Port, which comes to dlr Lexicon this Monday (8 October) and tells the story of both ill-fated vessels during the rise of the U-boat threat from 1914 to 1918.
Keeping with the maritime theme, the late Des Branigan is the subject of a new display (opened yesterday, Friday 5 October) of archive material from photographs to books that give a rounded picture of a humble, ordinary seaman who achieved extraordinary things.
All exhibitions are open free to the public during library opening hours.
Irish Lights today launched a new five-year strategy which maps out its vision for the delivery of next generation maritime services to protect lives, property, trade and the environment, at the organisation’s HQ in Dún Laoghaire. Irish Lights is a statutory maritime safety organisation delivering 24/7 safety and navigation services around the coast of Ireland (North and South) 365 days a year.
The Safe Seas – Connected Coasts 2018-2023 Strategy commits Irish Lights to implementing a combination of new and existing navigation technology, engineering and data management solutions to facilitate Safe Navigation at Sea for commercial shipping, fishing, leisure craft and passenger vessels. Irish Lights provides a range of services to ensure that the Irish and UK Governments comply with the requirements of the international Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS). With over 340 General Aids to Navigation in the form of lighthouses, buoys, beacons and a range of digital services, the Irish Lights operational network constitutes a critical coastal infrastructure for the safety of all at sea and our coastal communities.
The Safe Seas – Connected Coasts Strategy builds on a number of advances made by Irish Lights across its operations in recent years to improve services, reduce costs and deliver positive economic and community benefits. This includes upgrading lighthouse stations and navigation buoys with energy efficient LED technology, with a reduction of 35% in overall CO2 emissions since 2009. The lighthouse and buoy energy efficiency upgrade programmes will see Irish Lights Aids to Navigation fully powered by renewable energy by 2023.
Irish Lights will continue its work to protect and develop its heritage assets for the benefit of the Irish public. The Great Lighthouses of Ireland North-South tourism and heritage initiative, saw 140,000 visitors to lighthouses around Ireland in 2017. In addition, over 19,000 bed-nights are now available in lighthouse keepers’ cottages at some of the most spectacular locations on the coast. This network of regional tourism initiatives has been developed in partnership with tourism agencies and local communities and is resulting in significant economic spin-off to coastal communities. Building on the success of this initiative, Irish Lights plans to work with partners to identify opportunities to have the extensive Irish Lights historical archive and records, which date from the early 1800s, professionally curated, secured, stored and catalogued, to be available in digital format for research, tourism and education purposes.
The strategy also affirms Irish Lights’ commitment to developing new services with the development of its Coastal Data Service providing reliable access to accurate, near real time weather and sea state observations at selected locations, to promote and contribute to safer navigation at sea.
John Coyle, Chairman of Irish Lights, said “As the provider of General Aids to Navigation around the island of Ireland, Irish Lights has a long and respected track record of service to the maritime community dating back to 1786. In more recent times, the context in which that service must be delivered has changed. Rapid technological advances, pressures on the marine and coastal environment and more diverse stakeholder needs, all require a greater emphasis on collaboration across agencies and with international organisations. We look forward to collaborating with all of our stakeholders in taking this ambitious strategy forward.”
Yvonne Shields, Chief Executive of Irish Lights said: “This strategy underlines the importance of continuing to provide a reliable, high quality and efficient infrastructure of visual and electronic Aids to Navigation around the coast of Ireland North and South. It builds on our current programme of technological and energy-efficiency upgrades to lighthouse stations and navigation buoys and strengthens our commitment to working with international partners to test and evaluate new navigation solutions which we expect to emerge in the next five to ten years. Safe navigation at local level also features prominently in our strategy, which includes a stronger focus on supporting local lighthouse authorities that are responsible for over 3,200 local aids to navigation around the coast.
“Looking ahead we recognise the need for all organisations with a mandate in the marine area to contribute to the sustainable development of our marine resources. As part of our strategy over the next five years, we will ensure that our services and the technical expertise and operational experience that exists in Irish Lights, contribute to the wider development of the maritime economy.
“We will work in partnership with other agencies and with industry to maximise opportunities to deliver value-added services to support industry and coastal communities. For example, we will use our coastal infrastructure to generate sea state observations which can be accessed by a broad range of users to plan marine activities more safely and also to monitor long-term trends in environmental conditions at sea. We will also collaborate with researchers and technology developers to test and develop new equipment, technologies and services.
“Lastly, an important additional objective for us in the next two years is to work with others to ensure that safe and efficient navigation is fully considered in Maritime Spatial Planning process”.
#tallships- Last year a visit to Scotland was made to investigate a former Irish Lights lightship dating to 1910 that in much more recent years had been a museumship there but is now to be found relocated in England to finally begin restoration work, writes Jehan Ashmore.
Launched as the lightship, Penguin for the Commissioners of Irish Lights at the Dublin Drydock Company, the vessel now named Arctic Penguin of Glasgow is now a rare surviving example of an Irish built vessel. Constructed of an iron hull on a steel frame. Above decks a fixed lantern was fitted to warn off shipping from the dangers along our coasts. Between 1910 and 1920 the Penguin was located at the Daunt Rock Station. After that decade the vessel served as a spare lightship.
In 1966 the lightship was sold and throughout the last half century has served several subsequent owners. Notably, in 1982 a conversion took place that saw an engine installed on the vessel that became a three-masted schooner offering sail training excursions.
The attractive town of Inveraray on Loch Fyne has been home to this floating landmark for many years. Since 2010, however the ship's role there as a maritime museum ceased. In addition access to the deterioting pier has been closed to locals and tourists alike by Argyl and Bute Council.
Arctic Penguin was towed away this year from the stunning scenery of the Scottish loch to the Cumbrian port of Barrow-in-Furness. Since arrival initial repairs have taken place to the 100ft vessel that is to be drydocked on the Wirral, from where the ship will be restored to seagoing condition.
Instead of operating from the Scottish west coast as previously reported, Arctic Penguin will be based out of Barrow. Earlier this year the north-west English port marked its 150th anniversary with celebrations that included vessels among them Arctic Penguin (see pictured) calling closer to the town quays.
At 107 years old, Arctic Penguin is rightly recognised as a vessel of importance, as the former lighship is listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels (NRHV) which comprises of more than 1,300 vessels. This register is one of several organised by the National Historic Ships UK, the official voice for historic vessels in the UK.
The functioning of the Commissioners of Irish Lights is within a matrix in partnership with the Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland and the Isle of Man, and Trinity House in England and Wales. They co-operate actively through a grouping known as the General Lighthouse Authorities, which in turn operates with larger supra-national inter-linking associations and authorities that extend a global reach. Their shared mission is to provide the world’s seaways and shipping with a uniform and effective system of navigational aids and regulatory systems.
Yet each constituent authority such as the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL, Coimisineiri Soilse na hEireann) has its own strong identity, for each in turn has emerged – usually over many centuries - from uniquely local conditions and particular historical circumstances. Globalisation has inevitably spread a strong element of uniformity, and the accelerating capacity and capability of computers is resulting in massive changes both in the way the Lighthouse Authorities function, and the number of staff they require to fulfill their vital role. But as W M Nixon discovered during an informative visit this week to Irish Lights headquarters in Dun Laoghaire - a visit which included a highly instructive tour of their familiar service vessel Granuaile - there is definitely something reassuringly Irish about the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
Although Irish Lights provide, maintain, develop and monitor a wide variety of aids to navigation all round our long, complex and often challenging coastline, for most people in Ireland it is the remarkable selection of 81 distinctive lighthouses which still provide the perception of what Irish Lights is all about.
As you’d expect, it is our most maritime-minded county of Cork which has the greatest number of these uniquely attractive and purposeful buildings – 16 in all – while next in line is Donegal with 11, reflecting the fact that while Cork has a long and complex coastline on the busier southwestern corner of Ireland. Donegal presents many navigational challenges for all vessels approaching the northwest corner.
Ireland being the size it is, most of us will be familiar with the presence of at last one lighthouse, while many of us will have several favourites. But although there has been a marked opening-up of the activities of Irish Lights in recent years, with the Twelve Great Lighthouses scheme providing holiday accommodation at some very special venues in what were formerly the houses of lighthouse keepers and their families, most of us still harbour at least part of the mindset which thinks that there should be something mysterious and perhaps a little sacred about the lighthouse service and its workings.
Certainly in the case of Ireland, the sacred aspect has historical resonance. For although the Commissioners of Irish Lights were officially established in 1786 and headquartered in Dublin, the earliest record of an Irish lighthouse service is in Wexford at Hook Head at the east side of the entrance to Waterford Estuary, where a monk called Dubhan started tending a lighted beacon in the Fifth Century, and his successors maintained it more or less continuously until Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland in 1641.
The provision of lights for navigation inevitably followed the main lines of shipping routes and sea trade, and in the late medieval period and on through Tudor and Stuart times, this put an emphasis on providing services for all ports between Youghal and Drogheda, places which came under the influence of the mighty (and often rather ruthless) city-port of Bristol.
In time, despite its shallow entrance, Dublin emerged as the main Irish port. But it was a slow long process through a number of grandly-named - or indeed oddly-named - bodies, their roles sometimes over-lapping before 1786, when Irish Lights was set up (Motto: In Salutem Omnium: For the Safety of All) to rationalize many local organisations, and provide an all-Ireland service which radiates out from Dublin to this day.
In fact, its focus is now totally through Dun Laoghaire, where Irish Lights have had their shore headquarters since 2008 in a striking modern award-winning circular building designed by star architects Scott Tallon Walker, and located on site together with the CIL workshops, research and development departments and the extensive “buoy yard” in a busy harbourside complex where their service vessel, the 2,625 ton Granuaile, can come alongside for direct access two hours either side of high water.
In times past, the organisaton seemed to function in more leisurely styles in keeping with the pace of each era, with the main offices located in a fine terrace of Georgian buildings in Pembroke Street in the heart of fashionable Dublin 2, while what was at one stage a flotilla of service vessels if all were gathered together at the Dublin quays. But that was a rare enough event, as usually they were away on their allocated duties on specific parts of the coast.
Yet nowadays, even though the pace and location is more intensely focused, with personnel cut back as computers and automation take over many aspects of a service which was formerly labour-intensive, there still is a certain attractive air of mystery about the way in which Irish Lights carry out their activities.
To a considerable extent these days, this is because staff numbers are minimized, and Chief Executive Yvonne Shields has to oversee an extremely efficient and focused organisation whose functioning is always under scrutiny. Although other lighthouse authorities get most if not all of their income from shipping dues, Irish circumstances are such that Irish Lights relies on a government subvention to top up its funding, and when public money is directly involved, you’re working in a special environment.
Yet even in the past when lighthouses were still being built as a matter of course – the Fastnet was completed as recently as 1904, the “new” light on Inishtrahull in 1958, and the light on the extended East Pier at Howth in 1981 – the fact of there being an element of public works in CIL’s activity did little to make their activities more public. They were seen as a very specialised service, there were many recognized “light service families”, and generally it was felt that the less the public knew about their well-trained and ethos-laden activities, the better.
But now, as its core staff get smaller but even busier, Irish Lights is letting the light in, so to speak. This week a party of three dozen or so of us from the Small Craft Group of the Royal Institute of Navigation, the Irish Cruising Club, and the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association spent an informative day with CIL, and came away hugely impressed with the dedication and expertise of the entire operation.
If you’re wondering at the eclectic makeup if those attending, it’s because we’d to close in on Wednesday September 6th when the Granuaile would be in port making her 28-day complete crew changeover. The people at CIL felt that information time in the offices, research units, workshops and buoy yard would only make sense if afterwards we saw the ship in detail to give us an insight into the means whereby their products and services are conveyed to locations all round the coast of Ireland. Thus as Paul Bryans and Darryl Hughes run the RIN Small Craft Group for all that they spend substantial chunks of their time in Ireland, and both are members of the ICC while Darryl is active in the DBOGA, we soon had the required numbers of people who were seriously interested in what CIL does, and how it does it.
For me it was of special interest, as my last close encounter with Irish Lights had been Before the Revolution. Irish Lights is always working hard to be in the vanguard of technology, yet until the early 1980s this was at a fairly leisurely pace. But then electronics and computers with remote monitoring began to sweep through. The manning of lighthouses was gradually discontinued, lightships and their crews were replaced by large equipment-filled buoys, and the entire economic environment changed.
Yet the dedicated and generally cheerful attitude of Irish Lights staff prevailed even as their numbers were inevitably diminishing. Thanks to a well-selected board of Commissioners and high staffing standards, the personnel management was sound, and CIL was set on a course which seemed eventually and inevitably to lead to a very focused operation based entirely in Dun Laoghaire, and operating with just one extremely busy ship.
But the most visible aspects of this transformation were still well in the future when I shipped as a guest of one of the Commissioners aboard the Granuaile’s predecessor, the yacht-like 1970-built 2000-ton vessel also known as Granuaile which, despite her relatively recent construction, really was a last relic of ould dacency.
The Commissioners kept a close eye on the workings of their cherished organisation, and every summer they had a working cruise round Ireland aboard the Granuaile inspecting the lights and other aids to navigation under their charge. In order to accommodate them, the ship had emerged as about 80% filled with the engine room, crews quarters, bridge space, officers cabins and rather luxurious accommodation for the Commissioners, but barely 20% was given over to an inconveniently small working space on the foredeck right under the bridge served by a small derrick, while around it were various workshops located in the part of the ship most prone to violent motion if she was at sea.
The section of the Irish Lights circuit I did in 1986 was from Bangor on Belfast Lough round to Killybegs, and while everyone worked extremely hard during days which started early, each night in some agreeable anchorage – for the local knowledge of Irish Lights crews is unrivalled - the Commissioners dined on board like the Lords of Creation, and if they went ashore it was to visit one of the choicest hostelries on the coast, while from the shore were brought out the most interesting and informed of local characters.
That stage of the cruise concluded with an on-board black tie dinner in Killybegs hosted by the Captain, Paddy Mangan from Kerry, who looked splendid in his full dress uniform, with CIL’s head inspector Dennis Gray in particularly fine form. As to the work done during the cruise, it was considerable, varied, and thorough, and all the time I was impressed by the technical expertise in some specific area of CIL activity which each Commissioner seemed to have made his speciality. In fact, some of them sometimes had little enough to say until their area of expertise came up the agenda, when they’d leap to life with information and advice which was world class.
But while the ship was lovely, she was already an anachronism, totally out of kilter with the new area of utility and functionality, and in due course Dennis Gray identified a service vessel for sale in the North Sea which was so useful for a temporary replacement for the very out-dated Granuaile that the delighted Commissioners called her Gray Seal.
Gray Seal was in turn only in use while a pioneering replacement ship was planned to be built from new, a total purpose-functioned vessel which Irish Lights would commission to be the prototype for light services the world over, and this was the new Granuaile, built in 2000, aboard which we were to spend the afternoon.
It says everything about the quality of the presentation given by Captain Robert McCabe, Director of Operations and Navigation Services, backed up by his Strategic Support provider Barbara Fogarty with further input by Technology and Development Services director John Burke, that the morning in the boardroom, offices and workshops was ever bit as interesting as the afternoon on the ship.
Light Commissioners the world over provide an increasing number of services despite the fact that some amateur sailors might reckon things like lighthouses to be superfluous thanks to modern electronics navigation aids (a navaid is aboard ship, an aid to navigation is not). But time and again it has been demonstrated this isn’t so, and you certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of some legal dispute trying to show that aids to navigation are superfluous. So the way ahead for Lights Commissioners is to make the running of their lighthouses as economical as possible, and increase their input into all areas of seafaring.
Ireland has been an ideal testing ground for developing ways of saving money in running a lighthouse, as we have such a variety of them to work with. It seems that one of the most expensive lighthouses in the world used to be the Bull Rock off County Kerry northwest of Dursey Island. It was just remote enough to be a special challenge, it often called for helicopters, and in the days when keepers lived on it, the money just ran out the door.
So Irish Lights started their own line of researching in developing economical LED (Light-emitting Diode) lights for use in lighthouses, and the one they fitted to the Bull Rock was a first of its type. It has been operating successfully since 2012, and now the main work project is replacing the famous light on Mew Island with a LED setup, while transferring the entire old-style Mew Island light equipment to the Titanic Centre in Belfast.
This interaction with local communities is not new – the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire has the impressive old Kish optic as a feature display – but now it is taken for granted, and Irish Lights, as a visible presence with many skills and a remarkable multi-purpose ship, inevitably finds itself at the centre of many maritime operations such as last weekend’s emergency exercise off Dunmore East, while they also played a special role in the search mission after the RS 116 tragedy at Black Rock in Mayo.
Looking to the future, they see interaction with other agencies as naturally increasing, so it may well that far in the future – for everyone’s now planning to 2030 and beyond - some recreational sailors will find the passing Irish Lights vessel taking a friendly interest in them, for the harsh fact is that nearly 50% of fatalities at sea come from the recreational sector.
Preoccupied with such thoughts, it was a welcome change to tour the workshops which vary from specialist micro-work benches to a fully fitted high-ceiling place – it has been used for public gatherings – which is also maybe the last wooden boat-building premises on the entire Dublin City and County waterfront. It seems that for their ocean-operating workboats which get launched by davits from the side of the ship with the crew already on board, the Irish Lights seamen still prefer to use a wooden boat of a well-proven type.
Outside was the extensive buoy-yard which had the complete range, everything from new buoys testing plastic construction through solar-powered smart buoys to a rusty old veteran which had somehow come across the Atlantic from Nova Scotia, and we all were lucky that no-one sailed into it during its slow progress, for it would have given as good as it got.
As Paul Bryans and I started our sailing on Belfast Lough, we were delighted to find in the buoy cluster one of the buoys that were buoys when we were boys, the South Briggs which marks a reef between the lough and Donaghadee Sound. Suitably elated by one of the worst jokes of the year, we made our way in a condition of information overload for a spot of welcome lunch at the Royal Irish Yacht Club and then headed east for the Carlisle Pier where the Granuaile was one very busy ship.
She certainly earns her keep. She works her way round the coast of Ireland more or less every 28 days, and is then back in Dun Laoghaire for one day of complete crew change and a detailed and thorough handover. You’d think that a crew in the middle of this would have more than enough to do, but we were graciously welcomed, and with the party divided in two, were able to get to know a fantastic ship.
Everything about the new Granuaile is expressive of the times in which we live. Functionality and internationalism is everything. She was built in Romania and finished in the Netherlands in 2000. And at every crucial stage of her construction, the Irish Lights specialists were invited to be present to make their input into the layout of this new type of vessel.
But some things don’t change, and Irish Lights is always strengthened by its sense of family involvement and tradition. Thus one of the key people in deciding how the unbelievably spacious bridge should be laid out to make best use of its 360 degrees control sphere was Declan Gray, the son of Dennis Gray with whom I’d gone along the coast on Donegal on the old Granuaile back in the previous millennium. And when we went up to the fantastic bridge, there to welcome us was Captain Declan Gray, very much dressed down as he was in the final go-everywhere stages of taking over the ship for the next 28 days, yet with us to talk to, it was clear that his enthusiasm for the new Granuaile burns as brightly as it did when she was brand new 17 years ago.
As the photos clearly show, everything is focused on work getting done, and keeping an eye on it wherever it may be happening. Everything is devoted to keeping control of the ship and what happens aboard her, regardless of the sea conditions.
Her engines, which are completely backed up, provide 4,000hp of diesel electric power, transmitted through two thrusters, one on each quarter which, together with a bow thruster, can either be operated independently or operated together – manually or by computer – to position the boat precisely.
The only change that might be made to the concept of 2000 is that the bow thruster be replaced with two independent thrusters, but as it is they’ve pinpoint control with none of your old-fashioned rudder nonsense – those thrusters on the quarters look after all steering.
As for a steering wheel – forget it. The passage control centre at the forward end of the bridge is all special thrust controllers and joysticks, as is the position command control panel at the starboard aft side of the bridge. Declan Gray can work it all with confidence and a real flourish, and the result is 2,600 tons of ship which can be placed on a one cent piece.
As for accommodation, she’s certainly comfortable, for regular crew and specialist staff can be on board for 28 days at a stretch, but there’s definitely not the applied opulence of the old ship. Everything is built around work requirements with usefully low freeboard around a huge working deck space aft, a king size derrick, and fully-equipped workshops below in the position of least motion.
Thus the new Granuaile can do the work which in the old days required two or three ships, and she can do it without requiring costly service yards in distant parts of the country, as modern heavy trucks means that a large item can be moved by road from Dun Laoghaire as and when she needs it, and delivered to any quayside where she has her own gear to lift it aboard.
It’s curious that this hive of working activity should be at the heart of what is increasingly seen as the recreational harbour of Dun Laoghaire. And the people at Irish lights are frank in discussing how some things in an otherwise orderly move out from Dublin have not gone as they expected. For instance, when the new main building was being planned in 2002-2008, they underestimated just how much the expansion in computer capabilities would reduce their need for office space. But it ultimately wasn’t a major problem. They decided that their needs could be fully met by using just the upper storeys, and letting out the ground floor offices to outside users.
Happily, the situation is now stabilisised, and Irish Lights, while continuing in its traditional functions, has successfully expanded into other related income-generating areas. But under-pinning everything, there is still that instinctive sense of duty and loyalty to a remarkable organization.
A classic Irish Lights story tells of James Kavanagh, the Wicklow stonemason who built the Fastnet Rock. Although increasingly ill, he insisted on staying on the rock into June 1903 in order to see the last enormous stone into place on the top course, number 89. He collapsed as it went perfectly into place, and was taken ashore in a semi-coma, having personally set every stone on the lighthouse.
James Kavanagh died in July 1903, and he has become a byword for the spirit of Irish Lights. Currently, Kevin Whitney, one of the Chief Officers on the Granuaile, is teaching classes in a Naval Reserve course in Haulbowline during his periods ashore between the 28-day spells on the ship. The 2017-2018 intake into these courses is called the James Kavanagh Year.