Hook Lighthouse in Ireland: Photographs and History

Hook Head Lighthouse

Located in County Wexford, Ireland, the Hook Lighthouse is the oldest beacon in the world.
Located in County Wexford, Ireland, the Hook Lighthouse is the oldest beacon in the world. | Source

The Oldest Lighthouse in the World

Located in County Wexford, Ireland, is the oldest working lighthouses in the world. The Hook Lighthouse juts into the sea near Waterford Harbor, and was built in the early 1200’s. In medieval times, a fire was lit at the top of the structure to give ships fair warning of where the land lay. According to legend, Saint Dubhán was the first to set a beacon to the Hook Head peninsula – the first “lighthouse” would have been a simple pile of stones with a stack of burning wood at the top.

Guided tours are offered of the structure: while the exterior of the lighthouse is painted in alternating black and white stripes, the interior is unadulterated stone. The arches of the Norman structure remind a visitor more of a cathedral than of a lighthouse. Visitors must climb 115 steps to reach the top of the tower, where they are rewarded with remarkable views from a balcony.

The Hook Lighthouse was built under the direction of William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke. He was an Anglo-Norman soldier who served under four kings. The lighthouse is currently run by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and uses an electric, rotating third-order Fresnel lens. The light is currently run by an automated system, so a resident keeper is not required. The lighthouse was opened to tourists in 2001.

Where Did the Lighthouse Get Its Name?

The Hook Head Lighthouse derives its name from the Hook Peninsula, a piece of land that juts out into the sea on the east end of Waterford Harbor. The ancient Irish word for the piece of land was Dubhán, which means “fishing hook.” Once Anglo-Norman invaders arrived, the name was translated into the familiar "Hook." Other names for Hook Head include: Hook Point, The Hook, and Point of Hook. The peninsula on the other side of Waterford Harbor is called the Crook Peninsula.

By Hook or By Crook!

A common legend states that the origin of the phrase “by hook or by crook” originates from the Irish coastline. The Hook Peninsula is opposite of the Crook peninsula, and Oliver Cromwell said he would take Waterford by “Hooke or by Crooke!” The phrase has many purported origins, and has been recorded in literature in the 14th century. The theory that Cromwell originated the saying is more legend than fact, but it does make for an interesting story!

White and Black Stripes

The Hook Lighthouse currently has white and black stripes. Prior to 1933, the lighthouse sported red and white stripes!
The Hook Lighthouse currently has white and black stripes. Prior to 1933, the lighthouse sported red and white stripes! | Source

The Hook Head Lighthouse: A Timeline

~1245: The lighthouse tower was constructed by William Marshal. The tower was approximately 24 feet high by 26 feet in diameter, with an open fire at the top. The tower was cared for by monks (Prior of St. Augustine in County Ross). The monks continued to care for the tower, even when Henry VIII disbanded monasteries sometime between 1536-1541.

1641: The English Civil War caused the monks to abandon the lighthouse, and the coast was dark. Shipwrecks were commonplace during this period of time, when Oliver Cromwell refused to take care of the lighthouse.

1657: A petition was sent to the governor of Duncannon Fort to bring the lighthouse back to working order. Unfortunately, the lighthouse remained dark.

1665: Six new lighthouses were built along the Irish coast by Richard Reading. The Hook Lighthouse was restored as part of this effort. An internal, spiral staircase was added to the lighthouse and the height of the tower was increased to approximately 72 feet.


The Rocky Cliffs of Waterford Harbor

Hook Lighthouse stands guard over the watery cliffs that line the east end of Waterford Harbor.
Hook Lighthouse stands guard over the watery cliffs that line the east end of Waterford Harbor. | Source

1667: The light in the Hook Head Lighthouse was rekindled. At this time in history, the light was created by a fire housed in an enclosed lantern at the top of the lighthouse.

1704: The lease of the Hook Head Lighthouse was passed down to the son of Henry Loftus. At the same time, Queen Anne transferred the rights of all Irish Lighthouses to the Revenue Commissioner – as the lease was held by the Loftus family, the transfer did not affect the Hook Lighthouse. After threats to darken the shores of Waterford Harbor, the lease was renewed for the Loftus family, though in terms that favored the British Crown.

1790’s: A new Argand lamp with reflectors was installed in the lighthouse. Along with nine other lighthouses, Thomas Rogers maintained the Hook Head Lighthouse during this period.

1812: The light in the lighthouse was altered.

1838: A bell was installed to act as a foghorn.


The Crook Peninsula from a Distance

The Crook Peninsula, as seen from across Waterford Harbor.
The Crook Peninsula, as seen from across Waterford Harbor. | Source

1864: A new Dioptric lens was installed, along with a new lantern. The lantern placed in 1864 is the same one in use today.

1871: The use of oil lamps was discontinued in favor of coal gas.

1872: A cannon was installed for use as a foghorn.

1905: An explosive charge was used as a foghorn.

1911: The use of coal gas was discontinued in favor of paraffin.

1933: The lighthouse was repainted: instead of three red bands on a white background, the tower was painted with the two black stripes familiar with visitors today.

A Place of Shipwrecks

When Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, the monks fled the area and the lighthouse went dark, causing many shipwrecks among these treacherous cliffs.
When Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, the monks fled the area and the lighthouse went dark, causing many shipwrecks among these treacherous cliffs. | Source

1972: The use of paraffin was discontinued in favor of electricity. The range of this light was 25 nautical miles.

1975: An air horn was installed for use as a foghorn.

1977: Resident lighthouse keepers were replaced by a team of six keepers.

1995: An electric horn was used for the foghorn.

1996: An automated system was installed to control the light on the Hook Lighthouse. At this time, the keepers were no longer needed and the lighthouse is now officially “unwatched.”

2011: The Hook Lighthouse foghorn sounded for the final time: with current navigational aids in use on ships, foghorns are no longer required on lighthouses.

The Hook Head Peninsula in Ireland

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Comments 25 comments

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Looks like a beautiful place. I would love to visit this lighthouse.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

It is really, really neat. I wish we would have taken photos of the inside, because the masonry is amazing. The stone arches look like the inside of a cathedral. The surrounding countryside and black rocky cliffs are really stunning, too. Beautiful place!


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 5 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

Leah I just love lighthouse hubs and I have written a couple myself. Thanks for sharing the info and beautiful pictures.


claptona profile image

claptona 5 years ago from Earth

Good post leahlefler,

Well done research and interesting narrative.

Voted up for the nice read!

To your continued success!

Cheers,

John D. Wilson


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

ThelmaC, lighthouses are beautiful, aren't they? We were driving during the May Bank Holiday when we lived in Ireland, and came across the Hook Lighthouse without knowing it was the oldest operating lighthouse in the world. It is really beautiful!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thanks for the comment John! The area around the Hook Peninsula is beautiful - we loved stopping at the lighthouse for a tour and lunch in the visitor's center. The soup was delicious. I miss traveling - it was very easy when we lived overseas!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

What an interesting read and great photos, this lighthouse certainly has some history! and it looks beautiful.

Well written and researched, voting up


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Thank you, Movie Master! It is a wonderful place to visit - if you are ever in County Wexford, Ireland, I highly recommend it!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Not sure when if ever I will make it to Ireland, so thanks for the information and photos about this Hook Lighthouse. I was fascinated to know that at first fire was used. Imagine keeping it stoked and supplied that high up...hauling the wood for fuel, etc. Very interesting hub! Thanks! Votes up!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

I can't imagine the work the original lighthouse fire took - with the wind coming off the sea, it must have been quite a job to keep the fire stoked! The view from the balcony is amazing - it is really neat to climb a medieval tower. The windows in the side of the tower are really narrow, and the interior reminds me of a castle!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

Oh, I wish we had been there when the tall ships were sailing! We lived in Ireland for a year - sometimes I wish we had stayed (we had the opportunity to stay for a longer period of time). It was very far from family, though, so we moved back "across the pond" to get a little closer. Still 3,000 miles away from family, but a lot closer than Dublin (where we lived)!


iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 4 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

Excellent hub on an historic lighthouse.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Iskra, it is absolutely beautiful - I highly recommend it if you are in Ireland at any point in your life!


The Lightkeeper 4 years ago

Great to see those pics. Brings back so many memories. I worked for 34 years as a lighthouse keeper in Ireland. Loved the life!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Oh, wow - you must have some fantastic experiences, Lightkeeper! It must have been wonderful - I grew up near the ocean (in California) and then we lived in Bray, Ireland, and now we are land-locked in the Great Lakes region of the United States. We have the Great Lakes, but there is nothing like the sea!


The Lightkeeper 4 years ago

Hi Leahlefler. Great to see your comment. Yep I loved the life. Just passed through Bray a few times. Was stationed for a number of years at the Baily Lighthouse on Howth Head. Then at Wicklow Head but that was only for a few months. Hope I can make something of this blog as its my first attempt. I'm a real greenhorn at this but I'm sure I will learn from my mistakes lol. Thanks again for the comment.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

You should definitely write about your experiences. Include great pictures - there aren't very many lightkeepers out there who write about what that life was like! I absolutely loved Howth. We used to take the DART up in that direction because it was so gorgeous in the summer. We ate at a great restaurant there - I can't remember the name off-hand but it was on a pier over the water. I can't find the name online, so it may not be there anymore. We lived in Bray about 10 years ago.


iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 4 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

@ leahlefler

I live in Ireland and hope to visit it soon.

Fastnet would be my all time favourite Irish lighthouse, I have been fascinated by it for many, many years.

There is something magical about Fastnet which is quite difficult to articulate sometimes.


The Lightkeeper 4 years ago

Yes Howth is lovely. I have a brother still living there. There are several more restaurants on the Pier now. Its really buzzing in Howth niow. I was recently there on a Sunday and was amazed at the size of crowd walking about.

I think that you are correct in suggesting the insertion of some suitable pics to add interest to a story. I will try my best to get some. Where to start with the stories is my biggest problem but I will manage somehow :). Thanks again for your help.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

I loved your first article - I tried to comment but I didn't see the comment capsule? I'll have to go back and look again. You could break up the stories under a heading, something like, "A Lightkeeper's Tale: (insert story name)." If you create a "group" in hubpages, it will automatically create a tab under each article, so that readers can click on the next story.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Iskra1916, I can't believe we never saw the Fastnet Lighthouse when we visited Cork! We were there over the May Bank Holiday weekend - we went to the Fota wildlife park, saw Hook's Head, and then drove to Kerry before heading back across to Bray again. There is nothing more beautiful than driving around the coast of Ireland in the spring time. The bluebell woods in Kerry were stunning!


iskra1916 profile image

iskra1916 4 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

leahlefler,

according to legend Fastnet rock itself sets sails visiting nearby rocks during the Summer Solstice.

(Has my last comment disappeared?)


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York Author

Iskra1916 - I just checked my comments section and found these comments - somehow the automated content filters moved them to a spam folder. I just found them and approved them.


tastiger04 profile image

tastiger04 3 years ago

Fantastic photos and timeline!! I love lighthouses, I love Ireland, and I love history...so this hub especially spoke to me! Thanks for the good read :) voted up and interesting!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 3 years ago from Western New York Author

This was one of my favorite places in Ireland. The scenery is gorgeous and seeing the stone arches inside the lighthouse was very cool. I wish I had managed to get pictures of the inside of the lighthouse, tastigero4! The medieval stonework is impressive.

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