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Hook Lighthouse in Ireland: Photographs and History
Hook Head Lighthouse
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 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
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
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
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.