Tuesday, 30 August 2016

West Lighthouse

This summer we did a couple of lighthouses on Rathlin - two out of the three that are on the island.  We didn't go to the East Lighthouse - the haunted one, our host Hilary informed us.  She's experienced a few episodes there herself to go along with the many other stories she'd heard.  And that's in addition to the Púca spirit that is said to inhabit The Manor House.

We did go to the West Lighthouse, where the bird sanctuary is.  Last year the centre was closed for renovation but this year the new place was open.  And, like with so many things these days, there was a charge.  Not an exorbitant charge I have to admit, but still, there was something nice about being able to get to see round the place in the good old days - 2 years ago - without having to put your hand in your pocket, as Jim Grey knows only too well.  The Brother still can't believe how many things around The Liberties are free to enjoy - compared to the States, that is, where he resides - but the times they are a-changing and it's coming, like a hard rain.  OK, enough Bob Dylan I hear you say.  I like old Bob - even saw him once live in Belfast, a double act with some local dude called Van Morrison.  What a great concert that should have been, eh?  Unfortunately it was an open-air affair and not, in my opinion, best suited to either of these great artists.  No - it would have to be a smoke-filled speakeasy to get the best out of those critters.

Looking down on the top of the West Lighthouse, Rathlin Island. I know - another straight horizon!  Must have been the air...  Not often you get to look down on a lighthouse dome, is it?  The reason being, this one is upside-down: the lamp thingmy is at the bottom, rather than the top.  Reasons being the cliff face the lighthouse is positioned on and the fact that apparently they reckoned the siting of the bell in this position would grant best visibility to any ships nearby.  
The good thing about the new arrangements at the West Lighthouse is that as well as the bird sanctuary, you get to explore the lighthouse itself.  It's still functioning, but like all lighthouses nowadays it's electronically controlled, so no need for a keeper.  We learnt a lot about lighthouse keepers, we did.  In the good old days, if your grandfather was a lighthouse keeper the chances were your father was and you would be too.  It was a very important job - detailed notes on weather conditions and shipping traffic had to be kept and of course lives depended on it.

OK, so who knows what this thing does?

I've no idea about the hair arrangement outside the window - could well be a scanning artefact, or maybe signs of a Púca.  This device, which is still working and in use, is used to detect fog.  We learnt that in the olden times - as far back as the 1980s and even earlier, there were things called fog-horns, which sounded periodically when the presence of fog was detected.  I can remember the eerie sound they made.  The guide told us that before that they used to fire an 18lb gun every 20 minutes when fog was about - he mentioned something about a rocket as well.  Eventually Morse code took over.  Anyway, interesting that they now use a bit of fairly old imaging technology (by the look of it) to search for fog nowadays.  There was a very polite notice on it 'Not to touch - machine in current use'.

I took a snap of the workings of the thing, but it didn't come out very well - reflections and under-exposure and the usual sort of thing you get around here:

In the past the light from the paraffin lamp used to be focussed by lenses before being projected out sea-wards, so we were told anyway.  The lens used to float in some sort of mercury bath - could that be correct?  These days of course it's all electronically controlled apparently, via some transistors and PCBs and the like.  Still a pretty big affair, though, as you can see.  A bit of engineering in there, methinks.  Very impressive, it was.

So, a snap of the outside, Missy included, getting the head blown off her.  It was unbelievably windy - really, I mean, hard-to-stand-up windy.


  1. What a great pile of snaps, and nice stories to go with them.
    When I noticed the fog-watcher I felt the temptation to say a few words about the things that happened over here in Norway a bit more than a few years back, when they were struggling to find out where the best place to put the new big airport would be. I will, however, not use your space to do that. I might find an opportunity to post something about that over at my own place some other day :)
    As for mercury used to support the fresnel lenses that is absolutely correct. The reason for this is the necessity of an absolutely 100% level lens, and the fact that a lens floating in mercury will turn surprisingly lightish due to extremely low friction. They were quite heavy these old lenses, sometimes weighing several tonnes in a decent sized lighthouse. You can easily turn such a lens with the use of a light push with your finger, and it will not stop the first second after you have stopped pushing. It's not the best medium to have floating around freely, as we now know lots about, and there were many a lighthouse keeper who suffered health problems due to the stuff. They had to clean it and all... not the job you would get anyone to do these days.

    1. Thanks mate! That's an interesting comment about the lenses - I had no idea they were so large and heavy. I can just imagine the mercury bath they sat in - like you say, not a job anyone would touch nowadays.

      I can guess the sort of story which is coming about the airport and fog...but will wait for the post on Between light and shadow...a borderline :)