Photo copyright - Philip Plisson.
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POSITION 51°49.5' North 7°59.1' West
Location: Ballycotton, near Youghal
Present Tower Built: 1848-1851
Tower Composition: Granite
Height of Upper Tower: 50 feet (15.2m)
Designer: George Halpin (jnr)
Focal Height of Light: 195 feet (59.4m) above mean high water
First Lit: 1st June 1851
Present Light Characteristic: Fl WR 10s. Exhibited by day when the fog signal is sounding
Fog Signal: 4 blasts every 90 seconds
Visible Range on clear night: nominal 21 nautical miles (white sector)
Visible Range on clear night: 17 nautical miles (red sector)
Automated: 28th March 1992
Ballycotton lighthouse is indirectly tied with numerous requests from merchants of Youghal and Cork, Shipowners, masters, Cork Harbour Board and the Admiralty between 1828 and 1846 for a lighthouse on Capel Island off Knockadoon Head, 8km (5 miles) south of Youghal. Throughout this length of time the Inspector and Superintendent, Mr George Halpin, supported by the Ballast Board much preferred, if there was to be a new lighthouse, for it to be positioned on Ballymacart Head or Mine Head as it is called today.
A Board of Trade enquiry under Captain Denham, R.N., was held on the loss of the "Sirius" on 18th January 1847 and in his report he drew the attention of the Ballast Board to the propriety of forthwith establishing two lighthouses on a transit to clear Smith's rock, one on Ballycotton the other either on Helvick Head or Ballymacart (Mine) Head to avert the frequency of wrecks along the unlit coast between Old Head Kinsale and Hook Head.
Sanction to build Ballycotton Lighthouse was obtained from Trinity House in March 1848 and an Inquisition was held in Youghal on 16th June for the valuation of the ground required.
Inspector Halpin designed the lighthouse and dwellings which were made from the old red sandstone quarried on the island. Stone for lintels, sills, lantern, blocking, tower stairs etc. would have been brought in from granite quarries on the main land. Messrs W. and P. of Cork were awarded the contract to build the tower and dwellings in November 1848.
In March 1850 the bulk of the building had been completed and the dome of the tower was being sheeted with copper.
The first order optic (920mm focal distance) was supplied by Messrs. W Wilkins of London who at that time relied on French optics for their apparatus. The catadioptric apparatus was the only one of its type around the coast, with a fixed inner optic and a rotating outer. The fixed inner cylindric reflector consisted of upper and lower catadioptric prisms without a centre belt. The rotating outer optic had eight faces each with an annular lens, and a set of upper and lower vertical condensing prisms. These prisms revolved around the inner fixed upper and lower catadioptric prisms. The resulting effect was a powerful beam from each face of the outer optic. The light source would have been a multiple wick oil lamp. The light was first exhibited on 1st June 1851.
The light character was flashing white every ten seconds, and could be seen at a distance of 18 miles (29 km) in clear weather. The overall height of the tower is 50 feet (15.2m) and the height of the light above high water is 195 feet (59.4m). The tower was natural stone colour and the compound walls were white washed on the outside.
Early in June 1856 the Reverend J. Hopkins, incumbent of Ballycotton wrote to the Board requesting the Ballast Board to establish a fog bell. The matter was referred to the Inspecting Committee who, being on tour at that time, agreed that steps should be taken to erect a fog bell. Whilst there appears not to be any record of the fog bell being established Inspector Halpin did report in July 1856 that estimates for a bell and belfry had been received and soon after that difficulty had been experienced in delivering the two items to Ballycotton, but 1856 can definitely be taken as the year the fog bell was established.
A black band was painted around the centre of the tower in 1892 so that the tower would not be confused with Capel Island's beacon.
In July 1896 the Inspecting Committee recommended that Ballycotton, along with three other stations, should be converted to relieving and the keepers and their families granted lodging allowance pending dwelling being built ashore. Bringing families ashore from rock stations was triggered off by a storm on 29th December 1894 which damaged, beyond repair, the dwellings of the east station on Eagle Island, off the Mullet peninsula, Co. Mayo.
Houses in Ballycotton were offered early in 1898 by Mr O'Keeffe and Mr Power. Mr O'Keeffe's four houses overlooked the lighthouse but were too exposed and lacked a water supply. Mr Power's were better situated, marginally superior but required coal houses and earth closets. After careful consideration Mr Power's houses were recommended by Mr W Douglas the Engineer-in-Chief. By March 1899 the dwellings were occupied by the four keepers and their families.
In 1902 the whole of the Ballycotton tower was painted black, because over the previous 10 years it was still being confused with the beacon on Capel Island. In 1904 the light source was converted to an incandescent vaporised paraffin burner.
Over the years the lease was renewed periodically and in 1958 the four houses were bought. The station was converted to non-dwelling on 1st September 1972 and the terrace of three houses sold in 1973. The fourth house was retained as a staff holiday house until 1997.
In June 1908 Mr. Scott reported that the bell tower was unsafe and suggested the bell should be re-positioned either on the lighthouse tower or alternatively establish a reed horn. With the sanction of both Trinity House and the Board of Trade a reed horn fog signal replaced the bell on 30 December 1909 with a character of six blasts every two minutes. The horn was positioned on the lantern balcony rail, two Crossley compressor sets on the first floor and an air receiver on the ground floor of the tower. By 1921 Mr. Scott recommended replacing what had become an unsatisfactory reed horn by an "A" type diaphone, approval was obtained, the Crossley compressor sets were retained by an extra air receiver was added being transferred from Tory Island. The diaphone, again positioned on the balcony rail, went into operation towards the end of 1924 with the same character as the reed horn.
With Board of Trade sanction early in 1937 the fog signal underwent a complete change in 1938. A "G" type diaphone was installed. The improved fog signal went into operation on 16th February 1939, with a different character, four 1.5 second blasts every ninety seconds, (blast 1.5, silent 2.0, blast 1.5, silent 2.0, blast 1.5, silent 2.0, blast 1.5, silent 78.0).
The modernisation of the station got underway in 1976-77. Prior to this date the main light had been converted to electric on 15th January 1975 with the original 1851 optic being replaced by an AGA sealed beam lamp array with a character of Fl W 10 seconds. An 11 metre diameter concrete helicopter landing pad was constructed. On 28th August 1974 a Radio and Calibration Beacon was established, the aerial being slung between a mast and the tower. This service was discontinued on the 26th November 1991. On 14th August 1975 a 175° landward red sector was incorporated into the main light. Since April 1978 the light is exhibited in poor visibility when the fog signal is sounding. In 1991 the diaphone fog signal was changed to an electric horn retaining the same character.
New quarters were built for the Keepers and tradesmen with a watchroom on the roof, the old Keepers' dwelling is now used as a general store. The other dwelling nearest the tower which housed the two compressor sets was further converted to accommodate the three Lister HR2 generator sets.
On 28th March 1992 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the Keepers were withdrawn from the station. The station is in the care of an Attendant and the aids to navigation are also monitored via a telemetry link from the Lighthouse Depot in Dun Laoghaire.