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Bull Rock
Photo copyright - Philip Plisson.

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A very special acknowledgment is given to the Commissioners of Irish Lights for the in depth data utilized for this web site.

Position:  51°35.5' N  10°18.1' W
Location:  off Dursey Island.
Present Tower Built:  1882-89
Tower Composition:  Solid limestone & granite
Height of Tower: 49 ft 3 ins (15 m)
William Douglass
Commissioners of Irish Lights
Focal Height of Light:  272 ft 4 ins (83 m) above mean high water
First Lit:  1st January 1889
Light Characteristic: White flash every 15 seconds
Visible range on clear night: nominal 21 nautical miles  
Radar Beacon:  Morse 'N' on vessel's radar display.
Automated: 1991

Bull Rock lighthouse is notable for the natural tunnel running right through it. It is the biggest of a group of rocks – the Bull, the Cow, the Heifer, and the Calf – off Dursey Island.

In March 1846 Captain J. Wolf of the Royal Navy wrote to the Hydographer requesting that a lighthouse be established on Bull Rock, Galley Head to the west of Kinsale Old Head, and on the Foze Rocks off the Blasket Islands.

In 1849 the Cork Harbour Commissioners reminded the Corporation for Improving the Port of Dublin of this letter and enquired if the Board contemplated adopting the suggestions. The Board’s Inspector George Halpin reported on the situation and in the outcome Galley Head was approved but the Bull and Foze Rocks were postponed. During protracted discussions between Trinity House, the Board of Trade and the Corporation which went on until 1858, Bull Rock fell out of favour with Trinity House and the Board of Trade despite the Corporations’ preference for the Bull, Calf Rock was chosen as the site for the lighthouse. George Halpin submitted plans and an estimate for a cast iron tower, with floors of Valentia slate similar to the tower on Fastnet Rock, which was at that time four years old.

In 1861, Henry Grissell of Regent’s Canal Iron Works, London, secured the contract for building a cast iron lighthouse and dwellings on Calf Rock .

Meanwhile investigations were in operation as to who owned the Calf Rock. At first there seemed to be no answer to this question until a Sheriff’s inquiry in January 1859 produced evidence from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, that stated Her Majesty Queen Victoria owned Calf Rock. The Corporation was then able to purchase the rock for £26.5s.0d.

Henry Grissell completed the tower in August 1864. The lantern, optic and revolving machinery were added the following year making the tower 121 ft (36.8m)high. The light was established on 30th June 1866, 136 ft (41.4m)above high water.

Shore dwellings for the Keepers and their families were built on the mainland at the south end of Dursey Sound.

A severe storm early in 1869 washed away a section of the lantern balcony rail and a hut containing stores. The Keeper ashore thought he saw distress flags on the rock so with six boatmen they braved the stormy seas only to find the Keepers on the rock were safe and sound. However as the boat turned to return to the main land it was caught by the sea and capsized, with the loss of everyone on board.

During 1870 the base of the tower was strengthened by increasing the diameter from 20 ft (6m) to 31 ft (9.4m). A cast iron skirt was added and the space between the skirt and the tower filled with rubble.

On 27th November 1881 the lighthouse was destroyed by a violent storm, the tower complete with lantern snapped off above the strengthened base and fell into the sea. Fortunately neither the Keepers nor the three other men were in the tower and all six were taken off the rock two weeks later by the boat attendant helped by H.M.S. “Seahorse”.

Immediate steps were taken to establish a temporary light at the west end of Dursey Island. This consisted of a spare lightvessel lantern from the Lighthouse Stores at Dun Laoghaire, superimposed on a three-roomed wooden structure, complete with a 25.5 ft (7.8m) high by 1.25 ft (381mm) diameter mast, erected through the centre of the lantern and middle room. To complete the picture a wooden balcony ran around the lantern, the mast was stayed to the ground with four lengths of chain and an 8 ft (2.44m) high masonry boundary wall was built close to the wooden structure. The light was put into operation on 2nd February, 1882.

With Calf Rock damaged beyond repair thoughts turned back twenty years to Bull Rock being the most suitable of the three rocks the Calf, the Cow and the Bull for the lighthouse, so in February 1882 the Inspecting Committee of the Commissioners of Irish Lights recommended Bull Rock to Trinity House. The following month sanction was granted by the Elder Brethren and the Board of Trade requested estimates. No difficulty was experienced in securing the rock, as it too was owned by Queen Victoria and the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. The rock was acquired from her Majesty for £21. Bull Rock is notable for the natural tunnel running right through it.

Work went ahead immediately on a lighthouse tower, dwellings for the Keepers, an oil-gas works to supply gas for the burners in the optic and an explosive fog-signal. The station was completed in 1888 and on 1st January 1889 Bull Rock’s light and fog signal were established. Its
bi-form hyper-radial optic was the biggest in Ireland. The temporary light on Dursey Island was discontinued. The original boundary wall built around this temporary light can still be seen today.

The first major alteration to Bull was the replacement of the explosive fog-signal by a siren with three trumpets operated by air from compressors in the engine room. The change over took place on 1st April 1902.

The next alteration was on 28th June 1910 when the light was converted from oil-gas to vapourised paraffin causing the candlepower to be greatly increased still using the same optic.

From 25th April 1978 the light was exhibited in poor visibility when the fog signal was sounding.

The light was converted to electric power on the 21st August, 1974, increasing the candle-power still further to 4,500,000.

The fog signal was discontinued on 17th May 1989.

On 31st March 1991 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the Keepers were withdrawn from the station. As part of the automation process the original lantern and optic were replaced by a much smaller lantern and quartz halogen lamps giving a high-intensity light with low power consumption,

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.

From September 1998 the practice of exhibiting the light during reduced visibility in daylight hours was discontinued.

On the 6th October 2000 the station was converted to solar power and the original lantern was replaced by a Pelangi PRL400 electric lantern with a 35W CDM discharge lamp powered by 32 no 50W solar panels and a 24V 5,500 Ah battery.