Belfast Telegraph

SOS from Northern Ireland lighthouse keeper’s daughter over iconic Mew Island beacon

Hannah McNamara
Hannah McNamara
General views of the Copeland Islands and the Lighthouse
General views of the Copeland Islands and the Lighthouse
Shane McNamara

By Rebecca Black

The daughter of one of the last lighthouse attendants on Northern Ireland's Mew Island has urged the owners to ensure the historic buildings are preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The picturesque lighthouse off the Co Down coast has safely guided ships through the treacherous seas around the Copeland Islands for over a century.

Hannah McNamara, a Green Party representative for the area, said she was worried about the state of the lighthouse and its buildings now that it is deserted.

The issue is particularly personal for Ms McNamara, whose father was a lighthouse attendant, and she wants to see the old buildings made accessible for the public to enjoy.

"I am very concerned at the state of the Mew Island Lighthouse and its buildings, now that the lighthouse is unattended," she said.

"The contents of the former lighthouse keepers' houses have been removed and burnt, and all the daymarks (daylight aids to navigation) have been removed, so no one can navigate safely to land their boat at the island.

"My father Shane was the first lighthouse attendant at Mew Island in 1995/1996 around when the lighthouse became fully automated on March 29, 1996. The last lighthouse keepers left at this time.

"My family connection to this island also extended to two great uncles, Robert Allen and Walker Simpson (attendants), and my grandfather William Lennon was a local boat contractor who brought the keepers and attendants to and from the island.

"As children, we spent many summers as a family upon the island, climbing the steps to the top of the lighthouse and the watchtower, staying in the old-fashioned houses and lying on the heli-pad at night, watching the sweeping beam overhead.

"It really worries me that all those interesting and historic buildings have now been left to succumb to the harsh elements of the channel, despite being listed.

"I have been working with local campaigners to try and ascertain what responsibility the Irish Lights now have over the island and what can be done to preserve it. Other lighthouses around the island of Ireland have had their buildings retained and restored and some rented out as accommodation under the Irish Lights Great Lighthouses Of Ireland scheme.

"I would encourage the Irish Lights to do the same for Mew Island Lighthouse and urge them to listen to local voices on this issue."

Ms McNamara said there had also been anger in the community over a decision to remove the historic optic from the lighthouse. She said the Commissioners for Irish Lights - who own most of the lighthouses around the coast of Ireland - made the decision to update the workings of the lighthouse to solar-powered LEDs in 2014, and in the process "unnecessarily removed" the rare Fresnel-lens optic that had been in place since 1928.

The optic has now been installed at The Great Light exhibition at Titanic Belfast.

Ms McNamara urged the Titanic Foundation and Titanic Quarter to support the preservation of the lighthouse "to ensure that the history behind the great light does not end at Titanic Walkway".

She added: "I am glad that the optic could be saved and restored, and I am excited to see the history of the lighthouse and the lens brought to life in the new exhibition at Titanic Belfast - but this is not entirely the good news story as it is being portrayed."

A spokesman for Irish Lights said it was maintaining the property to meet the standards required by its listed building status.

He said the cross-border body had no objection to a heritage project at the island which would allow visitors to come and learn about the history of the lighthouse, but that the maritime authority would not have the funds to create that sort of facility itself.

He also explained that the historic optic light, which rested in mercury, was removed in 2014 and replaced with a new, energy efficient LED. He added that the new light on Mew Lighthouse serves both the mariner and the environment.

"The old light remained on the island until the organisation was approached about it being used in the exhibition in Belfast," he said.

Meanwhile, Irish Lights also revealed it was currently in discussion with local heritage interests regarding the permanent display of three foghorns dating from 1948.

The present lighthouse and fog signal on Mew Island was established on November 1, 1884, replacing an older one on Lesser Copeland Island.

It was then one of four cottage type coal burning lights around the Irish coast, along with others at Loophead, Old Head of Kinsale and Howth Head.

The Mew Island Lighthouse was extended later to include a 52ft tower and lantern.

Lighthouse keepers lived on the island until 1996, when it became automatic.

Belfast Telegraph


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