One of my earliest childhood memories was playing with my siblings in the old house on the hill in Coolbunnia one chilly summer morning. The scene was unsettling to us I remember, because our usual/familiar view of the harbour, the three rivers flowing our towards Dunmore and the Hook, was obliterated by an early morning fog. The fog clung in a beady dampness to the sides of the harbour of which we were a part, only Buttermilk at Wexford and the Hurthill on the Waterford shore stood out, But the other feature that I recall was a moaning sound from down the harbour at Hook, A fog horn bleating out a warning to fishermen and sailors, We mimicked it, and our voices echoed back, and soon we were unsure if it was us, or the Lighthouse at Hook making the warning sounds.
Hook played another part in my childhood, as the beam, swept across the sky at night and I particularly remember being disappointed that it passed so quickly, much preferring in my mind a slow sweep like some searchlight in a prison camp in movies such as the Great Escape.
The Hook, has been a beacon for sailors and fishermen since the 5th C AD. St Dubhan, on founding a monastery at Churchtown saw a need for a warning light and a fire was lit on the tip of the headland. Some say that's where the name hook, derives from; Dubhan being Irish for a fish hook.
Following the Norman Invasion, and the settling of the country by foreigners, William Marshall saw the need to protect shipping interests and the Hook tower was constructed between 1210-30. Apparently the goodly monks again took on the light-keepers duties. So it remained until the dissolution and routing of the holy orders circa 1540.
In the 1670's the light was reinstated, using coal, but also with a protective screen from the elements. 1791 saw a whale oil fueled lamp instated following repeated complaints from mariners. 1871 saw the introduction of Paraffin but it would be 1972 before electricity finally reached the outcrop.
I'm old enough to remember the hue and cry nationally about the automation of the lights and the removal of men from the lighthouses, which finally happened at the Hook in 1996. My father thought it a backward step and fumed about what he saw as accountants making decisions that affect sailors lives. I recall his anger and misery after a family drowning tragedy off Fethard. He was of the opinion that had the Light Keepers been at the Hook that day some lives may have been saved. He was out that day in the same area fishing lobsters. I knew his pain was heightened in that he was reliving his own pain at loosing a son to the water.
In 2011, the fog horn was decommissioned, apparently technology can now replace the human ear. At Christmas I noticed the latest change to this wonderful public institution. Someone, somewhere has decided that the strength of light from the hook is no longer required, and now when you walk the harbour the light is only visible from close by. No longer does it sweep the sky at Cheekpoint, and even from the Minaun its a stretch to witness it. If you don't believe me travel to Dunmore East at dark, and look across the harbour. A weak, meak light is what will greet you. Personally I think its an insult to the history and heritage to the light. I don't know why it's happened, but I fear, like my father many years back, that an accountant may be involved.
Its still the most magical spot in the South East to my mind. I've done the Lightouse tour every year, and we recommend it to anyone who asks where to go for a day trip. The location, the onrushing Atlantic, the sweep of the horizon, the passing fishing boats and ships, the walk to Slade or the loop from Loftus Hall. All combine to make the Hook one of the most wonderful locations in the South East, if not the country.
Memories are made from interactions. The more dramatic, the more lasting. Such considerations are not part of the modern day decision making process however (although maybe they never were). I just wish those who have control of the light would have a bit more respect for its history, its purpose and its future. Memories are what draws me back to the Hook, we need to ensure this generation can have those opportunities too.
I publish a blog each Friday. If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at email@example.com to receive the blog every week.
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For a more detailed reading on the history, you could read nothing better than Billy Colfers The Hook Peninsula pp 84-91