Hook Lighthouse: The Second Oldest in the World

Hook Lighthouse in County Wexford, Ireland. (Image: Athena Flickr. The Hook Lighthouse)

We live in a throw-away society where it’s easier and oftentimes cheaper to replace something rather than repair it. From furniture to cars, newer is better – which makes places like the 12th century Hook Lighthouse in County Wexford, Ireland, even more incredible.

Standing at the tip of the Hook Peninsula on the southeast coast of Ireland is a limestone tower, painted with distinctive black and white bands, that shines a light 23 nautical miles out to sea. Hook Lighthouse has been operating in this manner not for decades but for centuries. It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in the world and the second oldest operating example after the Tower of Hercules in Galicia.

(Image: Ludvam)

According to the Hook Lighthouse & Heritage Centre, that stretch of Irish headland has been inhabited since the fifth century. It was a missionary named Dubhán who built a monastery on the land the Vikings had called Vadra Fiord, or the “weather estuary”.

The earliest lighthouse at Hook Head, built by Dubhán’s monks, was constructed to warn ships off the potentially deadly rocks. The tower itself – as it stands today – was built some time between 1201 and 1240 by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster.

(Image: pbmurray654)

The Hook Lighthouse was constructed in conjunction with a port at the nearby New Ross, and records suggest it wasn’t just built with the help of the monks, but that they became the first custodians of the enduring navigational aid also.

It’s impressive to think that the building still stands, let alone that it’s intact and functional. On the inside, 115 steps extend up four storeys high, and each level still has its original fireplaces. The walls are four meters thick – which is a good thing, considering the rough winter weather that lashes the centuries-old lighthouse.

(Image: Jeremy Polanski)

The monks remained keepers of the Hook Lighthouse into the 17th century, and it was updated to a coal lantern in 1671. That became a whale oil lantern in 1791, gas lights in 1871, paraffin in 1911, and electric in 1972. The last of the lighthouse keepers walked down those 115 steps in 1996, and today the Hook Lighthouse is remotely controlled by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

It’s awe-inspiring to think of those keepers who for centuries ascended those steps, the ships that have been warned away from the deadly rocks, and the lives that have been saved. The Hook Lighthouse is such an important part of Wexford’s history that it’s featured on the county’s coat of arms; a reminder that even though times change and technologies advance, the need for navigational aids remains ever present.

Hook Lighthouse on the County Wexford coat of arms (Image: Johnny97. County Wexford coat of arms)

Related: Navigation Markers: 7 Defunct Daymarks & Beacons


About the author: Debra Kelly




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