Ballycotton Island from Ballinamona Strand.
[Click on any photo to see a larger version]
I first set foot on Ballycotton Island three years ago when a local fisherman dropped me off there at 6:30am and collected me four hours later. It was highly irregular as visitors were not permitted on the island which is the property of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Not that it bothered me. I was fulfilling a life-long ambition. I was reared in a cottage along the coast road to Knockadoon and the island, its powerful light and deep booming foghorn were part of my earliest memories. I therefore made the most of the opportunity when the chance to surreptitiously visit it eventually arose and it was a wonderful experience. I was the only person there for the duration. It was like being marooned on a desert island (but in a good way).
There is no need any longer for clandestine visits. Since July of this year there are organised tours of the island with access the the lighthouse itself (something that was not, of course, available to me on my previous visit). Ballycotton Lighthouse Tours is a new company supported by SECAD (South & East Cork Area Development), Ballymaloe Foods and Cronin Millar Engineering and with the cooperation of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The driving force behind the initiative is Yasmin Hyde, daughter of Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House, and owner of the Ballymaloe Country Relish company. It was she who had the vision for public access to the island and it is great to see that it has become a reality.
I took the 90-minute tour last Saturday. A tip to prospective visitors – book in advance. Business is brisk and my granddaughter and I were lucky to get the last two places on the 3pm sailing. Tickets (€20 adult, €10 child) are available at The Inn By the Harbour which is on the right hand side as you drive down the hill to Ballycotton Pier. For more information see: http://www.ballycottonislandlighthousetours.com
The newly acquired boat (appropriately named “Yassy”) is licensed to carry 12 people plus crew. The short crossing lasts about 10 minutes and so should be bearable by all but the most chronic thallasophobes. The water was flat calm for our trip.
The “Yassy” returning to Ballycotton pier with a group of visitors.
Sailing to the island.
The once shining white walls of the island are now a dirty grey due to not being painted for several years. This is a pity and is something the Commissioners of Irish Lights should address.
Our guide was Eddie Fitzgerald. Eddie is a former lighthouse man who served in Ballycotton Lighthouse as well as in several others around the country. He knowledge of, and obvious love for, all things lighthouse related and his ebullient personality made for a most entertaining and educational experience. (It was only afterwards I learned that Eddie also has another string to his bow that he didn’t divulge on the day – he was a member of famed 1970s East Cork pop group Gina, Dale Haze and The Champions.)
Guide Eddie Fitzgerald at the start of the tour on the island.
For a detailed history of the background to and the building of the lighthouse and the changes that were made over the years check out the Commissioners of Irish Lights Ballycotton page: http://www.cil.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/ballycotton.aspx
Eddie telling us about the lighthouse men’s houses.
Ballycotton is one of only a few black lighthouses in the world.
The highlight of the tour for me was entering the lighthouse, climbing the granite steps and walking out on the balcony with its fine views.
A detail of the consummate workmanship apparent in the granite steps inside the lighthouse.
Looking west towards Ballycotton village.
Looking East towards Capel Island. The hexagonal structure in the foreground is the remains of a housing for a bell that was used in the 19th century, before the foghorn, to warn mariners they were near the island.
“Yassy” returning to the island with another group and to take us back.
The pier on the north side of the island.
The tour represents a marvelous opportunity to visit one of the landmarks of East Cork and is well worth the price.