How Meath's inland lighthouse became a mock monument


HERITAGE WEEK DIARY:The Spire of Lloyd, a mock lighthouse in  Co Meath, now sends out messages of a different sort, writes Michael Harding

LAST WEEKEND I saw my daughter dancing at a wedding, and I suddenly realised that she had grown up. The days of carrycots and rubber ducks, of furry toys and jingling bells, have gone forever.

Yesterday’s child has become today’s beautiful woman; Rapunzel has fled the tower. But I realised that I too must be even older than I thought, which made me sad. Then came the news that an acquaintance had died suddenly, a good man, and far too young. By Monday afternoon, I was sinking into unbearable melancholy.

I decided to climb the Spire of Lloyd, a mock lighthouse that stands 131m above sea level in the middle of Meath. It was built in 1791, in commemoration of lord Bective, and it stands on a hill where in previous ages humans built ring forts, and a variety of habitable enclosures.

There is a viewing area at the top, a full 360-degree walkway, enclosed from the wind by glass, from which I gazed down on the road to Cavan, where I often travelled as a boy, in the back of our family’s Austin A40. In those days I thought the lighthouse on the hill was a cactus plant.

At other times, it resembled a man with a 10-gallon hat, like the one Hoss Cartwright used to wear in Bonanza. Occasionally, it just looked alarmingly like Aunt Agnes, who had a penchant for flamboyant headdress.

I puffed my way to the top of the spiral staircase, and walked out into the sky, at the top of the tower, to view the Cooley Mountains, the windmills beyond Shercock, and the flat lands that stretch as far as Wicklow.

The Spire of Lloyd might have brought some delight to the lords and ladies of Meath in the latter part of the 19th century, as they quaffed punch and watched for their ships coming into Carlingford Lough, or as they cheered the hunting hounds chasing furry animals in the flat fields below; but all the views from that blind lighthouse could not lift my spirits.

I couldn’t avoid the ugliness of the industrial estate below me, just outside Kells. I couldn’t resist thinking about the hill of Tara in the distance, and the long, lacerating gash in the earth, where thousands of tonnes of cement have been poured on to the sleeping dead, to make a road for fast cars.

As my eyes scoured the fields of Meath, I couldn’t forget Francis Ledwidge, who may have once gazed up at that same spire, before he went to France, to die in another field, looking for some desperate glory, and believing the old lie, dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori(it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country).

When I returned to ground level, and took one backward glance at the mock lighthouse, I noticed that the lantern at the tip, the glass room that might have enclosed light in a real lighthouse, was stuffed with enough electronic equipment to guide a small spacecraft down from the moon.

Once again, the spire began to bear an alarming resemblance to Aunt Agnes, who was deaf, and used a listening device of enormous complexity in her ear, which sometimes sizzled and made her face contort as if she were receiving messages from outer space. Apparently, the listening device in the spire is the property of a mobile-phone company, which has discreetly transformed the monument into a telephone mast.

On my way home, I decided to climb the green hills beside Loughcrew, and rest for a while near the passage graves that remain unspoiled at the top; the heaped stones where, twice a year, the equinox sun still enters an enclosed chamber, and slants to caress five beautiful carvings of the sun. Twice a year an ancient people’s hope in something permanent beyond the grave is illustrated, as the sun fingers the stone carvings, and transforms the passage grave into an exquisite house of light.

From Loughcrew I looked again at the Spire of Lloyd in the distance. A phallic monument, confident in its own reason and logic, aesthetic in a provincial sort of way. Just as, in 1791, it was a mock lighthouse, so now, by the ingenuity of some telephone company, it has become a mock monument.

If Rapunzel was ever imprisoned in anything remotely as false, then I’m glad she had long hair and that her prince arrived and whisked her away from her father’s power.

I drove home through Dunmore, a village where every August there is an annual duck derby; rubber ducks are lined up in the river, for a race.

The river carries the ducks away, and in a great display of the human desire to remain forever young, the adult population place bets on which duck will win.