A maritime lawyer has appealed to the Taoiseach and the Irish lighthouse authority to save the original Fastnet lighthouse beam off west Cork as a "symbol of hope" for the Irish diaspora.
Michael Kingston, who is director of the Irish Cultural Centre in London and whose father, Tim, was one of the 50 victims of the Whiddy island oil terminal explosion in 1979, also suggests its beam should be maintained as a memorial to all those who have lost their lives at sea.
Mr Kingston is urging a review of the decision by the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) to replace the optic lens on Fastnet with a liquid emitting diode (LED).
This change will reduce the beam from 27 to 18 nautical miles – still within recognised navigational limits. To allay concerns in the tourism sector in west Cork, CIL planned meetings with local politicians and the public on Monday night in Schull.
In an open letter to the CIL, copied to Leo Varadkar and a number of his Ministers, Mr Kingston says that the Fastnet's associations with the Titanic and the Lusitania as well as its reputation as the "tear drop of Ireland" for departing emigrants make it exceptional.
He said the Fastnet tower, built at the turn of the last century, is "part of the fabric of Ireland, her past, and therefore her future, not just in Ireland but for Irish people all over the world".
Mr Kingston also points out in his letter that the Fastnet has “saved thousands upon thousands of lives down through the years”. Its beam has also guided many sailors during Admiral Cup yacht races, and facilitated rescuers during the 1979 Fastnet yacht race when 15 people lost their lives, he said.
“A positive statement of maintenance of the lens as a memorial too to all those who have lost their life at sea would be magnificent, and not least all those who worked on our lighthouses in Ireland for Irish Lights, and also exist as a beacon of hope for our seafarers and rescue services,” he says. “If this is a financial issue for CIL, then the Government should step in and assist.”
A campaign to save the original optic lens at the lighthouse on St John's Point in Co Down has lent its support to Mr Kingston's call. Ms Eileen Peters of the Lecale Lightkeepers group said similar plans to replace the St John's optic lens with an LED light had been vehemently opposed by the community and by local fishermen.
“The character of the sweeping beams of these mercury floating lights should be recognised for their historic and navigational value,”Ms Peters said. “In spite of advances in satellite navigation, lighthouses are needed and we know this as a Norwegian yacht which got into difficulty off this coast two years ago relied on the light of St John’s to make it safely into shore.”