Fastnet Rock: Public meeting in west Cork over plans to change light

Commissioners of Irish Lights move comes amid concerns over installation of LED replacement that will reduce beam

A 1989 photograph of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse during the Fastnet race. Photograph: Peter Thursfield/The Irish Times

Ireland's lighthouse authority has moved to quell concern over the future of Fastnet Rock light off west Cork by arranging a public meeting early next month.

As reported by The Irish Times, a liquid emitting diode (LED) replacement is due to be installed at Fastnet that will reduce its beam from 27 to 18 nautical miles.

This reduced range meets the standard accepted in Irish and British waters for safe navigation, and one that west Cork fishermen are happy with.

However, tourism concerns in west Cork are concerned, and last week independent West Cork TD Michael Collins called on the lighthouse authority to consult with the community.


The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) now plans to host a meeting in Schull, Co Cork, on March 5th.

A former keeper at lighthouse in Belfast lough says that the west Cork community should question any changes by the CIL to Fastnet's light that might affect the heritage value of the navigational structure.

Former assistant keeper at Mew Island lighthouse and former RNLI Donaghadee lifeboat mechanic Walker Simpson, who holds an MBE, said the west Cork community should learn from the experience of others.

“Once they change the light, they forget about the buildings,”he warned.

The historic optic lens at Mew that Mr Simpson once helped to maintain was replaced several years ago. It has been acquired by Belfast’s Titanic Centre, which aims to make it the focus of a new exhibition.

The Mew optic transmitted one of the most powerful beams on this coastline and was used on both Tory, Co Donegal, and in Belfast lough over a 130-year period.

Mew lighthouse now has a LED replacement, along with a number of lights around the coast - a more cost efficient option.

Capt Robert McCabe, Irish Lights director of operations and navigational services, said a “responsible withdrawal” took place at Mew that involved ventilating and securing buildings that were no longer required.

Fastnet has no attendant buildings, being a single tower on a rock, and it will be fully maintained, he said.

CIL has faced considerable challenges in continuing to fund physical navigational aids in an era of satellite navigation. Its long-term programme to install lower cost LED lights began at Bull rock off the Kerry coast in 2012.

Capt McCabe explained that mercury, once a “fabulous surface for a rotating lens”, is also removed during the replacement work.

Mercury has been drained from a number of large lights - including Bull Rock and Skelligs off Kerry, Tory and Arranmore in Donegal; Hook, Co Wexford; and smaller navigational structures.

“We are under no immediate obligation to remove the mercury, but it is something we intend to do during large scale works,” he said.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times