One of last lightships finally withdrawn from service


One of the last lightships marking hazards on the Irish coastline has been withdrawn from service by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

The Coningbeg lightship, marking the rocks of the same name off Wexford's Saltee Islands, is to be replaced by a "superbuoy" with a 14km radius light and several smaller navigational aids.

The Coningbeg lightship, named the Gannetafter the Saltee bird colony, is one of the last of an original fleet of 11 lightship stations moored around the coast. Only the South Rock remains off the Co Down coast, and there are plans for it to be replaced also.

Lightships were floating, anchored lighthouses stationed in treacherous coastal areas where permanent structures could not be built. The Coningbeg was established in 1824 as one of an initial fleet of three lightships provided by Trinity House, the independent lighthouse organisation serving Britain, and also Ireland through the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL).

The first was the Dublin or Palmer's lightship, stationed in the river Liffey during construction of the South Bull Wall between 1739 and 1768. It was withdrawn when the Poolbeg lighthouse was built. The second marked the Kish Bank from 1811 until it was also replaced by a permanent light. In spite of several efforts, Coningbeg confounded attempts to build a permanent structure there, and one of the more challenging postings for unfortunate lightkeepers was to be stationed on the southeast vessel.

On December 19th, 1940, the SS Isoldawhich was then serving Coningbeg was sunk by a German second World War bomber, killing all six crew.

The lightships were "automated" in the early 1980s, as part of the general automation of lighthouses.

The new buoys being placed by CIL are fitted with automatic identification transponders which can monitor performance and location and transmit these details back to CIL headquarters in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.