By Eoin English
Irish Examiner
Friday, March 02, 2012

A landmark lighthouse which has helped guide boats, ships and tankers into one of Ireland’s busiest bays since Famine times has been decommissioned.

The light at Roancarrig lighthouse, at the mouth of Bantry Bay in Co Cork, was switched off this week for the first time since 1847.

It has been replaced with a smaller, solar-powered light installed atop a stainless steel tower erected within the former lighthouse complex, which is on a rocky outcrop three miles from the point of Bere Island and eight miles from Castletownbere.

Assistant lighthouse keeper Willie Russell, 64, from Castletownbere, who lived and worked on Roancarrig, described the decommissioning after 165 years as the “end of an era”.

“I have happy memories of my time out there,” he said. “It was a very important lighthouse at the mouth of one of the busiest bays in the country.

“Tankers carrying the oil for the country came in past it to Whiddy Island.

“Families lived there and I met a man on a boat once who was born on the rock.

“It is remote enough but you can see the mainland, which helped. If you had a good crew, it was great.”

The Coast Guard service at Castletownbere requested a lighthouse for the area in 1838.

The light in its 18m-high white tower, circled with a black band, was established on Aug 1, 1847.

The light was converted from vapourised paraffin to electric on Sept 23, 1975, at which time the station became unwatched.

However, following a review of all land-based navigational aids around the coasts of Ireland and Britain, Roancarrig lighthouse and several others were reclassified as minor lights.

It is the first Irish lighthouse to be decommissioned and replaced with solar-powered lights, as recommended by the review.

The new light is installed on a 7m-high stainless steel tower within the existing lighthouse compound.

“It is now a fully, self-contained lighthouse with a solar-powered light and charging batteries, with as low maintenance required as possible,” said a Commissioners of Irish Lights spokesman.

Similar changes are planned for the Bull Rock light, at the tip of the Beara Peninsula, and other lighthouses around the coast.

No decisions have been made on the future of the old lighthouse buildings, but the spokesman said it may be offered for sale.