Dunmanway man is on a mission to reunite historic lighthouse generators

October 11th, 2018 7:15 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Calvert Smith and his wife Susan with Joe on December 28th 2016, the first day Joe saw the generator which had been languishing in Calvert's shed for many years.

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A WEST Cork man is hoping to reunite two pieces of equipment that had a massive impact on life in Dunmanway in the late sixties.

As RTÉ’s magnificent Great Lighthouses of Ireland series continues, Dunmanway man Joe Hurley has told The Southern Star of his links with one Donegal lighthouse which resulted in a West Cork townland getting its own lights, well ahead of time.

Joe, a native of Derraugh, Dunmanway, but now living in Galway, believes he became an engineer as a result of a generator, which he, his brother, and a neighbour purchased, and used it to power his home and some neighbours’ houses, before the area had electrification.

The generator had originally been used to power a lighthouse on Tory Island in Co Donegal, but was purchased by Joe in 1969 from Irish Lights.

Joe recalled how, in 1969, an ad appeared in The Southern Star, seeking purchasers for three generators from the signal station at Mizen Head. They were part of a national programme to update the generators on Irish Lights properties around the coast.

Joe’s then neighbour, Neilus Cronin, of Shanacrane, Dunmanway, wrote to Irish Lights hoping to purchase the generators but they were gone. However, Irish Lights said they had two more generators  – this time from Tory Island – and they reluctantly agreed to sell them for £25 for the two.

‘It was a great deal,’ said Joe, ‘because we since heard the Mizen Head ones had been sold for £210 for the three.’

Joe, Neilus Cronin and Joe’s brother (also Neilus) travelled to Irish Lights HQ in Dun Laoghaire in Dublin to collect the two generators and when they got home, they set about hooking them up to their family farms.

‘We were over six miles from Dunmanway and there was no electricity in our house at the time,’ recalled Joe. ‘The town would have got it about 20 years earlier, but our townland hadn’t yet. So we wired up the house and farm – there was nobody else in the area with electricity at the time so it was very exciting. I remember it being talked about at Mass!’

Joe credits this time with giving him his interest in electronics and he subsequently went to college to study it, and got one of the first jobs with Digital in Galway, kick-starting a successful career in the industry.

But when electricity came to Dunmanway about three years after the boys had hooked up the generators, they decided to sell them again.

‘We did very well – my brother sold ours for about £300 and he gave it to me. I remember I bought a Ford Anglia for £290 with it. I was working in Galway at the time,’ Joe said.

Joe forgot all about the story until two years ago, when he was visiting his son in Dun Laoghaire and came across the impressive Irish Lights HQ offices there and it brought back all the old memories.

He mentioned it to his brother-in-law John Coffey who is married to Joe’s sister Noreen, and they live in Lisnacunna, Ballinascarthy. They  remembered talk of a neighbour having a lighthouse generator.

After some to-ing and fro-ing, Joe was invited to the farm of Calvert Smith near Ballinascarthy to look at a generator in his shed which, delightfully, turned out to be Joe’s Ruston Hornsby 7.5bhp generator.

He is thrilled with John’s detective work: ‘It was within a few miles of his house for over 40 years, without his knowledge of it!’

Joe took the generator back to John’s home where he lovingly restored it over several months and has been touring shows in West Cork this summer, displaying it, complete with an information board explaining its fascinating genesis and ‘hundreds of visitors’ have enjoyed cups of Barry’s Tea out of it, he says!

But Joe would dearly love to reunite the generator with its sister piece of equipment which was also sold around 1973 by his neighbour, Neilus Cronin.

Neilius, who has since passed away, was a close and loyal friend of the Hurleys and Joe was thrilled when his wife Marie came to see the generator in action this summer.

‘I told her about the fact that at first Irish Lights were reluctant to sell us the Tory generators, but that it was only through her husband Neilus’ persistence, with several letters back and forth, that they finally agreed to sell it. I was able to show her some of those letters Neilus had written,’ said Joe.

Joe says he believes the second generator was also sold around 1973 and he thinks it may have gone to somewhere around Wexford. He thinks Neilus may have placed an ad in The Southern Star to advertise it.

He would dearly love to reunite both generators and see them both in action again. 

• Joe can be contacted at [email protected]

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