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Critics see red over Fastnet lighthouse changes

Saturday, 10th March, 2018 11:25pm

Story by Jackie Keogh
Critics see red over Fastnet lighthouse changes

Irish Lights has outlined plans to change the range of the iconic Fastnete Rock's beam..jpg

DESPITE claims that there will be ‘no visual change’ to the appearance of the Fastnet lighthouse, Deputy Michael Collins said he believes that the new LED replacement light at the iconic rock will lessen the appeal of the landmark. 

Deputy Collins also described the decision taken by the Commissioners of Irish Lights as ‘a cost-cutting exercise’.

At a presentation made to public representatives at the Schull Harbour Hotel on Monday afternoon, Capt Robert McCabe of Irish Lights pointed out that the LED light will use 30 watts compared to the present 1,000 watt lamps. 

He said there would be a saving in terms of reduced maintenance from between 14 days and 20 days, down to two days, per annum.

He said there would also be saving to the Commissioners of Irish Lights in terms of diesel usage. However, he said the reason for doing the work is not motivated by cost. 

Capt McCabe said it is expected that diesel usage in the initial years will fall to 20% of the current 13,000 litres, but it could fall further in the future, as the building conditioning element stabilises and the company’s ultimate ambition is to find a fully renewable energy solution and have no diesel generators.

Overall, he estimated a 50% reduction in current running costs, given that their average five-year running costs are €130,000, not including capital. 

Capt McCabe said there are 32 corroded bolts – which are located in a ring around the lantern room – that need to be replaced with new bolts.

For environmental reasons, the Commissioners of Irish Lights need to remove the 30 litres of mercury contained in a bath in the lantern room.

As part of the two-year project, which will commence in June, he said they would begin by replacing the ladder and platform running up the side of the lantern and place the new LED light at the top of the platform.

This means that the new LED light will extend from the top of the lighthouse – not the lantern room – and cover a range of 18 nautical miles instead of 27.

He said the work, which would continue into 2019, would also involve the lowering of the 30-litre mercury bath so that a specialist company, Rialta, can remove the mercury using existing taps, and once it is safely removed, the company would then ‘shellac’ and paint the bath.

Capt McCabe said there would be no visual change to the Fastnet Lighthouse in so far as the new LED light will rotate and be visible from land. 

However, it will not have the same shape as the existing light. ‘If you are at the Mizen, it won’t look different,’ he said, ‘but if you are close to the light, the width of the beam will look different. It will be a narrower light and have a whiter beam.’

In a bid to reassure people, Capt McCabe said he is willing to take calls on his private mobile number 087 9682537, and to answer emails sent to robert.mccabe@irishlights.ie

According to Michael Collins, more than 30 people turned up to listen to the public presentation by Capt McCabe. Some of them expressed concerns as did a highly experienced marine lawyer, Michael Kingston, who is from Goleen, but now based in London.

Michael Kingston sent his letter to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the media, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Cork County Council, and others, outlining the negative impact the changes could have on the Fastnet Lighthouse.

He made the point that it is the actual beam from the Fastnet that is every bit as iconic as the lighthouse itself.

Michael Kingston said he had been approached by many people, both locally and nationally, and was asked to write on their behalf.

He reminded the Commissioners of Irish Lights that ‘the Fastnet and her beam are of iconic importance as, for so many of their ancestors, it was their last sight of home, hence her affectionate name in folklore as the Teardrop of Ireland.’

Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony has called for a review of the decision to remove the mercury-based optic lens with the LED light.

wShe said she was making the call after being contacted by ‘a significant number of local people’ who are concerned about the proposed change.

‘While no-one expects this to have an impact on safety,’ she said, ‘it does symbolically change the Fastnet, and change it in a negative way.’