Tory Island Lighthouse
In November 1828 the Ballast Board decided to build a lighthouse on Tory Island, following representations made the previous April by Sligo Harbour Commissioners and a number of Sligo ship owners and merchants. The Ballast Board's lighthouse functions were subject at the time to the overview of Trinity House, the body responsible for lighthouses and beacons in England and Wales, and a month later Trinity House gave their sanction for a lighthouse on Tory Island. At that early stage it was planned that when the light on Tory Island was established the one on Aranmore should be discontinued.
The tower and buildings were designed by George Halpin, the Board's Inspector of Works and Inspector of Lighthouses, and were built by the Board's own workforce under his supervision. The tower is 27 metres high and the light is 40 metres above mean high water springs.
The light was established on 1 August 1832. The original light was fixed (non-flashing), first order catoptric, provided by oil lamps and reflectors. It could be seen at a distance of 17 miles in clear weather and appeared like a star of the first magnitude. The cost of the station, including the tower, apparatus, dwellings and other buildings, boundary walls, and roadways was £16,750.
The oil lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1862 by a dioptric lens and multi-wick lamp.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights were separated from the Ballast Board in 1867, becoming the statutory authority for marine aids to navigation in Ireland.
During the period 1885 to 1888 extensive improvements were carried out to Tory Island Lighthouse under the direction of the Commissioners' Engineer, William Douglass. A biform revolving optic manufactured by F. Barbier & Co of Paris, giving the light a character of four flashes every 30 seconds, with 128-jet Wigham coal-gas burners to provide the light, were installed in 1887. A siren fog signal driven by Crossley gas engines was established the same year. A gas works was installed to provide gas for the light and fog signal and two new dwellings for the Keepers were built.
Paraffin Vapour Light
The light was converted from coal gas to incandescent paraffin vapour burner in 1923.
Originally the Keepers lived at the lighthouse with their families. However, in July 1925 the station was converted to relieving. The Keepers' families moved to homes ashore, and each Keeper in turn had ten days' shore liberty at home after each period of 30 days' duty at the Station, weather permitting. A local boat contractor was appointed to carry out reliefs between Bunbeg and the island.
In 1928 the optic was dismantled and reconstructed by Chance Brothers of Birmingham to make a new optic for Mew Island Lighthouse. At the same time Chance Brothers constructed a new optic for Tory Island.
A Radiobeacon was established in 1931. Initially the transmitter was installed in a hut outside the lighthouse compound, but in 1951 the equipment was relocated within the station.
A Radiobeacon transmits a signal that is received by a ship's radio direction finder. The dial on the direction finder shows the bearing from the ship to the radiobeacon. For a ship to ascertain its position a bearing from at least one other radiobeacon is required, but for greater accuracy bearings from three or more beacons are preferable. At first the radiobeacon transmissions were switched on only during fog. During the second world war they were discontinued altogether. From 1953 the transmissions were continuous, the timing of the transmissions being sequenced with transmissions on the same frequency from several other radiobeacons, so that a ship's radio direction finder could easily receive five bearings in turn without needing to retune the receiver.
New Petter engines and Raevell compressors to operate the fog-signal were installed in 1940.
In May 1956 the colour of the tower was changed from all black to black with a single white band.
New fog signal engines, compressors, and generating plant were installed between 1970 and 1972. In 1972 the light was converted to electric. The existing biform 1330mm dioptric annular lens optic was retained. The light source was a 3.5 kiloWatt filament lamp, placed in the focus of the upper tier of the optic with a lampchanger to bring a standby lamp into service should the main light fail. The character of the light continued to be four flashes every 30 seconds. The duration of the flashes decreased to 0.2 seconds and the intensity of the light was increased to give a range of 30 nautical miles.
During the period from 25 April 1978 to when the fog signal was discontinued on 20 October 1994 the light was exhibited in conditions of poor visibility by day whilst the fog signal was sounding.
The work of automating Tory Island Lighthouse began in 1989 and continued into the early part of 1990. The diaphone fog signal was changed to an electric horn with reduced range, controlled by a videograph fog detector, on 12 April 1989. A new 2000 Watt Radiobeacon transmitter was also installed, replacing the previous transmitter in June 1998.
The biform optic was retained, rotated by a new gearless optic drive. The lamp was changed to a one kiloWatt metal halide lamp placed in the upper tier of the optic, with a standby lamp in the lower tier automatically being brought into service should the first lamp fail. In addition, two 300mm emergency lanterns with a range of 6 nautical miles were installed on the balcony railings, designed to switch on automatically should the main light fail. The new optic system came into service on the evening of 13 September 1989.
Automatic control systems were installed to convert the light, fog signal, and Radiobeacon to automatic operations, and to control the generator plant. Automatic fuel, fire protection, and security systems, and a remote control and monitoring system linking the station to the central monitoring room at Dun Laoghaire, were also installed.
On completion of this work the Keepers were withdrawn and the lighthouse became unwatched on 29 March 1990. The station is now in the care of an Attendant and Assistant Attendant, and the aids to navigation are monitored by the Telemetry and Security Officers at the remote control and monitoring centre in the Lighthouse Depot, Dun Laoghaire.
To meet ongoing changes in navigational requirements further changes have been made to the aids to navigation at Tory Island Lighthouse since the station was automated.
Following a review of radio aids to navigation the sequencing of radiobeacon transmissions was discontinued from 1 April 1992. More recently, the use of radio direction finders by mariners has been superseded by modern technology and, following consultation with mariners' representatives, the Commissioners discontinued all of their medium frequency radiobeacons on 1 February 1999.
In accordance with an internationally agreed radionavigation plan, a Racon with code identification Morse M (- -) was established on 21 March 1996. A Racon is a responder beacon which receives a pulse from the radar aerial of any ship within range which has its radar in operation. The pulse triggers the Racon transmitter which then sends out a signal which appears on the ship's radar screen as an individual Morse signature which is quite distinctive and unmistakable. This enables the mariner to identify the position of the racon on the screen-a useful aid to navigation when there may be many other echoes on the radar.
An encrypted Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) station at Tory Island, provided by Scorpio Navigation Services on a commercial restricted subscriber basis, commenced on 4 June 1993. This service terminated on 28 February 1998.
In June 1998 the Commissioners of Irish Lights commenced on a trial basis, their own unencrypted DGPS service, available without restriction to all mariners, and financed from light dues charged on commercial shipping and other income paid into the General Lighthouse Fund. Following validation, the system was declared operational from 1 July 2002.
The DGPS reference station at Tory Island Lighthouse is part of the General Lighthouse Authorities' DGPS system. The Tory Island station is one of three in Ireland-the others are at Loophead and Mizen Head-and 11 in Great Britain. The system has linked control centres at Dun Laoghaire, Edinburgh, and Harwich. Far Field Monitors at Rossaveel (Co. Galway), Swansea (Wales), Harwich (England), and Noss Head (Scotland), check the accuracy of the correction data being transmitted by the reference stations.
The Editor is greatly indebted to retired colleague Michael Costelloe for much of the historical research in this article, and for assistance from Capt. Owen Deignan, Frank Pelly, and Colin Day.
The equipment for the original Radiobeacon at Tory Island was housed in a hut a short distance from the lighthouse. In 1951 the Radiobeacon was re-located in the lighthouse, making the hut redundant.
In 1957 the artist Derek Hill approached the Commissioners about acquiring the hut for use as a painting retreat. The Commissioners agreed to let the hut to him.
Derek Hill was born in Hampshire in England, in 1916. During the 1930s he spent some years travelling in France, Germany, and the USSR, studying theatre design. He returned to Britain in 1939 to concentrate on landscape and portrait painting.
In 1954 he bought a house in Donegal-St Columb's, Churchill, 8 kilometres from Letterkenny-and Ireland became his adopted home.
He founded the Glebe Gallery in the grounds of the house. The Gallery houses his wide-ranging collection of art, including his own work and works by Picasso, Yeats, Sickert, and Japanese and Islamic art. In 1980 he donated the house, grounds, gallery, and his art collection to the Irish State. They are now run by the Office of Public Works.
From the late 1950s Derek Hill spent a good deal of time painting on Tory Island, living in the old Radiobeacon hut. During the summer of 1958 one of the islanders, Jimí (or James) Dixon, who had been watching the artist at work, said he thought he could do better. Hill gave Dixon paints and other materials and challenged him to do so. Dixon declined to use Hill's brushes, preferring to use one he had made himself from the hair of a donkey's tail.
Hill was impressed with Dixon's painting and encouraged him to persevere. Other islanders, Jimí MacRuaidhrí (Rogers), Ruaidhrí Sarah MacRuaidhrí, and Johnny Dixon also began to paint. This led to the school of naive or primitive Tory Island painters. (Primitive is used in the sense that the painters had no formal training and used basic materials and equipment). Hill arranged for their work to be exhibited.
Jimí Dixon (1887-1970) was the most prolific of the original group. His paintings, mainly depicting the realities of island life and the violence of the sea, now command high prices in auction rooms. In 1999 his work was exhibited in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.
A second generation of Tory Island painters followed in the 1970s and 1980s-Patsy Dan MacRuaidhrí (the present King of Tory Island), Ruaidhrí L. MacRuaidhrí, Micheál Fionbarr MacRuaidhrí, Seán MacRuaidhrí, and Pádraig Ó Duibhir. Another of the island's painters, Antóin Ó Míonáin (Antoin Meenan), was formally trained in art college and is not regarded as a primitive style painter. Jimí Dixon's house on the island is now an art gallery where the Tory painters exhibit and offer their work for sale.
During the last 20 years of his life Derek Hill painted the portraits of many artists, musicians, clergy, and politicians of note. He was an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 1999 President McAleese conferred honorary Irish citizenship on him. He died in London in July 2000 after a long illness.
Following Derek Hill's death the Commissioners agreed to continue to let the Radiobeacon hut to the Tory School of Primitive Painting and the hut has recently been renovated with assistance from Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Seán Doherty, Attendant in the optic of Tory Island Lighthouse. Seán joined the Service as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1963. On being promoted to Assistant Keeper he served at Tory Island, Inishtrahull, Inishowen, and Ferris Point. He took early retirement in 1988 to become Attendant of Inishtrahull Lighthouse, and when Tory Island was unwatched in 1990 he became Assistant Attendant at Tory as well. In 1996 he became Attendant of Tory Island and Assistant Attendant of Inishtrahull Lighthouse.
Donal O'Sullivan, Assistant Attendant of Tory Island, comes from a family of Lighthouse Keepers going back several generations. He joined Irish Lights as a Supernumerary Assistant Keeper in 1963 and was promoted to Assistant Keeper in 1968 and served at Eeragh, Fastnet, Tory Island, Eagle Island, Inishtrahull, Baily, and was Acting Principal Keeper at Tory Island, Rathlin East, and Ferris Point. He took early retirement in 1996 to become Attendant of Inishtrahull and Assistant Attendant of Tory Island Lighthouse.