Hook Head

The Hook Peninsula is located in the south-east of Ireland, at the mouth of Waterford Harbour. There are some interesting places dotted along the peninsula, including Tintern Abbey (a sister abbey to the one in Wales), a ruined Templar’s Church, a very haunted house and a beach where they used to make millstones from the rock. The most well known landmark on the peninsula has been there longer than the rest of them though. The lighthouse at Hook Head, at the southern tip of the peninsula.

Before the tower was built, local monks used to light fires to warn passing ships
Ruins of Hook Church. Remnants of the original monastery can be found in the centre wall of the church

The first lighthouse related activity dates right back to the 5th century when a Welsh-born saint by the name of Dubhán began to light a navigation beacon on the headland. He had established a monastery 1.5km away. The monks in the monastery continued to light the beacon for another 700 years. The peninsula is named after St. Dubhán. His name means Hook or Fishing Hook in Irish.

Around 1245, the lighthouse which stands here now was built by a powerful Norman nobleman called William Marshall. The reason for this was probably so his ships could travel from Waterford to nearby New Ross (established by Marshall) without being wrecked. Perhaps because Marshall had built numerous castles, including those at Kilkenny, Carlow and Ferns, it was no surprise that the Tower of Hook also was built in this style.

The ceiling on the ground floor is black from the coal which was stored here.
The rib vaulted ceiling on the ground floor is black from the coal which was stored here for hundreds of years. Also in the photo is a replica lighthouse lamp

There are rib vaulted ceilings inside and three stone floored chambers, one on top of each other. A highly worthwhile exercise when you’re in a building that has a big fire burning on top of it. Each chamber would not look out of place in castles from that era.  For hundreds of years, the light on the top of the tower was fuelled by coal imported from Wales. The monks from the local monastery tended to it until 1641. With the beacon no longer in operation, shipwrecks started again. So in 1667, the lighthouse was brought back into service again.

The original tower was roughly 18m high and 8.5m in diameter but it was added to over the centuries. It now stands 46m tall. As you might expect, it also changed fuel types over the centuries. Coal, oil, gas, paraffin and finally electricity. Interestingly, there are very few trees on the Hook Peninsula. One theory being that the monks chopped them all down to keep the fire going.

The lighthouse finally was automated in 1996 and opened to the public a few years later. The former houses belonging to the lighthouse keepers are now a visitor’s centre

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