Hook Head peninsula is located in the south-western corner of county Wexford and forms a boundary of Waterford Harbour. The bedrock made up of old red sandstone and limestone was used for centuries to make millstones, water troughs and other objects (could the millstones used in Foulkesmill have been sourced from here?). The limestone rock, on the point of the Hook itself, was burned in the many limekilns which can still be seen on the peninsula. The limestone powder which this produced was used to improve the quality of the soil. It was also mixed with sand to make lime mortar for building stone walls and houses and can be seen on the exterior walls of many outhouses today in the area.
Because of the three rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir (the three sisters) flow into the estuary it was known in Irish as Comar na dtrí nUisce. This area is rich in history. The Vikings called it Vadra Fiord, giving Waterford its name. In the fifth century a monk named Dubhán established a monastery on the peninsula. The medieval church at Churchtown, built on the site of Dubhán’s monastery, incorporated part of an early Christian monastery. The headland became known as Rinn Dubháin (Dubhán’s headland). Although Dubhán is also the Irish word for fishing hook, it is likely that the headland got its present name from the old English word Hook, meaning a projecting piece of land. According to tradition, the monks from Dubhán’s monastery erected the first fire beacon to warn seafarers to keep away from the dangerous rocks.
Tower of Hook Timeline
500-1000AD (Early Christian Period) Monastery founded by St.Dubhan at Churchtown. The monks kept a warning beacon to warn sailors of the dangers of shipwreck on the rocky headland.
1169-70 The landing of the Anglo-Normans in south Wexford. First landings at Bannow, Baginbun & Passage (all visible from Hook Lighthouse). They quickly took over much of the south and east of Ireland. Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow) became Lord of Leinster.
1189 Strongbows daughter Isabella married the powerful knight William Marshal who succeeded Strongbow as Earl of Pembroke & Lord of Leinster. He founded the town of Ross as the port of Leinster. In the early 13th Century, Marshal began to develop Leinster by bringing in many English tenants, founding towns & building castles.
1210-1230 The tower of Hook was built by Marshal as a landmark & light tower to guide shipping to his port of Ross. The light was provided by a coal fire beacon. The many skilled castle builders employed by the Pembroke estate provided the necessary expertise, whilst giving a huge employment boost to the local population who must have employed in it's construction.
1240′s The records of the Pembroke estate show that the monks from Churchtown had been installed as light keepers. Thirty acres of land near the tower were reserved for the use of the light keepers. Still known as “the tower lands”, they now belong to Loftus Hall (opening Summer 2013 for tours to the public). It is thought in general that the monks acted as custodians for several centuries, possible up to the time of Henry VIII in 1540 when he dissolved them. Unfortunately by the 17th Century, there were many shipwrecks as a result of the light not being tended which subsequently led to calls from sailors & merchants for the light to be restored.
It was not until the 1670's that Hook tower (along with five others around the coast) was restored by Robert Readinge. He erected the first glass lantern to protect the coal fire beacon from the weather, additional improvements were carried out in the early 1700′s.
In the late 1600′s, the Loftus Family took ownership of the tower. In 1706, Henry Loftus leased the tower to the authorites for £11 per annum. The ground floor was used as a coal store and it is believed that later in the century it was used by the military as a magazine for storing gunpowder.
The fire was replaced in 1791 by a lamp burning whale oil due to poor light from the coal. Also in 1791 it is thought that the tower was placed under the care of the Corporation for Preserving & Improving the Port of Dublin and £4,280 was spent on a new light.
In the 1800′s the tower was built it as we know it today. Dwelling houses were built for the light house keepers & their families. Three red bands were painted on the tall white tower, which were later changed to two bands and painted black.
1867 The body in charge of lighthouses became known as the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
1871 New gas lights were installed, powered by gas manufactured in the gas yard. Paraffin oil subsequently became the source of power.
1911 The fixed light was replaced by a flashing light by means of a clockwork mechanism which required the mechanism to be wound up every twenty five minutes.
1972 Electricity became the source of power.
1996 The Lighthouse became automated and the light house keepers left the lighthouse after almost 800 years. As well as the light a fog signal is operated at the lighthouse. For centuries a cannon gun was fired off the edge of the cliff during fog. This was replaced by a hooter, which in turn was replaced by rockets. In 1972 a foghorn worked by compressed air was installed. and could be heard all along the coast.
In January 2011 the foghorn was decommissioned.
2013:The lighthouse is in safe hands today and has the support of a very strong committee who are keeping the Lighthouse and its history alive. A visitor's centre and visitor facilities are in place which include a gift shop, coffee shop, workshops and maritime displays.
The waves crashing against the rocks make it easy to visualise the dangers for sailors and pirates who sailed these waters in a past era. The monks and their 'beacon' without doubt saved many lives.
Loc8 Code: Y5M-77-RK8 Hook Lighthouse is situated at the end of the R734, 50km from Wexford, 29km from Waterford via the Passage East Car Ferry and 38km from New Ross.
Sat Nav Co-Ordinates: N220.127.116.11, W6.93.06.15