27 April 2021

Beeves Rock, a ‘stark’ lighthouse
in the Shannon Estuary since 1855

The lighthouse on Beeves Rock, directly north of Askeaton, was built in 1847-1855 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During our visit to Canon Island and Canon Island Abbey in the Shannon Estuary on Sunday afternoon, we stopped to visit Beeves Rock, a stark and austere-looking lighthouse in the middle of the Shannon. Here the invisible boundary between Co Clare and Co Limerick cuts through the powerful and highly tidal estuary.

The lighthouse on Beeves Rock was built in 1847-1855, directly north of Askeaton, at the mouths of the River Deel and the River Fergus in the Shannon Estuary. The lighthouse replaced an earlier, 40-year-old beacon. While it was being built, the work was slowed by adverse tidal conditions that covered the rock with 8 feet of water at high tide.

But, by the time the lighthouse began operating in 1855, its designer, George Halpin, had already died. The lighthouse on Beeves Rock was designed by George Halpin (1779-1854), Inspector of Works and Lighthouses for the Ballast Board from 1810 until his death in 1854.

Halpin was brought up as a builder, and in 1800 he was appointed Inspector of Works to the Ballast Board, following the death of Francis Tunstall. He was admitted a freeman of the City of Dublin in 1804 as a member of the Guild of Masons.

Halpin’s responsibilities increased substantially in 1810 when the Board was placed in charge of all the lighthouses in Ireland. As a result, his post was designated Inspector of Works and Lighthouses. In this capacity, he designed a number of lighthouses around the entire coastline of Ireland.

Halpin’s other lighthouses include Baily (Howth), Balbriggan, Cape Clear Island, Fastnet, Haulbowline, Old Head of Kinsale, Poolbeg, Skellig Michael, Tarbert, Tuskar Rock, Valentia Island, Wicklow Head and Youghal.

His son, George Halpin, was appointed his assistant in 1830. His other assistants included John Swan Sloane.

In addition, Halpin was appointed to inspect and survey the state of the Bank of Ireland’s branches throughout Ireland in 1829, and he was designated the bank architect in 1831. However, he seems to have designed only two branch banks – Dundalk (1845) and Portlaoise (1850).

Halpin collapsed and died on 10 July 1854 while he was on one of his lighthouse inspections for the Ballast Board, and he was buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. He was succeeded as the Board’s Inspector by his son George Halpin.

The lighthouse on Beeves Rock was designed by George Halpin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Beeves Rock Lighthouse has been described as ‘bizarre’ not only for its architecture but also for the story of one of its keepers.

The lighthouse is basically a house with a lighthouse coming up through the roof, according to Roger O’Reilly, the Drogheda-based historian of Irish lighthouses. ‘It’s built on a rock that’s only exposed at low tide,’ he told the Journal in an interview. ‘So they only had a certain amount of time to build.’

James McGinley, who the keeper in the early 20th century, was the maternal grandfather of the former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who us currently presenting the programme Iarnród Enda on RTÉ.

As Beeves Rock was only accessible by boat, life was difficult for newly-married James McGinley and his wife Margaret Heekin. While her husband was stationed on the rock, Margaret lived in a Commissioners of Irish Lights’ cottage near Askeaton.

Communication between the couple each day was only possible by semaphore. ‘They would wave flags at each other. It was the early 20th-century version of texting, and that’s how they communicated until he had shore leave, so that was certainly not a romantic start to the marriage,’ author and illustrator Roger O’Reilly told TheJournal.ie.

The records show that James McGinley was 25 when he entered the lighthouse service in 1905. He spent six months training at the Baily Lighthouse in Howth before becoming assistant keeper on Rathlin O’Birne in Co Donegal.

He was stationed on Beeves Rock in the Shannon in 1910, and sometime later, during World War I, on Tuskar Rock off the Wexford coast. McGinley took up service as keeper at Loop Head, Co Clare, in 1922 before returning to Rathlin O’Birne for his final five-year posting in 1935.

Beeves Rock was converted to an unwatched lighthouse in 1933 and was automated. It has been under the authority of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners since 1981.

The history of Beeves Rock is included with the history of 80 other lighthouses in Roger O’Reilly’s book, Lighthouses of Ireland – An Illustrated Guide to the Sentinels that Guard our Coastline.

According to O’Reilly, the success of Beeves Rock Lighthouse is measured by the fact that few vessels have sunk in the stretch of river since it was built. One of the few wreckages in the estuary was a Dutch aircraft carrying diamonds that crashed with its cargo in 1957.

Since the final lighthouse was automated in 1997 – the Baily in Howth – all the work of keeping Ireland’s lighthouses functioning is done remotely. But, despite advancing technology, lighthouses still serve as crucial navigational aids for the maritime traffic around Ireland.

When he was Taoiseach in 2012, Enda Kenny visited Beeves Rock lighthouse where his grandfather had been the keeper in the early 20th century. He also visited the Loop Head Lighthouse – dating back to the 1670s – on the most westerly tip of Co Clare.

Enda Kenny’s grandfather James McGinley was the keeper on Beeves Rock in the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
70, Saint Benedict’s Abbey, Ealing

Ealing Abbey is the first Benedictine abbey in Greater London since the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week is Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. My photographs this morning (27 April) are from Ealing Abbey, where I spent two weeks studying some years ago, following the daily cycle of prayer with the monks in the abbey, with the psalms, canticles, antiphonies, Scripture readings and prayers.

During those two weeks, I was reminded each day of the shared tradition in the Benedictine offices and the Anglican offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

Ealing Abbey began life as Ealing Priory over a century ago in 1916. When it became Ealing Abbey in 1955, it was the first Benedictine abbey in Greater London since the Reformation. I was there to study Liturgy in the Institutum Liturgicum, based in the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre.

I was reminded too that Benedictine spirituality approaches life through an ordering by daily prayer that is biblical and reflective. At its base, Benedictine spirituality is grounded in a commitment to ‘the Benedictine Promise’ – an approach to spiritual life that values ‘Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life.’

The Benedictine motto is: ‘Ora et Labora.’ This does not present prayer and work as two distinct things, but holds prayer and work together. For Saint Benedict, the spiritual life and the physical life are inseparable. As he says: ‘Orare est laborare, laborare est orare, to pray is to work, to work is to pray.’

There was an old cutting from the Daily Telegraph on the desk in my room that says the Benedictine tradition is so rooted in English life and culture that: ‘Some claim to see the Benedictine spirit in the rules of Cricket.’

Dom James Leachman, a monk of Ealing Abbey, Director of the Institutum Liturgicam, and Professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy in Sant’Anselmo, Rome, says the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are ‘two vigorous traditions’ on these islands that ‘nourish the life of learning and prayer of millions of Christians.’ Writing in the Benedictine Yearbook, he said, ‘Both traditions find shared and deep root in British and Irish soil and in the history of our islands … we are constantly present to each other.’

Ealing Abbey is just half an hour from Heathrow Airport, and the idea of a monastery close to a busy airport and in heart of suburban London seems a contradiction in terms to many. But Saint Benedict’s Abbey in Ealing is one of the largest in Britain and the main work of the monks is parochial work.

The monastery was founded in 1897 from Downside Abbey as a parish, at the invitation of the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vaughan. Building work on the church began two years later, and the school was started by Dom Sebastian Cave in 1902.

Ealing Abbey has been the home at times for many notable monks, including Dom David Knowles, the monastic historian and later Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, who lived there in 1933-1939 while he was working on his magnum opus, The Monastic Order in England.

Dom Cuthbert Butler (1858-1934) also lived at Ealing following his retirement as Abbot of Downside from 1922. His books included critical editions of the Lausiac History of Palladius and The Rule of Saint Benedict, and he was the author of Western Mysticism, Life of Archbishop Ullathorne, and History of the Vatican Council.

Dom John Main (1926-1982), who wrote and lectured widely on Christian meditation, was a monk at Ealing in 1959-1970 and 1974-1977. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1954, and taught law there from 1956 to 1959 before joining Ealing Abbey, and he was ordained priest here in 1963. He was strongly influenced by the writings of the Desert Father John Cassian, and he began his Christian meditation group at Ealing Abbey in 1975.

John Main’s teaching methods are now used throughout the world, and those who have acknowledged his influence include the former President, Mary McAleese, Archbishop Rowan Williams and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.

Ealing Abbey began life as Ealing Priory over a century ago in 1916 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 10: 22-30 (NRSVA):

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 2 7My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.’

The stillness and quietness of the abbey gardens make it easy to forget that Heathrow Airport is only a few miles away (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 April 2021, South Africa Freedom Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for continued peace and reconciliation in South Africa.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Working in the book-lined Scriptorium … once the research workplace of the Biblical scholar Dom Bernard Orchard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

There was a warm welcome from the monks of Ealing Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)