The Baltimore Beacon

 

Baltimore Beacon is one of the most distinctive landmarks in West Cork. Standing guard over the entrance to Baltimore Harbour, this iconic structure has been watching over the community for almost 200 years. Since 1830 the Beacon has been a welcome sight for fishermen and seafarers serving as a navigational tool, guiding them to safety.

This well loved structure on the West Cork coastline is 15.2m (50 feet) high and 4.6m (5 yards) in diameter, built in coarse stone, painted white and topped with an iron staff and spherical cap. It is popular opinion that the construction of the Baltimore Beacon was part of a British Government defense project built in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion as part of a series of lighthouses and beacons dotted around the Irish coast, forming a warning system against further attacks. However an Admiralty Chart dating to 1847 refers to the landmark as a “Tower Beacon”, and these were built with an explicit purpose to make sea and coastline safer for the mariners, rather than for military purposes.

Locally the Beacon is known fondly as 'Lot's Wife' referencing the biblical character who turned into a pillar of salt.

The Baltimore Beacon stands over an extremely narrow entrance to Baltimore Harbour from Roaringwater Bay. To the east of the harbour's mouth is Loo Point, while Barrack Point on Sherkin Island lies to the West. Mid-harbour between these two spits of land lurks the hazardous ‘Loo Rock’, permanently signalled by a bouy to alert marine traffic. Both the rock and the Point take their name from the HMS Looe  which struck Loo Point while exiting Baltimore Harbour on April 30th, 1697. All hands, most of her guns and sails were saved in a salvage operation.

The Sack of Baltimore took place on June 20, 1631 - an Algerine Assault overseen by Capt. Morat Rais who ordered his two ships to drop anchor in the safe deep water area opposite the Eastern Hole - located alongside the (now) Beacon site. From this strong position, should any of his scouts or abductors have fallen captive ashore, or should his row boats used in the raid have been burnt and sunk in the harbour, he and his ships could still have made their escape into the open sea. This attack was the largest by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain resulting in the kidnapping of between 107 and 237 villagers, a mix of English settlers local Irish people who were put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa.

Both these events and many more took place prior to the Beacon’s existence, demonstrating that the Beacon was located in a prime position on the West Cork coastline, rich with history and legend.

*This information was compiled with the kind assistance of local historian Gerald O’Brien

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