500–1000 AD (Early Christian Period): Monastery founded by St Dubhán at Churchtown. The peninsula became known as Rinn Dubháin (Dubhán’s headland). According to tradition, 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 and Passage (all visible from the 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: Strongbow’s daughter Isabella married the powerful knight William Marshal who succeeded Strongbow as earl of Pembroke and lord of Leinster. In the early 13 century, Marshal began to develop Leinster by bringing in many English tenants, founding towns and building castles. He founded the town of Ross as the port of Leinster (Clonmines, Tintern Abbey).
c. 1210–1230: The Tower of Hook built by Marshal as a landmark and light tower to guide shipping to his port of Ross. The many skilled castle builders employed by the Pembroke estate provided the necessary expertise. A large number of locals must have been employed on the construction.
1240s: The first historical references to the tower in the records of the Pembroke Estate show that the monks from Churchtown had been installed as custodians (lightkeepers). Thirty acres of land near the tower were reserved for the use of the lightkeepers. Still known as ‘the Tower lands’, they now belong to Loftus Hall. The monks presumably continued as custodians for several centuries, probably until the dissolution of the monasteries by HenryVIII in 1540. By the 17 century, the light was no longer tended and numerous ship-wrecks led to calls from sailors and merchants for the light to be restored.
The architecture of the Tower
The design of the circular tower was adapted from the towers of castles which Marshal was building after his arrival in Ireland (Carlow, Kilkenny, Ferns, Wexford). About 35 metres high, the wider bottom section (c. 12 metres in diameter) is divided into three chambers with stone rib-vaulted ceilings which provided fire proofing from the fire beacon which was lit in the narrower upper section. A spiral stairway ascends through the thickness of the 4m wall. A small annex on the east of the Tower may have been a chapel. For centuries, the tower was limewashed white to make it more easily visible to shipping.
1670s: In the 1670s the Tower (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 elements. Further improvements were carried out in the early 1700s.
1706: In the late 1600s, the Tower passed into the possession of the Loftus family. In 1706, Henry Loftus leased the tower to the authorities for £11 per annum. The ground floor was used as a coal store but later in the century it was used by the military as a magazine for storing gunpowder.
1791: Following repeated complaints from mariners about the poor condition of the light, the coal fire was eventually replaced in 1791 by a lamp burning whale oil.
1810: In this year the Tower was handed over to the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin and £4,280 was spent on new apparatus.
1860s: In the 1860s, the lantern was given its present shape. Three dwellings were built for the lightkeepers and their families. Three red bands painted on the Tower. These were later changed to red and the bands reduced to two.
1867: The body in charge of lightkeepers became known as the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
1871: New gas-lights were installed in this year, powered by gas manufactured in the gas-yard. Paraffin Oil subsequently became the source of power.
1911: In this year, a clockwork mechanism was installed to change the beacon from a fixed to a flashing light. The mechanism had to be wound up every 25 minutes.
1972: The light switched over to electricity.
1996: The lighthouse was automated and the lightkeepers departed after almost 800 years.
As well as the light, a fog signal was operated at the lighthouse.
For centuries a cannon gun was fired on the edge of the cliff during fog.
This was replaced by a hooter, which in turn was replaced by rockets.
1972: A foghorn worked by compressed air was installed.
2011: Due to advances in technology the use of a foghorn is no longer necessary as a navigation aid. I sounded for the last time on Jan 11 2011.