Down on the southernmost tip of Ireland‘s Hook Peninsula lies the world’s oldest, intact, operational lighthouse, Hook Lighthouse; a flashy (pun intended) black and white striped Norman structure dating back to the 13th century.
When you get inside it feels more like a tall, skinny castle than a lighthouse, with its walls anywhere from nine to thirteen feet thick.
There’s a good reason for the castle-like construction. It was built by castle-builder extraordinaire, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster William Marshal. Marshal was an intriguing character, having risen from relative obscurity to become one of the greatest knights who ever lived. After a stint as a Knight Templar in Jerusalem, where he probably learned many of his castle-building techniques, he served as military adviser and ambassador to a succession of kings: Henry II, Richard I, John and Henry III, amassing lands in England, Wales, Normandy and Ireland along the way, building a string of castles across Wales, England and Ireland.
Marshal inherited the lands in southeastern Ireland and the lordship of Leinster through his marriage to Strongbow’s daughter, Isabella de Clare. Around the year 1207 he ordered the construction of the tower on a part of the headland where the Welsh monks of Rinn Dubháin had been lighting beacons since the 5th century, to warn passing ships of treacherous rocks.
Local lore has it that the phrase ‘by hook or by crook’ originated in this part of the world. Depending upon who is telling the story, it was either Cromwell or Strongbow who first coined the phrase to mean ‘by any means necessary’. I’m partial to the Strongbow version, as I believe the phrase was already in use before Cromwell came storming through Ireland. As the story goes, Strongbow had his sights set on the town of Waterford and when he sailed into Waterford Harbour during the Norman invasions of 1170 he saw Hook Head on his right and the village and church of Crook on his left and declared “We will take this town by Hook or by Crook”.
Admission to the lighthouse is by guided tour only but it’s a great insight into the lives of the lighthouse keepers and you get to climb all the way to the top, stopping at each level along the way to view ye olde worlde pantries…
…and giant fireplaces…
…and plenty of opportunities to peer through age-old windows at the treacherous rocks below that were the undoing of many a poor sailor.
Outside there are some great walking trails, but wander them at your own peril, as there are dangerous waves and blowholes galore lurking with intent to whisk you away. Tread with care.
Of course, such an ancient structure must have its fair share of ghosts, and the story I have for you reaches far back into the annals of time, back to an era when asymetric hairdos and flamboyant clothing were all the rage… the 1980s, when boys struck New Romantic poses in ruffled shirts, lip gloss and eyeliner, girls sported scary perms, donned shoulder pads and dreamed of being Molly Ringwald, Reagan was in the White House, people still thought Tom Cruise was cool and everyone wanted to belong to the Breakfast Club.
Around this time, a group of Japanese tourists descended upon Hook Lighthouse with very little English. There was no point in them taking a tour as they wouldn’t understand any of the content, so instead, they were given permission to wander inside to explore the lighthouse. They had only been in the tower a few minutes before they all came streaming back out again, visibly shaken and freaking out. The staff on duty tried to calm them down and find out what had happened, but they couldn’t communicate through the spoken word so one of the boys grabbed a pen and paper and started drawing. This is what he drew.
Is it just me or do those two look like a couple of ghostly lighthouse monks?