By Hook or by Crook

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…and giant fireplaces…

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…and plenty of opportunities to peer through age-old windows at the treacherous rocks below that were the undoing of many a poor sailor.

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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.

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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.

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Is it just me or do those two look like a couple of ghostly lighthouse monks?

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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42 Responses to By Hook or by Crook

  1. Dina says:

    Great post, lovely photos and interesting reading, Ailsa! I missed it when I travelled Ireland a few years back. Hope to see this for myself next year now! 🙂
    Best regards, Dina

  2. History of the architect/builder is as interesting as the structure’s story itself. The picture out that window is outstanding

    • ailsapm says:

      Oh phil, Marshal is such an interesting character – I suspect I shall be writing a lot more about it him in days to come! That window photo is my favourite, I just love all the condensation, it really evokes the atmosphere inside the tower! 🙂

  3. The Unfolding says:

    Wonderful!

  4. ilargia64 says:

    I understand..It matches perfectly the history that is behind…And may be the ghosts that can be inside!! 🙂 Lovely post!!!

  5. Heyjude says:

    Fascinating stuff Aisla. I love reading about the knights, what a different world history we would have had without them and their journeys.

  6. Wonderful post! I’d love to reblog it with your permission. May I?

    • ailsapm says:

      With pleasure, Katherine, I’d love you to. You might have to post a link, the regular reblog fx was disabled a while back because a lot of my content was being scraped on spam sites, but hopefully posting a link will work for you. So glad you enjoyed the post. xxx Ailsa

  7. The ghosts of former lighthouse keepers? Amazing place and history – thanks for researching and sharing it with us.

  8. cuervo says:

    Intriguing story, thanks for an informative and entertaining post.
    It appears the monks have a sense of humor even after all the years!

  9. Moritz says:

    It’s really interesting to learn something about the backgroud of special sights. That makes the experience way more stunning. Thanks for the post 🙂

  10. So cool! And beautiful photos! 🙂

  11. Amy says:

    Great tour! Thanks for providing the historical information, Ailsa! Really enjoyed these great photos.

  12. The photos are beautifully eerie and then comes the drawing. Ahhhhh! I’d be speechless (for once) myself. 😉

  13. I love lighthouses and I lived this post. Ghostly monks, awesome.

  14. They totally do! I am a sucker for lighthouses, having been born on a port city myself. Ours is slightly younger, though, only about 200 years old 🙂 Now, the Hook Lighthouse is on my List!

  15. Melissa Shaw-Smith says:

    Great read and nice pics. It took me back to my childhood touring the ruins of an old Irish abbey with my parents and hearing the local farmer talk about the resident ghosts. It would have merely sent a chill down my spine. But said parents insisted we camp in a nearby field. I woke in the night to the screech of a barn owl and knew for sure that the raiding vikings were murdering the ghostly monks all over again!

  16. Great post. Love the ghost story. 😀

  17. wildsherkin says:

    Spooky!!! Great story and I adore that photo of the window.

  18. ladyredspecs says:

    Thanks for the peek inside Hook Lighthouse. It was closed when we visitied

  19. suej says:

    Thanks for a great tour, Ailsa 🙂

  20. Pamela says:

    I too, love a ghost story but methinks our Japanese tourists were indulging in schoolboy pranks, for those ghostly monks look distinctly Japanese to me.
    All right…call me a spoilsport!
    Love the post though 🙂

  21. Love the pics! The first one looks a bit like Legoland everything is that perfectly placed. Love the ghosts 🙂

  22. tchistorygal says:

    Great post. I’m not sure what they were saying in the picture. It looks like a case of he said, she said to me. 🙂 The lighthouse seems like a pretty scary place to be on a dark and windy night!

  23. pamp says:

    Between this post and your Dancing with the Devil, that’s Hallowe’en sorted!!

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