Fastnet Rock or simply Fastnet (meaning “lonely rock” in Irish) is a small islet in the Atlantic Ocean and the most southerly point of Ireland. It lies 6.5 kilometres (4.9 mi) southwest of Cape Clear Island and 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) from County Cork on the Irish mainland. Due to its location, Fastnet is known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, because it was the last part of Ireland that 19th century Irish emigrants saw as they sailed to America.
Fastnet Rock is a small clay-slate islet with quartz veins. It rises to about 30 metres (98 ft) above low water mark and is separated from the much smaller southern Little Fastnet by a 10 metres (33 ft) wide channel. The current lighthouse is the second to be built on the rock and is the highest in Ireland.
Fastnet Rock is also famous for its role as the midpoint (turn around point) of one of the world’s classic offshore yachting races, the appropriately named “Fastnet Race” a 1,126 kilometres (700 mi) round trip from Cowes on the Isle of Wright (South Coast England) round the rock and back to Plymouth. A severe storm during the 1979 race resulted in the deaths of eighteen people (fifteen competing yachtsmen and three rescuers) as well as the loss of lives five boats sank, and at least 75 boats flipped upside down.
Construction of the first lighthouse began in 1853, and it first produced a light on 1 January 1854. The tower proved to be too weak, since gales shook it to the point that crockery was sometimes thrown off tables, and a 60 imperial gallon (273 L) cask of water lashed to the gallery 133 feet (41 m) above high water was washed away.
In 1891 the Commissioners of Irish Lights resolved that the light was not sufficiently powerful, particularly for the first landfall for many ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The replacement was constructed of stone, (cast iron now being considered unsatisfactory as the whole of the nearby Calf tower above its strengthening casing had been carried away during a gale on 27 November 1881, although without loss of life). On the same day, the sea had broken the glass of the Fastnet Rock lantern.
Construction of the new (& current) lighthouse started in 1897 with the levelling of the site, and the first of 2,047 Cornish granite dovetailed blocks was laid in June 1899. As well as these blocks, weighing 4,300 tons in total and with a volume of 58,093 cubic feet (1,645.0 cubic metres), a further 4,100 cubic feet (120 cubic metres) of granite was used to fill the inside of the tower up to the level of the entrance floor 58 feet (18 m) above high-water mark. A small steamship, the Ierne, was specially constructed for carrying the blocks out to the island, and Kavanagh personally set every stone, which weighed between 1¾ and 3 tons. The new lighthouse entered service on 27 June 1904 having cost nearly £90,000.
The masonry tower is 146 feet (45 m) high, but the focal point of the light is 159 feet (48 m) above high-water mark. The base of the lighthouse is 52 feet (16 m) in diameter with the first course of stone 6 inches (150 mm) below high-water mark, and the first ten of the 89 courses built into the rock. The first floor of the original tower remains, on the highest part of the rock, having been left when it was demolished and converted into an oil store.
The fog signal was changed to one report every three minutes in 1934 and from 1965 accompanied by a brilliant flash when operated during darkness. The original vaporised paraffin light was replaced with an electric one on 10 May 1969. At the end of March 1989 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation. It is monitored and controlled using a UHF telemetry link.
It produces a 0.14 second long white flash every five seconds, with a nominal range of 27 nautical miles (50 kilometres) and power of 2,500 kilocandelas. Since April 1978 in addition to being operated during darkness, the light is also used during poor visibility when the fog signal is sounding. In 1974 the explosive fog signal was replaced with an electric fog horn producing four blasts every minute at 300 hertz with a nominal range of 3.9 nautical miles (7.2 kilometres).
In 1985, the lighthouse was struck by a rouge wave measuring about 157 feet (48 m) in height – glad we were not out on the water that day!!!