Backing beam campaign

Backing beam campaign

11 April 2018

NEWRY, Mourne and Down Council has weighed in with its support to retain the iconic sweeping beam at St John’s Point lighthouse in Killough.

The local authority is to contact the Dublin-based Commissioner of Irish Lights — which is behind the controversial proposal to remove the beam — to insist it remains in place.

Politicians, who backed the campaign to retain the beam during their monthly meeting on Monday night, say they have major concerns about replacing it with a modern LED light.

In addition, politicians are to ask Tourism Northern Ireland to highlight the importance of the Killough lighthouse to local tourism and believe it can attract even more visitors if people were permitted access to the tower where a six tonne Fresnel lamp is housed.

Members of Lecale Lightkeepers, the cross-community group set up to oppose plans to replace the beam, sat in the public gallery during Monday night’s debate and were delighted with the local authority’s support.

Rowallane councillor Patrick Brown, who tabled a motion seeking council backing for the campaign to preserve the beam for current and future generations, said claims the mercury bed on which the giant lamp rotates posed a health risk had been discounted by experts.

He said politicians acknowledged the importance of the lighthouse and its role in local maritime heritage and opposed any attempts to replace the beam with a less effective LED beam which, they feared, could have a negative impact on marine life.

“The lighthouse beam is visible all along the South Down coastline and the campaign to replace it with a LED light has been met with significant opposition from the local community which has been fighting this issue for almost three years,” Cllr Brown continued.

“The lens at St John’s is the last of its kind in Northern Ireland and is a vital part of our local history. But more than that, it also has significant potential if maintained as it currently is to boost tourism in the Killough area.

“As the only light of its type left, coupled with its isolated rural location showcasing the rugged beauty of the South Down coast, I have no doubt that with the right marketing strategy, St John’s lighthouse could become a catalyst for economic development in the area.”

Cllr Brown said the radical changes to light systems and the character of coastal lighthouses are causing concern to conservationists, arguing the employment of modern technology is largely based on cost-cutting, yet the light at St John’s Point has not required major maintenance for 45 years.

He continued: “Plans to radically change the sweeping beam were opposed by the local community from the start and prior to this decision there was no consultation with the local people, including the Killough Community Association.

“As a listed building, the lighthouse with its main character and sweeping beam should be protected. All conservation matters on the St John’s Point site are important but without the beam, the lighthouse would cease to be a traditional lighthouse and would lose its character. The bean should be retained and commemorated.”

Cllr Brown added: “The Commissioner of Irish Lights misplaced modernisation agenda has already been disregarded by lighthouse fans in the US and Canada which has seen a surge in support for traditional rotating lens lighthouses with one in Florida attracting 230,000 visitors a year who each pay $10 each to climb the lighthouse and see the lens. 

“Clare County Council stepped in to retain the traditional beam at Loop Head lighthouse and this has been a major tourism success locally. I feel this is something Newry, Mourne and Down Council should explore further.”

Cllr Gareth Sharvin described the lighthouse as a “massive tourism asset” to the area which attracted visitors from across the world, while Cllr Cadogan Enright said it was hard for people not from Lecale to imagine the passion and strong feelings people have for retaining the beam, adding: ”This is truly an undeveloped tourism asset and is something that needs to be pursued.”

Cllr Willie Clarke commended the campaign group, politicians and members of the community lobbying to retain the beam and believed the lighthouse’s tourism potential needed to be fully exploited, while Cllr Dermot Curran said fishing communities still relied on the sweeping beam and it must be retained.