The Hook Lighthouse (also known as Hook Head Lighthouse) is a building situated at the tip of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, in Ireland. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, and the oldest operating lighthouse in Ireland.1 It is operated by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Irish Lighthouse Authority, it marks the eastern entrance to Waterford Harbour. The current structure has stood for almost 800 years.
The existing tower dates from the twelfth century, though tradition states that Dubhán, a missionary to the Wexford area, established some sort of beacon as early as the fifth century. The headland is known in Irish as Rinn Dubháin, St. Dubhán’s Head. According to Onomasticon Goidelicum (1910, p582) Rinn Dubáin Ailithir is mentioned in the Book of Leinster, written about 1079. However, the similar-sounding Irish word ‘duán’ means a fish hook, hence the English name. It is known locally as “the tower of Hook.” The exact circumstance of the initial construction on the present structure are the subject of some controversy. It had been thought that the tower was constructed in 1172 by Raymond LeGros following the Norman Invasion in 1169, both to establish the lighthouse and to serve as a fortress on the approaches to Waterford. According to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, however, more recent studies have attributed construction to William Marshal in 1245.2 However, this is impossible since Marshall died in 1219, meaing that either he was not involved in the construction, or that the date of 1245 is incorrect. In any case, this tower, in its original form, was 8m high and roughly 8.5m in diameter, with an open fire at the top serving as the beacon. The tower and its grounds was entrusted to the monks, who by then were associated with the Priory of Saint Augustine in Ross. This arrangement continued even through the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
Maintenance of the beacon was interrupted by the English Civil War, when the monks abandoned the area. The lack of the light was felt, and in 1657 the governor of Duncannon Fort was petitioned to restore the beacon, but without success. However, in 1665 Charles II authorized Richard Reading to build six lighthouses on the Irish coast, including the rehabilitation of the light at Hook Head. By this time the tower had been enlarged; an addition incorporating a spiral staircase had been added surrounding the old tower, and the height of the whole structure raised to 24m. What Reading did in relighting the beacon is unclear, but he may have constructed an enclosed lantern to shelter the fire, as was customary at the time. The light was returned to service in 1667 and has remained active in some form ever since.