Tuskar Rock Folklore
The Tuskar Rock Lighthouse stands on a rocky islet 11.3km or 7 miles off the south east corner of the island of Ireland. The lighthouse was constructed to warn ships of what has long been a graveyard of sailors, part of a band of treacherous waters running along the coasts of Counties Waterford and Wexford. In the folklore of County Wexford and the communities of its ports, the lighthouse has long loomed large in the ocean and in memory. Its dramatic and casualty-heavy history began before it was finished, as John Walsh of Dennistown in County Wexford related in the Murrintown school collection:
In the Spring of 1813 it was decided to erect a lighthouse on Tuskar Rock. Beams were thrown across it, and connected to it firmly by iron clamps. On this a platform was laid on which huts were erected for 41 workmen.
Six weeks afterwards a terrible storm arose. Some of the men ran naked from their beds to the highest point of the rock, but before the rest could escape a surge swept the huts away and many men were drowned. Those who escaped were clinging to the rock from Sunday at 4 o'clock until Wednesday.
This sudden loss of life was not the last time that Tuskar would drown those at sea during the construction of the lighthouse. Mrs Ennis, age 45, of Drinagh in County Wexford related another occurrence during the construction process that highlights the lethal rocks off the coast of Wexford:
Tuskar Rock was the scene of many wrecks, and many lives were lost there, before the lighthouse was built on the rock. It was only in 1814 that a light was placed there.
Early in 1814 when the men were working on the rock, a ship struck it. She was a West Indiaman bound for Liverpool, with a valuable cargo, and had also on board soldiers and passengers to the number of 107. Her captain was a stranger and had lost his way. The vessel struck the base of the rock and quickly went to pieces.
The night was very dark, and all the crew and passengers would have been drowned but for the men working on Tuskar.
The crew and passengers were extremely fortunate that their encounter with Tuskar Rock coincided with the presence of the work crew. They were also unfortunate in the extreme to encounter the hazard mere months before the completion of the light that would have saved the vessel. Once the lighthouse was completed, however, the rocks continued to claim ships throughout the nineteenth century. Another story related by Mrs Cullen, age 49, of Allenstown Big in County Wexford, explores the wreck of the Manchester Market, driven onto the rocks at the turn of the century:
About thirty years ago, a steamer called the "Manchester Market" ran on Tuskar Rock in a fog. She had a cargo of eight thousand tons of wheat. She was outward bound from Liverpool to America.
The weather was very fine when she was wrecked, and boats from Carne and Rosslare Hbr went out to her every day for some weeks and brought some fittings ashore from her. After about three weeks, she broke in pieces and sank. The crew were saved by Carne and Wexford life boats.
This episode highlights the proactive role of the lifeboat service along this hazardous coastline. The stories of wrecks loom large in folkloric memory precisely because they are the stories of the crews sent out to rescue sailors, salvage ships and render assistance. The men involved in both the construction crew of the Tuskar Rock Lighthouse and the crews of the life boat service and their families kept these tales alive for decades and even centuries, allowing them to live on in the pages of the Schools' Collection books after a new generation of children recorded them for posterity.