Gannet's retirement makes Irish Lights history

The 55 year old 'Gannet' will be retired from service at the end of this month.

A long and proud history of Irish lightships will be concluded at the end of this month when the last vessel in service, the Gannet, is retired from its duties, where it marks the South Rock, on the coast of Co Down. The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL) will replace it with a new 'super buoy' bristling with the latest technology.

The first Irish lightship (or floating light, as it was called at the time) was established in 1736. This was subsequently known as the Dublin Lightship, or Palmer's Lightship, named after the contractor who operated it. At the time this was the second lightship in the world and remained in service until the Poolbeg Lighthouse was established in 1767.

The earliest lightships were converted mercantile ships, often Dutch hoys or galliots, with lanterns hung from yards. But from the turn of the nineteenth century purpose built lightships were designed. The first Irish purpose built lightship was the Seagull, built in 1823-4 by U. Roberts of Milford Haven, originally for the Coningbeg station. By the start of the last century, some twelve lightship stations had been established in Ireland, mainly on the East and South coasts.

By the middle of the last century, when the 41.8m LOA, 600 ton displacement Gannet was built in 1954, lightships were being replaced by high focal plane buoys and large automatic navigation buoys, or going unmanned as they became automated. These vessels were so well kept that they could remain in service for 55 years, as Gannet has done, but they were no match for the latest generation of low maintenance, high technology buoys now available.

The 'super buoy' concept which replaces Gannet is a 3.5m buoy with dual redundancy power systems, based on solar panels, rechargeable batteries and LED lights. It is also fitted with a radar responder and an Automatic Identification System.

The iconic old lightships are going on to a variety of interesting post-retirement second lives. One old Irish Lights vessel is now an attraction at a sailing club HQ at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Another is a museum in Kilmore Quay. Yet another has been sold to the owner of the O2 Conference Centre in Dublin (formerly known as The Point), where it will be placed to contribute to the 'marine atmosphere' along the bank of the River Liffey, joining a collection of old buoys also purchased from the CIL. Others are scattered throughout ports in Europe as heritage or museum centres or restaurants.

Gannet will be for sale following its last day of active service on 25 February. An imaginative entrepreneur will surely benefit from it lighting the way to another waterside attraction.

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