The Lighthouse That Never Was.
One of the most frequently asked questions by hotel visitors is what is the structure on the island across the bay. The answer is that it is the lighthouse that never was!
Across the bay lies Capel Island. Its name is derived from the Gealic, Caplaigh, which in turn is based on the Norman de Capelle family, who were granted the island and the surrounding area after the invasion of 1168. The name ‘Supple’ is the modern version.
The coastline around Youghal Harbour had long been noted as a hazardous one for mariners. History records that from 1190 to 1542, an order of nuns in the Convent of St. Anne’s, would light torches in the convent tower to warn ships of the dangerous rocks at nearby.
As the number of ship lost on the rocks increased in the mid 1800’s a call went out from the Cork Steam Packet Company to construct a proper lighthouse, “to avert the frequency of wrecks across the unlit coast between the Old Head of Kinsale and Hook Head”.
The favoured site was Capel Island and work commenced on the lighthouse in the mid 1840’s. However, a tragic event was to change everything. The first steam powered ship to cross the Atlantic was the Sirius, which became world famous for that historic crossing. But on January 16, 1847 on a trip from Glasgow to Cork, the Sirius floundered on the rocks off Ballycotton with the loss of 20 passengers and crew. The outcry over the sinking of the world’s most famed ship caused the powers that be to change their plans and move the construction of the lighthouse to Ballycotton.
What remains on Capel Island is a 7.5 m construction of limestone and sandstone surrounded by a high wall. Inside the unfinished lighthouse is a spiral staircase that climbs in a semi-helix ending with a domed roof.