BR15: The Ballast Board

The Ballast Board

One significant approach towards Irish lights, came with a Letter-Patent issued to James Palmer in 1740. This document gave him the authority to erect and manage all water marks and buoys in Dublin Bay. It is also understood that this authority included the harbour lights as well, which at the time caused a great deal of bad feeling from the local Harbour Board.

In 1767 an Act of Parliament transferred the management of all Irish lights to the Commissioners of Barracks. This group, predominantly of Army or Navy officers, became the first recognised authority for the Irish lights. However, the Customs Board strongly objected to this arrangement and stated that its officers were better placed to manage the lights. It also stated that its services would be far more economical and effective. The objections were considered logical by the Irish Parliament, which passed another Act to transfer the management of lights to the Customs Officials. Just to confuse the issue, a previous Act of Parliament [George, 1786] had formed the Commissioners of the Irish Lights into a Corporate body, but this venerable group of Master Mariners were looked upon only as a charitable organisation or the 'Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin'.

Within four years of the Customs Board taking over the management of the Irish lights, it had increased the number of lighthouses to eight. However, the promised economical administration failed to materialise. When an official audit was ordered by the Irish Parliament there were so many discrepancies and queries over misappropriation of funds that many of the Senior Customs Officials were sacked.

Following this scandal an Act of Parliament in 1810 made the Port of Dublin Authorities the sole responsible body for maintaining and managing the Irish lights. Although it was known officially as the Dublin Port Authority, it was better known to the shipping fraternity as the Ballast Board. This name came about because its main duty was to verify the correct tonnage of merchant shipping in order for the proper light levy to be charged. The 1810 Act also brought fourteen lighthouses under the control of the Corporation, namely South Rock, Old Head, two lights in Wicklow, Howth, Copeland Rock, Hook Head, Cranfield, Loop Head, Aranmore, Clare Island, Balbriggan, Duncannon Fort and Charlesfort, the last often called Barry Oge's Castle and actually Old Head of Kinsale.