THERE is a light that never goes out off the coast of West Cork but it could be dimmed by plans for a modernisation of a historic lighthouse.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights has confirmed that the iconic mercury-based lens that projects light from the Fastnet Rock's lighthouse and covers a distance of 27 nautical miles is to be replaced by a more energy efficient LED light that will only cover a distance of 18 miles.
This will not affect the safety of any vessels in the sea but the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse - which is situated 6.5 kilometres southwest of Cape Clear Island - has gained iconic status as the 'beacon of hope' for the Irish abroad and coastal rescue services.
Director of operations and navigation services Captain Robert McCabe said the outward appearance of the lighthouse will not be affected but the change will have environmental benefits by reducing the need for diesel and generators and by removing all mercury from the station.
"This is part of a planned programme of continuous maintenance, upkeep and modernisation of our coastal services to the mariner,” he said.
“The work consists of structural repairs which are necessary to ensure the metal lantern room is properly secured to the granite tower and modernisation of the light source to an energy efficient rotating LED lantern.
“Irish Lights understand that Fastnet is important, not only as an aid to navigation, but as part of the heritage of the area and as a tourism asset,” he added.
However, a number of local people have expressed concerns that the Lighthouse's historic status will be compromised by the changes.
Cork TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony has called for a review of the decision.
“Historically, the lighthouse at Fastnet has been seen as a Beacon of Hope for people connected with the sea or with travel,” she said.
“In particular, it was used to reach out to the Irish diaspora across the globe to let them know that the Irish nation still remembered them.
“I am led to believe that the LED system would be cheaper for the Commissioners for Irish Lighthouses to operate and maintain. While a worthy ambition, I think the real cost of reducing the beam length will be far greater than the savings achieved.
“I believe that if funding is the issue then a variety of Government departments and agencies should step up to the mark. Fastnet Lighthouse is an iconic lighthouse, known throughout the country and the world, and should be used as a tourist attraction for this isolated part of West Cork,” she added.