Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

1809 lighthouse is burning bright

South Stack
Big skies and waves crashing against 300 foot cliffs at South Stack

South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey is celebrating its 200th birthday.

Light first shone from the structure perched on a rocky outpost just off Holy Island near Holyhead on 9 February, 1809.

It had taken 70 men to build the 28m (91ft) masonry tower from local rock brought to the site by boat.

South Stack was automated in 1984. Around 15,000 visitors negotiate the 410 steps down to the lighthouse each year.

The lighthouse is there because a Captain Hugh Evans, the harbour master at Holyhead, produced a map of the area showing vessels that had been lost.

It cost Trinity House 12,000 to build and was not without its problems.

Boats were used extensively during the construction with materials being hoisted up onto the island from the boats below.

A bridge was not built until 1827 to span the 100ft (30m) chasm which separates South Stack from the mainland.

Bill O'Brien
It's a way of life that's gone now. I thoroughly enjoyed it
Bill O'Brien, former lighthouse keeper

Ian Jones is one of the team who work with Anglesey council to look after the lighthouse as a visitor attraction.

He is putting a book together about the history of South Stack to be released later on this year.

"I think people like this lighthouse in particular because of its location," he said.

"There's this perception that Anglesey is flat and then you get here and see the 300ft cliffs, coupled with the Iron Age and Roman remains.

"It has these big skies and on a clear day you can see to Ireland, to the Isle of Man, all over the Irish Sea," he said.

No-one has manned the lighthouse since 1984 when it was automated.

Bill O'Brien, 79, from Holyhead worked at South Stack as a keeper off-and-on from the 1950s.

He remembers the place with fondness when he was sent there from "lighthouse school" in Blackwall, London.

Bill O'Brien with the South Stack goat
Mr O'Brien's work as a trainee involved milking the South Stack goat

"We spent two months at the school then were sent to various lighthouses for a month say, to gain experience, because each one was different."

"South Stack I remember as being quite good actually and it was called a semi-rock station (because of its location, just off the mainland).

"It had a suspension bridge going over from the mainland and a favourite thing was to send someone out onto it, wait until they were half way, and then stamp on the end (to make it wobble).

"Later they put in the rigid metal bridge that's still there now," he added.

The lighthouse keepers work involved keeping all of the lighthouse in "tip top condition", he said.

"There was no electricity and there were three diesel generators, used on a rotation every three days. There were also two fog signal engines."

Light came from a "big huge bulb of 4,500 watts" which could be seen 20 miles away.

South Stack
The lighthouse is built on a small island connected to the mainland by bridge

"I experienced a few big storms but one, before I joined, apparently had the highest tide of the year.

"It was hurricane force winds and three freak waves came up and smashed the windows along one side, washing the keeper out of bed."

Mr O'Brien remembers shifts being two months on, one month off, although this was later changed to a month on, which allowed staff members more of a home life.

"It's a way of life that's gone now. I thoroughly enjoyed it," he said.

"You had to be reasonably self sufficient, and had to think about things.

"There was no popping out to buy a new part when something broke," he said.

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