The Lighthouse Journals or Board Minutes contain numerous memorials or applications for pensions. Those granted pensions in the 1800s fit a very different profile to pensioners today. In Lighthouse Journal No. 8 which covers a period between 1837-1840 the Ballast Board considered 11 different pension applications, 9 of which were from widows and children.
Archive & Heritage Officer
The Lighthouse Journals or Board Minutes contain numerous memorials or applications for pensions. Those granted pensions in the 1800s fit a very different profile to pensioners today. In Lighthouse Journal No. 8 which covers a period between 1837-1840 the Ballast Board considered 11 different pension applications, 9 of which were from widows and children. Pensions were granted at a rate £6 per annum for the widow and £3 per annum per child until the age of 16. Pre-famine Ireland was a place of extreme poverty. Despite the risks involved, a job on the Lighthouses, Lightships or tender vessels meant a steady income and a higher standard of living than the average population. However, the loss of that income through death or injury could have devastating financial consequences the family left behind. It is in this context that the 11 pension applications were recorded from 1837-1840. Hidden behind the official language of the time are stories of tragedy, hardship and loss. A memorial was laid before the Board in May 1938 from the 5 orphaned children of James Kelly (Lightkeeper at Poolbeg) who drowned following a fall from the South Wall. Prior to this the children’s mother had drowned at Tory Island where Kelly had previously been stationed. The Board resolved that ‘these children having lost both their parents and been thrown on their Grandfather for support, a sum of ten pounds be paid to him for their use’. The Kelly children were not the only orphans applying for pensions. Anne Kinnealy aged 3½, was born after the death of her Timothy Kinnealy, who was drowned off Slyne Head Lighthouse in March 1836. The memorial states baldly that ‘her mother is now also dead’. She requests to be put on the pension list along with her older siblings. The petition was granted. A memorial from Mary Rivett, widow of William Rivett (Principal Keeper at Slyne Head) drowned on 9th July 1838, states that she and her 3 children were 'deprived of every means of support and in the utmost distress’. She and her children were granted pensions. There followed a further memorial in January 1839 stating that Mary had since given birth to twin girls Hannah and Louisa. The babies were put on the pension list along with their elder siblings. It was not just widows and children, but also wider family members that were often dependent on the income provided by their relative. Walter Larkin (seaman onboard the Lighthouse Store vessel) was struck in the side by the foresheet block during heavy seas and died as a result of his injury two months later. A petition by his mother Mary Larkin includes harrowing details of her son’s final weeks. She was granted a pension by the Board. These are just a handful of examples of the types of pension applications made during these years. In every case, the Board granted a pension. These cases illustrate the hardship of life in pre-famine Ireland where all that stood between these families and extreme poverty was £6 per year.