Francis Joseph Hill – Lightkeeper at Roche's Point

Dublin Core


Francis Joseph Hill – Lightkeeper at Roche's Point


""Work in Progress .....
Please check back again"


The Story of Frank Hill and the wonderful collection of PostCards depicting the life of a Lightkeeper 
As Told by Audrey Arthure, Frank's Granddaughter 

A Seafaring Family

Francis Joseph Hill was born on 4th March 1878 at Ballydonegan, on the Beara Peninsula to John Francis Hill and Catherine Carey. He was born into a family that for several generations had been associated with the sea. Both his father and his grandfather had been in the Royal Navy and had then transferred to the Coastguard. Over the years the family spent most of their lives around the Co Cork coast and Francis Joseph Hill’s grandparents are buried in Cobh, where his grandfather grew up. As the saying goes, the sea was in his blood. Two of his uncles were mariners, one of them dying by drowning. Another uncle joined the lighthouse service while his aunt also married a lightkeeper. Francis’ mother, Catherine Carey, also came from a seafaring family with her father also being a member of the Coastguard, and her brothers being Mariners. Catherine’s sister, Elizabeth, married a man called John Cogan (Goggin), who was also from Crosshaven, and they also lived in Cobh. Indeed one of Frank Hills nieces married a lightkeeper and he was posted to Roches Point for a time, where one of their children was also born.

Francis Joseph Hill
Francis Joseph Hill, or Frank as he was known, was the ninth of thirteen children, three of whom died in childhood. Two of his brothers who survived into adulthood, also went on, as was customary to join the Commissioners of Irish Lights. One of his sisters, Emma, went to New Zealand at the age of fourteen, and Frank is known never to have met her, as she had left Ireland before he was born.

Frank spent most of his childhood in Ballydonegan, on the Beara Peninsula, Five Mile Point, Co. Wicklow and Arthurstown, Co Wexford, as a result of his father’s postings at the time. In 1893, Frank joined the Navy and went to sea, serving on a number of ships between then and 1897. This was one of the possible prerequisites for joining the Commissioners for Irish Lights. On 1st November 1904, Frank received his first appointments as a Supernumerary Keeper.

Over the following years he spent time on the Bull Rock, Rathlin O’Beirne, Sligo Lights, Tory Island, Roancarrig, Old Head of Kinsale and Inishteraght. He also spent two periods on the Skelligs and three periods at Roches Point.

While based on Rathlin O’Beirne, he met Annie Sweeney from Gortnasillgh, Glenties and they married in Carrick, Co Donegal on 29th July 1908.

While on Tory Island they started their family and subsequently went on to have seven children, Kathleen, Eileen Theresa, John Noel, Annette(Nina), Raymond, Kevin and Moira. Their second child Eileen Theresa arrived somewhat unexpectedly at the local hotel in Gortahork, Co Donegal, when her mother went into labour on the boat from Tory Island, while the family were in the process of moving to their new posting in Roches Point. In the five years and three months that followed, John Noel, Nina and Raymond were born in the lightkeepers house at Roches Point. After a period at Roancarrig and the Skelligs, during which time the family lived in Castletownbere and where they again added to their family, Frank was appointed to the Old Head of Kinsale.

However instead of relocating to Kinsale as would have been expected, the family decided to relocate to Crosshaven as at this stage several of the children were at school. When on duty, Frank would travel back and forth to Kinsale using the lighthouse tender. While in Kinsale, Frank suffered a period of ill health and as a result the children were sent to boarding school at Presentation Convent in Crosshaven. This allowed Annie to join him and help out with the duties at the lighthouse. This involvement of family members was common practice within lighthouse families. Frank subsequently relocated to Roches Point and the family continued to live in Crosshaven where their youngest child Moira, was born in 1925.

In 1930, he again went to the Skelligs for a period of three and a half years during which time the family remained based in Crosshaven, with Frank travelling home when off duty and the family spending holiday periods on Valentia Island. After a short period on Inishteraght, Frank was again posted back to Roches Point in 1933, as Principal Keeper, where he remained until his retirement in 1937.

Around 1933 the family bought Ard na Lee, overlooking the estuary at Crosshaven and continued to live there until 1951, when they finally moved to Ballintemple, Cork City. Frank died on 16th December 1957 after a varied career around the Irish Coast and was laid to rest back in Castletownbere.

Communicating with Home
During the early 1900’s the telephone was still not available as a means of communication, so creativeness was essential in keeping contact with home, especially when the lightkeeper was on a rock station.

Post cards were the preferred way of doing this and a number of books containing postcards, which passed between him and family members conveying requests for essentials required exist to this day. 

One of the most dominant themes on the postcards was the need for butter! The postcards were also used to get news of the family and other events to the keeper will he was on duty.

In many ways the postcards perform the same function as texts do today….short messages containing essential requests and news.

Frank Joseph Hill - The Lightkeeper's Story

The Commute to Work
We are all familiar with the idea of commuting to work, something that is very common today. However back in the 1920’s, Frank Hill did this in an interesting way. On his second posting to Roches Point, the family were living in Crosshaven. In order to get to Roches Point, he would need to travel to Cork and then on to Whitegate and Roches Point, quite a complicated journey at that time. However he decided instead to acquire a yacht, which he called St Philomena. When going on and off duty he would sail back and forth between Crosshaven and Roches Point, a much easier and quicker trip.

At that time his family lived in a house also called St Philomenas and had a good view of the mouth of the bay. As a result they could watch his progress back and forth. Thus the kettle was always boiling when he arrived home.

Work / Life Balance
Life as a light keeper was not always easy and those who joined the service had to be resilient and self-sufficient as well as being comfortable with their own company, especially when appointed to rock stations. On these postings, the keepers were away from their families for a minimum of three weeks at a time. However the length of time spent on a rock station, such as Fastnet or the Skelligs, could on occasions be longer, depending on the weather and the seas and whether the boat bringing the relief lightkeepers could get to the lighthouse or not.

This meant that lightkeepers wives had also to be resilient and able in raising their families. In contrast, a posting to a lighthouse that had family accommodation must have seemed like a luxury.

In order to keep themselves occupied, particularly while on rock stations, lightkeepers developed a considerable range of skills and interests.

One of the skills developed by Frank Hill was the ability to build a ship in a bottle. This involved a lot of intricate work and great skill. It is a skill that has been largely lost today.

Over the years he used many bottles of varying shapes, including the triangular Dimple Whiskey bottles. Two of the ships he made remain and are now in the possession of two of his great grandchildren.

The Celtic Disaster
 In 1928, the liner, the Celtic, owned by the White Star Line, was en route from New York to Liverpool and was due to call in at Cobh. However because of bad weather, the Captain decided against this and  that he would instead continue to Liverpool. A short time later the weather improved and he decided to return to Cork Harbour.

As he approached the entrance to the harbour, the weather again deteriorated and the ship was driven on the Cow and Calf rocks at the entrance to the harbour.

At Roches Point Lighthouse, Frank Hill, on realising the plight of the Celtic, communicated with the local coastguard, who immediately attended and succeeded in getting everyone on board safely ashore.

It seems that there was a considerable cargo of fruit on board, including apples and pears, much of which was washed ashore at Roches Point and at other places in Cork Harbour. This was collected and enjoyed by the locals, with much of the salvaged fruit being sold by enterprising locals in Cobh.

Some time later, after much of the furnishings and equipment on board the Celtic had been salvaged, an auction was held in Cork. Among those who attended the auction was Frank Hill. He purchased one of the chest of drawers and it was used in his home in Crosshaven for many years, before subsequently being given to his son-in-law. Today it remains in the possession of his family and continues to be used in his granddaughters home. 

Essential Equipment
For anyone whose life centred on activities associated with the sea, a telescope was essential. It is not known if Frank Hills telescope was inherited from his father or indeed his grandfather, but it was something he used constantly throughout his career. The telescope remains within the family and has now passed to his great grandson, who in the last few years and in keeping with family tradition became a ships officer.


Audrey Arthure's Postcard Album
Chest salvaged from the Celtic in 1928
Information in the Chest concerning the Celtic and its demise.


The Celtic aground on the Cow & Calf Rocks
Photo courtesy of the Cork Examiner

Mr Frank Hill talking to journalists at Roches Point following the breakup of the Celtic.
Photo courtesy of the Cork Examiner.

R.M.S. CELTIC, Postcard Number 5626
Hugo Lang & Co. Liverpool


Mar. 04, 1878
Jul. 29, 1908
Dec. 16th, 1957


Audrey Arthure, Frank's Granddaughter
Photo of Roche's Point taken by: Pat Demarte Handorf, Frank's Granddaughter




paper, strong card - 3 part paper




1878. 1900, 1920, 1925, 1928, 1930, 1933, 1937, 1951, 1957

Person Item Type Metadata

Birth Date

Mar. 04, 1878


Beara Peninsula,

Death Date

Dec. 16th, 1957







“Francis Joseph Hill – Lightkeeper at Roche's Point,” The Camden Fort Meagher Archive, accessed July 13, 2024,

Output Formats

Transcribe This Item

  1. frank.hill_john.francis.hill.jpg
  3. pc.communication.jpg
  4. the.chapel.presentation.convent.crosshaven.jpg
  6. frank.hill.reporters_courtsey_cork.examiner.png
  9. frank.hill.telescope.jpg
  10. celtic.aground_courtsey_cork.examiner.jpg
  11. 2010.10.16_e.e.frank.hill.jpg
  12. 2010.10.16_e.e.special.roches.point.jpg
  13. 1928_chest.celtic.jpg
  15. 1901_r.m.s.celtic.jpeg
  16. roches.point.jpg
  17. audrey.hill_pc.collection.jpg
  18. frank.hill_telescope.jpg
  19. frank.hill_postcard.album.1.jpg
  20. frank.hill_postcard.album.2.3.jpg
  21. frank.hill_postcard.album.2.jpg
  22. frank.hill_postcard.album.3.jpg
  23. frank.hill_postcard.album.4.5.jpg
  24. frank.hill_postcard.album.6.jpg
  25. frank.hill_postcard.album.7.jpg
  26. frank.hill_postcard.album.8.9.jpg
  27. frank.hill_postcard.album.8.jpg
  28. frank.hill_postcard.album.9.jpg
  29. frank.hill_postcard.album.10.jpg
  30. frank.hill_postcard.album.11.jpg
  31. frank.hill_postcard.album.12.13.jpg
  32. frank.hill_postcard.album.12.jpg
  33. frank.hill_postcard.album.13.jpg
  34. frank.hill_postcard.album.14.15.jpg
  35. frank.hill_postcard.album.16.17.jpg
  36. frank.hill_postcard.album.16.jpg
  37. frank.hill_postcard.album.18.jpg