Kish lightship

In Brief

In Proteus Stephen asks himself, "Here, I am not walking out to the Kish lightship, am I?" In Nausicaa, Bloom reclines on the beach at Sandymount, not far from where Stephen was earlier in the day, and sees a light far out on the waves: "And far on Kish bank the anchored lightship twinkled, winked at Mr Bloom." The Kish Bank is a dangerous sandbar, approximately 7 miles east of Dublin, with a history of grounding and wrecking oceangoing vessels. It now has a lighthouse, but in 1904 a ship equipped with a navigation-assisting light was moored on the bank.

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Such "lightships" are still common in Ireland and the UK, warning pilots of navigation hazards at sites where it would be impossible or prohibitively expensive to build a lighthouse. They often have large letters on their sides, announcing not the name of the vessel but its location. Typically, a stout mast or superstructure supports a single light high enough off the water to be visible from passing ships. Men are needed to staff these lonely outposts, a fact that arouses Bloom's sympathy in Nausicaa: "Life those chaps out there must have, stuck in the same spot."

In Calypso Bloom remembers when he took his daughter Milly "On the Erin's King that day round the Kish." Gifford notes that this boat was "an excursion steamer that took sightseers on two-hour trips around Dublin Bay, circling the Kish lightship to the south or Ireland's Eye, an island just north of the Howth peninsula, to the north. During the summer it sailed several times a day from Custom House Quay in central Dublin; fare, one shilling." Bloom remembers the "Damned old tub pitching about," but Milly did not suffer the fate of those "lovely seaside girls"—no seasickness.

JH 2013
A lightship bound for the Kish Bank being launched into the River Dart in Devon, England, date unknown. Source: www.simplonpc.co.uk.
Lightship moored on the Brake Bank, part of the notoriously dangerous Goodwin Sands off SE England, date unknown. Source: www.simplonpc.co.uk.