Ever have one of those moments when you just think, ‘Yup, this is why I’m doing this’? We had one of those recently. In fact, the day that we went to visit Hook Lighthouse in County Wexford, Ireland Simon and I had lots of those moments. Ireland is steeped in the most incredible history. History you can still touch, feel, experience, it’s all around us here. A day-trip with the kids climbing to the top of the lighthouse, and meandering about old abbey ruins reminded us exactly why we’ve chosen the whole world as their classroom…
St.Dubhan’s monks began lighting a fire on Hook Head in a large metal cage made by local blacksmiths in the 5th century. The order of monks were hoping to warn sailors of the danger of shipwreck on the rocky tip of coast that extends from the far south of Ireland. By 1210 the powerful knight William Marshal built a more permanent structure as a landmark and light tower, to guide ships to his port of Ross. The monks continued to tend to the lighthouse until King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1540. Then for a short period, whilst the tower still stood, no light was lit, resulting in many shipwrecks until it’s restoration in the 1670’s. Since then, whilst the fuel has changed from timber to whale oil, paraffin, coal and gas to electricity, a light has shone to guide passing ships to this present day.
We arrived at Hook Lighthouse just in time to catch one of the guided tours that had only just started, (they run on the hour). I always think it’s great to do a guided tour if you can. A good tour guide can turn a visit to a historical place into a memorable experience, regaling tales and legends with a personal touch. Since our children were the only young ones on the tour, the guide was careful to include tidbits of information to interest them and was obliging with taking family photos etc. We learnt that the well known saying “By Hook or by Crooke” may have originated in the area. Oliver Cromwell the infamous military commander had already attempted to take the city of Waterford in 1649 but was forced to retreat. He sent his fleet again in 1650 with the instructions that “By Hook or by Crooke” they were to take Waterford. Crooke is a small village on the opposite side where the River Barrow meets the sea.
We learnt about the hard life of a monk (imagine living in a cold stone tower on the Irish coast!) and the amazing lighthouse itself. The stone walls are meters thick, the staircase narrow and winding and the view from the top breathtaking, (quite literally if you visit on a freezing cold day like we did!). Afterward we explored the rock-pools beneath the tower, and even saw Seals swimming nearby. We warmed up with a coffee and some hot chocolate in the café at the information centre, where the staff were generous with information booklets for the children to continue learning.
After our visit to Hook Lighthouse we decided to explore a bit further along the nearby coastline. We absolutely loved poking about in the St Duhban’s ruined Hook Church in Churchtown and were very excited to find the fortified church ruins at Templetown. The town is named after the famous Knights Templar who were given a pocket of land, and set up their headquarters there. Our coast drive took in all the scenery that one expects from picture-postcard Ireland. Rolling green hills, cliffs dropping off into the sea, Norman ruins, hedgerows and thatched cottages. We ALL learnt so much from our day out, leaving us hungry for more. How could we ever replicate this kind of learning experience with books and classrooms?*
*(Since then the children have constructed a timeline on the sitting room wall where they are adding references to all of the places that we visit, and the things that they learn).