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Lighthouse gave me a real flash of inspiration - now I've developed a passion!; He's seen the light... now John Eagle's taken photos of all 90 beacons in Ireland.

Byline: BRENDA O'NEILL

A HARSH beam of light that flooded into John Eagle's bedroom in the middle of the night 11 years ago changed his life forever.

It wasn't a UFO or even a burglar. It was the beam from Co Cork's Bull Rock lighthouse eight miles away reaching into him.

And now this extraordinary Englishman who has made his home on a remote hillside in Beara, Co Cork, will fulfill a dream and a lifetime's passion when he completes his collection of photographs of all 90 Irish lighthouses in a new book.

The 49-year-old photographer was even quoted in the Irish government's Millenium Book summing up his fascination alongside some of his photographs.

He wrote: "There is something magical about the lone lantern lighting up the furthest reaches.

"Just when you thought you had reached the last place on earth and there is a beam of light."

John was also responsible for the postage stamp of Tarbert lighthouse that was released by An Post.

He will go to any lengths to capture his images but he dismisses any thoughts of danger and high risk while indulging in his craft as many of Ireland's lighthouses are located in some of the most hostile and inaccessible locations.

His image of the Fastnet Lighthouse, known as the teardrop of Ireland, is compelling.

It sticks up out of the Atlantic like a finger and marks Ireland's most southerly point. It was the last piece of the country emigrants saw as they sailed for a new life in America.

It was taking photographs of racing cars that first drew John to photography but that soon changed.

He said: "I took up photography in the early 70s as a hobby, and kept it as such until I moved over here.

"I sold a small number of pictures of racing cars and things, but only as a bit on the side.

"The thing about lighthouses is that they stand still, instead of racing cars doing 200 miles an hour.

"Seriously though, everything around them moves, and the colour in the sea is always changing, so they make for a great subject if you get the weather and light right.

"Against a dark mysterious sky a lighthouse can look terrific, whereas many things would look mundane.

"I am not really sure why I like or liked motor racing - I suppose it was fun to watch and there was an element of risk involved.

"When you are out in rough weather, with waves exploding on rocks and a light flashing, there is a mighty roar going on and you feel nature doing its thing, and there's this man-made thing doing its best to warn the sailors."

Born in Oxford, John first came to Ireland with his family at an early age for a holiday but his mother loved the country so much she bought a house near Eyeries where John's brother now lives.

"We sailed from Fishguard to Cork - I used to love seeing Roche's Point lighthouse at the mouth of Cork Harbour for it meant I was nearly home.

"The fog horn always boomed as we sailed by, making such a lovely sound, it would make you jump if you weren't prepared for it.

"I hated England, mainly for the boarding schools I went to.

"I think it is fair to say that had I been a wealthy man this venture of mine would never have happened.

"My love of lighthouses is deep rooted - there's nothing to match the magic of the sweeping light.

"Coming from an inland town I always experienced great excitement whenever I got close to the sea.

"It was only natural that lighthouses would have a similar effect on me.

"They are a powerful symbol of man's coexistence with the sea."

Beara is now John's home where he lives with his two collies Quisha and Shara and a cat called Whiskey (because she's black and white).

His second book is due for publication later this year and for the first time his collection of lighthouse photographs and his series of lighthouse postcards will be complete.

John is making the trip up to Northern Ireland for the first time to take shots of its six lighthouses by helicopter.

"I am indebted to the pilots who are bringing me to these far-flung and hostile locations - Captains Mick Hennessy and Mick Conneely.

"The most powerful shots are when the sea is rough and the waves are crashing against the lighthouse, typically in winter.

"It is also the time when there is more risk."

His next series of postcards and photographs could be Irish castles but he hasn't quite decided.

"I think when I have done them all then I fear anti-climax.

"I have thought of doing other things, maybe castles, as that is another passion of mine."The trouble is finding space to store these postcards while waiting for people to order them.

"I think I will concentrate more on making prints for people, but I shall keep doing shots of lighthouses because you can't just stop and switch off from them.

"I find them fascinating, the way they are built and all.

"The skill of the workers that put them together - you only need to look at the Bull Rock and then you start to wonder how on earth did they put the lighthouse up there.

"Look at the Fastnet, Rockabill, whichever one you like, they are all very well designed and have stood the test of time."

The Fastnet lighthouse will be 100 years old in June 2004 and John has produced a special poster to mark the event.

"Just look at the structure and wonder - it is being pounded nearly every day of the year.

"Right now in January the waves are going over the top of it, and yet it remains in one piece, flashing its beam to warn seafarers of the dangerous rocks.

"And think of the men who have tended the light, putting up with such storms - it's a wonderful story."

John Eagle can be contacted at www.johneaglephoto.com

CAPTION(S):

CONSERVATIVE LOVE: John at Tory; YELLOW IN THE BLACK: St John's; A SIGHT TO SEA: Donaghadee
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUN
Date:Jan 26, 2003
Words:1028
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