Dan Conway

They said that Maureen Flavin Sweeney never forgot her Kerry accent. When she died eight days before Christmas 2023, she was 100 years old, and had lived on the north-west coast of Mayo for most of that time, in a place whose name in Irish is Fod Dubh, and in English is known as Blacksod.

Clodagh Finn said in her obituary in the Irish Examiner, “She was celebrated around the world as the woman whose weather report helped to change the course of history.”

There’s a lighthouse out on Blacksod Point at the southern end of the Mullet Peninsula at the entrance to Blacksod Bay. It was built of local granite blocks. John Swan Sloane designed it in 1863.
Maureen Flavin Sweeney’s name is now inextricably and historically associated with it. And that is because of what Cornelius Ryan’s book and film called The Longest Day – D-Day June 6, 1944.

On that day the largest seaborne invasion in history took place. About 7,000 ships and landing craft, 11,000 warplanes, and 130,000 Allied troops triggered the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
Blacksod Lighthouse is a square block of a building with only a small conical lantern section, the top of which is painted white. It is very different from the lofty towering lighthouses built by the famous Halpins, George Senior, the Inspector of Works and Lighthouses, and his son George Junior.

Blacksod Lighthouse is adjacent to Blacksod Pier, one of the many west and south coast piers designed by the remarkable Scotsman Alexander Nimmo.

Architectural heritage officer Damian Murphy said it “adopts the form of a miniature fortress with a tapering tower, flanked on either side by parapeted end bays housing living quarters for the keeper and his family.” It used to be occupied by a resident lighthouse keeper who was also responsible for Blackrock Lighthouse, which is on a rocky island 12 miles out in the Atlantic west of Blacksod Bay.

Blacksod Lighthouse’s site was a one-statute-acre plot leased from the Reverend Sir William Palmer, who owned extensive Mayo Estates. He charged £1per annum for the site. He owned the nearby Altmore quarries, and he offered the Board good quality granite at a cost of £100.

The contract for the work on building the “miniature fortress” was £2,100, and by 1865 the tower was ready for its lantern. The famous Chance Brothers of Smethwick, Birmingham, won the contract. It was they who glazed Crystal Palace in London, and the Houses of Parliament. They supplied lenses, lights and machinery for many lighthouses around the world. Their tender for Blacksod was £340.

What was not generally known was that while remaining neutral during the Second World War, Ireland continued to supply weather reports to Britain under an agreement in place since independence.
Britain’s Met Office had, since 1939, used Blacksod Post Office as one of its weather stations. Which is where Maureen Flavin, from Knockanure in County Kerry, enters the picture.

After finishing secondary school she applied for a vacant job in Blacksod Post Office. The office needed an extra pair of hands to deal with the weather data collected from the blocky lighthouse out on Blacksod Point. Maureen got the job.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan