Restoring historic Tory lighthouse generator

Tory island

The generator has had some remedial work done on it.

A WEST Cork man whose family purchased a generator which once powered Tory lighthouse is now seeking stories and pictures about the giant unit.

Mr Joe Hurley, an engineer who now lives in Galway, said the Ruston Hornsby engine was bought in 1971, and installed by him, for their farm before mains electricity reached their rural outcrop.


The Hurleys had initially hoped to buy one of the generators from Mizen Head lighthouse, however, they were unsuccessful.

As a result, they sourced one from the Commissioners of Irish Lights who had removed it from Tory Island where it had supplied electric power to the lighthouse for many years.

Mr Hurley and his brother, Neilis, ‘picked up’ the machine from the Irish Lights HQ in Dunleary, Dublin, and drove it to its new home in Cork.

“I now live in Galway and I am restoring the old electric generator which was in use up to about 40 years ago on my family farm in West Cork – pre ESB mains arrival,” Mr Hurley explained.

“Indeed, it was I who installed it on the farm and wired it up to all the buildings – and that started my career in electronics and everything electrical – hence my huge interest.”

Mr Hurley was reunited with the old generator which he found in a shed in another part of Cork before Christmas, negotiated the purchase back from the owner, and now plans to restore it.

“I would dearly like to get some history on the units – I believe ours was one of three. I have nothing to ‘date’ it in any way at present, such was when it was manufactured and when it was installed on Tory island.”

Tory island

The generator’s clocks, meters and control panel.

The English manufacturers of the engine, Ruston Hornsby, and the generator maker Higgs Motors, are long gone, as well as the distributors in Belfast, Edwards & Edwards.

Mr Hurley is now seeking any old pictures of the unit, such as its removal from the lighthouse and it being loaded on to the boat at the pier.

“I have been in touch with Irish Lights, but nothing is forthcoming. One of the clocks, the Ammeter, has a manufacturing date of 1944 stamped on it. But I reckon the generator unit was manufactured after WWII, but I’m not sure.

“I am hoping that there is some record of the generator’s history on Tory Island currently. It may be a photo of the loading or unloading on the delivery boat. Those events should have created a certain excitement on the island, perhaps a painting exists too. I would dearly love to find the answers to my many questions,” he concluded.

Mr Hurley plans to visit Tory during the summer to do as much research as possible, and especially to visit any person or place that might hold the answers.

If you can help Joe, or know someone who can, call 091-756070, 087-2481199 or email   

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