In praise of the fog-horn

When my mother stopped me this morning to tell me something, she began to speak in the manner one uses when informing someone of a death. I immediately braced myself for the worst, and whilst what she did tell me was no where near as serious as the death of a person, it certainly deserved such a sombre delivery.

She told me that on January 11th fog-horns were no longer going to be used around the coasts of Ireland.

I, like she was when she heard, was immediately saddened, in a weird hard-to-define way. Something intangible had just slipped away. And most people that I’ve informed since then have also reacted with a similar melancholy.

For anyone who grew up near the sea, the fog-horn will have a special place in their hearts. As someone who has spent the majority of my life laying my head to rest next to lapping waves, the various sounds, smells and sights of the coast have burrowed themselves deep into my subconscious, and the fog-horn especially captured my imagination.

I distinctly recall many a night waking in the dark, or trying to drift off to sleep and hearing the distant, other-worldly call of the fog-horn out in Dundalk Bay. For such a mournful tone from the dark, the fog-horn was one of the most comforting things you can imagine.

Beyond being a lovely sound, I wonder why people have such fond memories of the lowly fog-horn? I suspect that its dependable age-less sound reminds us that out there, in the dark, someone is looking out for all the lonely souls out at sea. On a still, quiet night, how many other souls are awake in the dark and can hear it?

Sadly, modern technology has made the humble fog-horn obsolete, and it is to be retired. Progress marches ever further, and like the boats it warned, the fog-horn now drifts into the hazy mists of time. It will be missed.

Update: Via Alex, here’s a nice wee bit from Radio 1 about the demise of the fog-horn.

Another piece from Radio 1 about fog-horns and their imminent retirement.