THE lighthouse at the end of Dun Laoghaire East Pier is one of the best known landmarks in the country - but none of the tens of thousands of people who walk to the end of the pier has ever caught a glimpse inside the big stone fort that surrounds it.
Now, as the big iron gates rust in the salt spray, as the roofs are falling in and pigeons have begun to colonise the buildings, there is a move to restore the Victorian fortification to its former glory.
Sean Barrett, a Fine Gael candidate in the General Election, wants the Kingstown Fort to be reopened, with the addition of a coffee shop and a museum or art gallery so that the many walkers can spend time in the area and enjoy the unique surroundings once they get to the end of the pier.
"People walk out, and it's very pleasant, but it would add so much to it if there was actually something to do, or something to see," says the former Fine Gael minister.
The lighthouse tower was built in 1845 and was finished two years later. The cost of the granite was recorded as £937. There was already a fortification, but it was "in a state of complete dilapidation".
By 1857 the British government proposed "a circular battery to be constructed on the East pier-head, armed with 68 pounders [guns]" to be completed within a year.
The result was Kingstown Fort, which was fully equipped with its own artillery and furnaces for making cannon shot. But in the end its main use was in firing gun salutes for visiting dignitaries - including King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
Over the years, with the automisation of the lighthouse, the buildings have fallen into disrepair. But even up to 1951 there was "a large quantity of explosives" stored in the magazine, according to Caroline Pegum, who researched a booklet on the subject for the Office of Public Works (OPW).
In 1979 Patrick Flood wrote to the OPW inquiring about leasing the building for a "small institute for historical research, particularly of a marine nature".
However, the OPW apparently wrote back, saying it couldn't be let because the buildings were being used to store parcels around Christmas time for Post Office District 13, which needed extra capacity at that time of year.
Now Sean Barrett is appealing to Defence Minister Willie O'Dea to come up with a plan to make the fort more accessible to the public, who enjoy the amenities of the East Pier in their thousands.
© Sunday Independent